Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Adventures in Protocol Publication Pt. II: Survey of PROSPERO Registrants Finds Peer-Reviewed Protocol Publication is a Mixed Bag

As we discussed in Part I of this series, the posting of a systematic review – for instance, in an online registry such as PROSPERO -  is a well-established practice that helps prevent results-driven biases from being introduced into a systematic review as well as reduces unintentional duplication of efforts. The additional publication of such a protocol in a peer-reviewed journal also has its benefits – such as additional citations, saving room in the methods portion of the final manuscript, and the facilitation of the actual systematic review’s publication. However, it also has its drawbacks, including the potential cost of publishing and the time required from submission to acceptance, which may result in a delayed SR timeline.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, Rombey and colleagues report the findings of their survey examining the practices and attitudes related to peer-reviewed protocol publication among over 4,000 authors of non-Cochrane systematic review protocols published in PROSPERO in 2018.

In order to identify potential “inhibiting factors” of peer-reviewed protocol publication, respondents who reported publishing their protocol in peer-reviewed journal in addition to PROSPERO were asked questions related to publication costs, while respondents who had not pursued this option were asked for their reasoning behind this decision.

Nearly half (44.7%) of the 4,054 respondents answered that they had published or plan to publish their protocol in a peer-reviewed journal, while the remaining 55.3% chose not to pursue this option. Of these respondents, the most common reasons given were that publishing the protocol in PROSPERO was deemed sufficient; that it was not an aim/priority of the authors; and that the time required to publish in a peer-reviewed journal would delay the review itself.

A figure from Rombey et al. shows level of agreement with statements related to peer-reviewed protocol publication among >4,000 respondents. Click to enlarge.

Of those who did report publishing their protocol, about one-third (67.9%) indicated that there were no costs associated with publication, while one-quarter (25.4%) indicated that there were costs, and the remaining 6.7% were not sure.

Respondents from Africa, Asia, and South America were twice as likely to report having published a protocol in a peer-reviewed journal than those from Europe, North America, or Oceania; however, likelihood of publication did not appear to vary by gender or experience level. Qualitative analysis of free-response text revealed that some respondents were not aware that publication of protocols in peer-reviewed journals was done at all.

Overall, while cost of publishing a protocol did not appear to be a major inhibiting factor for most respondents, issues related to time from submission to publication as well as opinions regarding the additional value of publishing beyond PROSPERO were the most commonly cited reasons for not pursuing peer-reviewed publication of a systematic review protocol.

Rombey, T., Puljak, L., Allers, K., Ruano, J., & Pieper, D. Inconsistent views among systematic review authors toward publishing protocols as peer-reviewed articles: An international survey. J Clin Epidemiol, 2020; 123:9-17.

Manuscript available from the publisher's website here.