Association between medical academic genealogy and publication outcome: impact of unconscious bias on scientific objectivity

Brian R. Hirshman, Ali A. Alattar, Sanjay Dhawan, Kathleen M. Carley, Clark C. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Our previous studies suggest that the training history of an investigator, termed “medical academic genealogy”, influences the outcomes of that investigator’s research. Here, we use meta-analysis and quantitative statistical modeling to determine whether such effects contribute to systematic bias in published conclusions. Methods: A total of 108 articles were identified through a comprehensive search of the high-grade glioma (HGG) surgical resection literature. Analysis was performed on the 70 articles with sufficient data for meta-analysis. Pooled estimates were generated for key academic genealogies. Monte Carlo simulations were performed to determine whether the effects attributed to genealogy alone can arise due to chance alone. Results: Meta-analysis of the HGG literature without consideration for academic medical genealogy revealed that gross total resection (GTR) was associated with a significant decrease in the odds ratio (OR) for the hazard of death after surgery for both anaplastic astrocytoma (AA) and glioblastoma (AA: log [OR] = − 0.04, 95% CI [− 0.07 to − 0.01]; glioblastoma log [OR] = − 0.36, 95% CI [− 0.44 to − 0.29]). For the glioblastoma literature, meta-analysis of articles contributed by members of a genealogy consisting of mostly radiation oncologists revealed no reduction in the hazard of death after GTR [log [OR] = − 0.16, 95% CI [− 0.41 to 0.09]. In contrast, meta-analysis of published articles contributed by members of a genealogy consisting of mostly neurosurgeons revealed that GTR was associated with a significant reduction in the hazard of death [log [OR] = − 0.29, 95% CI [− 0.40 to 0.18]. Monte Carlo simulation revealed that the observed discrepancy between the articles contributed by the members of these two genealogies was unlikely to arise by chance alone (p < 0.006). Conclusions: Meta-analysis of articles contributed by authors belonging to the different medical academic genealogies yielded distinct and contradictory pooled point-estimates, suggesting that genealogy contributes to systematic bias in the published literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-211
Number of pages7
JournalActa Neurochirurgica
Volume161
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 13 2019

Keywords

  • Brain tumor
  • Medical academic genealogy
  • Meta-analysis
  • Scientific objectivity

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Meta-Analysis

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