Research prior to 1995 showed a diversity of either inclusion or exclusion criteria (or both) for diagnosing whiplash injury. As a consequence, the Quebec Task Force (QTF) developed expert-based criteria, which may be considered as a the 'new' gold standard. Here, we examined the inclusion criteria and exclusion criteria used in research populations from the major 82 research studies performed during the period 1980-1998, comparing their similarities and dissimilarities to the QTF standard. None of the articles satisfied the QTF definitions completely, either before or after their introduction in 1995. Nevertheless, the QTF still seems to have had some impact on either the published inclusion or exclusion criteria. We observed that both sets of criteria showed a qualitative shift following the QTF publication in 1995. For the inclusion criteria, we found both a statistically significant increase in use of the QTF definition (acceleration-deceleration mechanism, rear-end collision, motor vehicle collision or other mishaps) and in the criterion 'neck pain'. We also observed some smaller changes in both inclusion and exclusion criteria but none of these was significant statistically.