Review articles and publication bias

Arzneimittelforschung. 1992 May;42(5):587-91.


Publication bias occurs if the results from studies which have not been published are different from the published ones. From a Bayesian viewpoint, it also concerns non-publication of studies with similar results as the published ones because the strength of the evidence will be influenced. Publication bias complicates the interpretation of reviews and meta-analyses. If favourable results are published more often there will be an overestimation of the effects of a treatment. There have been several attempts to assess the magnitude of publication bias. Unpublished trials could be identified by means of a survey among researchers, and the results could subsequently be compared with the outcomes of published trials. Also, the results from published trials could be compared with trials from a registry. Furthermore, the results from registered but unpublished trials could be compared with those of registered and subsequently published trials. Studies addressing publication bias have shown that it is a serious problem which complicates the interpretation of reviews. In assessments of publication bias other factors must be taken into account. These include the mode of publication: refereed journals, other journals, books, etc. Differences could also be related to the quality of trials. Finally, the source of funding may influence both the results and subsequent publication. Publication bias can only be avoided by registration of all trials before data collection is started; several of such registries have already been installed. Perhaps, if more of such registries exist, reviewers could only use registered trials for their main conclusions. All other information could then be considered sensitive to publication bias.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Publishing*
  • Research Design
  • Review Literature as Topic*