To compare the quality, presentation, readability, and clinical relevance
of review articles published in peer-reviewed and "throwaway" journals.
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.
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], F2,391 = 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).
Although lower in methodologic and reporting quality, review articles
published in throwaway journals have characteristics that appeal to physician