The quantity and quality of scientific graphs in pharmaceutical advertisements

J Gen Intern Med. 2003 Apr;18(4):294-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2003.20703.x.


We characterized the quantity and quality of graphs in all pharmaceutical advertisements, in the 10 U.S. medical journals. Four hundred eighty-four unique advertisements (of 3,185 total advertisements) contained 836 glossy and 455 small-print pages. Forty-nine percent of glossy page area was nonscientific figures/images, 0.4% tables, and 1.6% scientific graphs (74 graphs in 64 advertisements). All 74 graphs were univariate displays, 4% were distributions, and 4% contained confidence intervals for summary measures. Extraneous decoration (66%) and redundancy (46%) were common. Fifty-eight percent of graphs presented an outcome relevant to the drug's indication. Numeric distortion, specifically prohibited by FDA regulations, occurred in 36% of graphs.

MeSH terms

  • Advertising / standards*
  • Advertising / statistics & numerical data
  • Bibliometrics*
  • Drug Industry / standards*
  • Federal Government
  • Government Regulation
  • Humans
  • Medical Illustration*
  • Periodicals as Topic / standards*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / standards
  • Professional Misconduct
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations