Although they are preliminary and have undergone only limited peer review,
research abstracts at scientific meetings may receive prominent attention
in the news media. We sought to describe news coverage of abstracts, characterize
the research, and determine subsequent full publication in the medical literature.
We searched Lexis-Nexis to identify news stories printed in the 2 months
following 5 scientific meetings held in 1998 (12th World AIDS Conference,
American Heart Association, Society for Neuroscience, American Society of
Clinical Oncology, and the Radiological Society of North America). We searched
MEDLINE and contacted authors to determine subsequent publication in the medical
literature within 3-3.5 years of the meetings.
A total of 252 news stories reported on 147 research abstracts (average,
50 per meeting); 16% of the covered abstracts were nonhuman studies, 24% randomized
trials, and 59% observational studies. Twenty-one percent of the human studies
were small (ie, involving <30 subjects). In the 3 years after the meetings,
50% of the abstracts were published in high-impact journals (based on Institute
for Scientific Information ratings), 25% in low-impact journals, and 25% remained
unpublished. The publication record of the 39 abstracts receiving front-page
newspaper coverage was almost identical to the overall rate. Meeting organizers
issued press releases for 43 abstracts; these were somewhat more likely to
receive prominent news coverage (35% covered on front page vs 23%, P = .14), but were no more likely to be published.
Abstracts at scientific meetings receive substantial attention in the
high-profile media. A substantial number of the studies remain unpublished,
precluding evaluation in the scientific community.