An instrument to assess the statistical intensity of medical research papers

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© 2017 Nieminen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Background: There is widespread evidence that statistical methods play an important role in original research articles, especially in medical research. The evaluation of statistical methods and reporting in journals suffers from a lack of standardized methods for assessing the use of statistics. The objective of this study was to develop and evaluate an instrument to assess the statistical intensity in research articles in a standardized way. Methods: A checklist-type measure scale was developed by selecting and refining items from previous reports about the statistical contents of medical journal articles and from published guidelines for statistical reporting. A total of 840 original medical research articles that were published between 2007–2015 in 16 journals were evaluated to test the scoring instrument. The total sum of all items was used to assess the intensity between sub-fields and journals. Inter-rater agreement was examined using a random sample of 40 articles. Four raters read and evaluated the selected articles using the developed instrument. Results: The scale consisted of 66 items. The total summary score adequately discriminated between research articles according to their study design characteristics. The new instrument could also discriminate between journals according to their statistical intensity. The inter-observer agreement measured by the ICC was 0.88 between all four raters. Individual item analysis showed very high agreement between the rater pairs, the percentage agreement ranged from 91.7% to 95.2%. Conclusions: A reliable and applicable instrument for evaluating the statistical intensity in research papers was developed. It is a helpful tool for comparing the statistical intensity between sub-fields and journals. The novel instrument may be applied in manuscript peer review to identify papers in need of additional statistical review.




Nieminen, P., Virtanen, J. I., & Vähänikkilä, H. (2017). An instrument to assess the statistical intensity of medical research papers. PLoS ONE, 12(10).

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