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Publication bias begins at home
  1. Ellen J Weber
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ellen J Weber, Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0208, USA;{at}

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A few times a year, I have the opportunity to speak to emergency medicine clinicians about how to get their research published. Somewhere during the session, I’ll usually ask how many people have done research, and presented it at a scientific meeting—and the majority of hands go up. I then will ask how many have had their research published; a few hands go up. I then ask—how many of you have research projects you’ve presented which you have never published. This time, as with the first question, most hands come up, everyone looks at each other, and an embarrassed chuckle is shared.

Prior to all our work being done on computers, failure to publish a completed research study was called the ‘file drawer phenomenon’. An individual performs a study, writes up the abstract, perhaps gets their department to send them to an academic meeting to present it, and FULL STOP. It ends there. The research was seen only by the meeting attendees, and maybe those who happen to read abstracts published in that society’s journal. And what if the abstract was not accepted for the meeting? Then only the research team, a perhaps a few abstract scorers, know that the work was done.

Studies in just about all specialties, including emergency medicine, confirm that only about half of all research submitted to an academic meeting is ever published.1 While some may just see this as a career opportunity missed, the failure is much greater than this. Doing research often requires some resource investment (even in unfunded studies), and risk to patients (even if it is just loss to privacy). Those ‘costs’ have now …

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  • Contributors EJW conceived and wrote the editorial prior to the announcement of the BMJ preprint service. She received input from the BMJ regarding the website for the preprint after the paper was completed.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests EJW is the editor in chief of the Emergency Medicine Journal. However, there is no financial or intellectual benefit from the publication of this work.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.