Objective: To investigate the speed of the transfer of new statistical methods into the medical literature and, on the basis of current data, to predict what methods medical journal editors should expect to see in the next decade.
Design: Influential statistical articles were identified and the time pattern of citations in the medical literature was ascertained. In addition, longitudinal studies of the statistical content of articles in medical journals were reviewed.
Main outcome measures: Cumulative number of citations in medical journals of each article in the years after publication.
Results: Annual citations show some evidence of decreasing lag times between the introduction of new statistical methods and their appearance in medical journals. Newer technical innovations still typically take 4 to 6 years before they achieve 25 citations in the medical literature. Few methodological advances of the 1980s seem yet to have been widely cited in medical journals. Longitudinal studies indicate a large increase in the use of more complex statistical methods.
Conclusions: Time trends suggest that technology diffusion has speeded up during the last 30 years, although there is still a lag of several years before medical citations begin to accrue. Journals should expect to see more articles using increasingly sophisticated methods. Medical journals may need to modify reviewing procedures to deal with articles using these complex new methods.