Systematic reviews appraise and synthesize the results from a body of literature. In healthcare, systematic reviews are also used to develop clinical practice guidelines. An increasingly common concern among systematic reviews is that they may unknowingly capture studies published in “predatory” journals and that these studies will be included in summary estimates and impact results, guidelines, and ultimately, clinical care.
We have recently written about why we should all be concerned about junk/flawed research outputs published by questionable publishers leaking into systematic reviews. There are the real consequences of the current, the best-case scenario is precious research resources are wasted when future research enquiry does or doesn’t happen because of the distortion of systematic reviews. Worst-case scenario would see serious harm to patients, or even deaths because of the distortion.
There is currently no agreed-upon guidance that exists for how best to manage articles from predatory journals that meet the inclusion criteria for a systematic review. We describe a set of actions that authors of systematic reviews can consider when handling articles published in predatory journals: (1) detail methods for addressing predatory journal articles a priori in a study protocol, (2) determine whether included studies are published in open access journals and if they are listed in the directory of open access journals, and (3) conduct a sensitivity analysis with predatory papers excluded from the synthesis.
Encountering eligible articles published in presumed predatory journals when conducting a review is an increasingly common threat. Developing appropriate methods to account for eligible research published in predatory journals is needed to decrease the potential negative impact of predatory journals on healthcare.
Predatory journals, Systematic reviews, Meta-analysis, Open access
Rice, D.B., Skidmore, B. & Cobey, K.D. Dealing with predatory journal articles captured in systematic reviews. Systemic Reviews 10, 175 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-021-01733-2