Context: To compare the quality, presentation, readability, and clinical relevance of review articles published in peer-reviewed and "throwaway" journals.
Methods: We reviewed articles that focused on the diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition published between January 1 and December 31, 1998, in the 5 leading peer-reviewed general medical journals and high-circulation throwaway journals. Reviewers independently assessed the methodologic and reporting quality, and evaluated each article's presentation and readability. Clinical relevance was evaluated independently by 6 physicians.
Results: Of the 394 articles in our sample, 16 (4.1%) were peer-reviewed systematic reviews, 135 (34.3%) were peer-reviewed nonsystematic reviews, and 243 (61.7%) were nonsystematic reviews published in throwaway journals. The mean (SD) quality scores were highest for peer-reviewed articles (0.94 [0.09] for systematic reviews and 0.30 [0.19] for nonsystematic reviews) compared with throwaway journal articles (0.23 [0.03], F(2,391) = 280.8, P<.001). Throwaway journal articles used more tables (P =.02), figures (P =.01), photographs (P<.001), color (P<.001), and larger font sizes (P<.001) compared with peer-reviewed articles. Readability scores were more often in the college or higher range for peer-reviewed journals compared with the throwaway journal articles (104 [77.0%] vs 156 [64.2%]; P =.01). Peer-reviewed article titles were judged less relevant to clinical practice than throwaway journal article titles (P<.001).
Conclusions: Although lower in methodologic and reporting quality, review articles published in throwaway journals have characteristics that appeal to physician readers.