Do journals and corporate sponsors back certain views in topics where disagreement prevails?

Peter Ingwersen, Soeren Holm, Birger Larsen, Thomas Ploug

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The article focuses on scientific disagreement about the use of statin-related drugs in the prevention of cardiovascular events. The study forms part of an exploration of the broader principle of research polarization, foremost in medicine. The hypothesis is that statin-positive and statin-critical researchers publish in different committed central journals, and that they are financially supported by different dedicated corporate sources. Methodologically we use Web of Science (WoS) analytic tools to perform publication analysis of a time series covering 1998-2018 in three seven-year windows. For each window data is captured based on sets of known statin-positive and statin-critical articles and researchers, and their primary and secondary co-authors. Standard deviation is used as a focused normalization and visual instrument together with Spearman's correlation coefficient in order to compare frequency distributions of statin-positive and critical journal and sponsor articles. Z-test p-values are used to assess the probability of error concerning the distributions. Findings at general topical level showed that a few journals consistently and significantly occupied top positions, 2 of which, American Journal of Cardiology and Circulation, published articles from both positions. Besides, Journal of the American College of Cardiology served as a major publisher of statin-positive research from 2005, as did European Heart Journal from 2012, replacing American Journal of Cardiology at the top. From 2012 Atherosclerosis and European Journal of Preventive Cardiology served as top-publishers of statin-critical articles. Two central US funding agencies, US Department of Health Human Services and National Institutes of Health (NIH), operated at general topical level across the time series, but the agencies played only a minor role in the divergent research positions. From 2005 statin-positive as well as statin-critical research was mainly sponsored by multinational pharmaceutical companies, predominantly Merck, AstraZeneca and Pfizer. In conclusion, the initial hypothesis about dedicated journals and sponsors was entirely substantiated at the general topical level and at the journal level of research disagreement, but not at sponsor level. Distinct dedicated journals were extracted separately from the 2 divergent statin positions. Since the WoS coverage of sponsor data 1998-2004 was sporadic sponsor data are analyzed from 2005. Only from 2012 the WoS sponsor coverage of the topic is consistently at 60%.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
Early online date29 Oct 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Oct 2020


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