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Accuracy of cited “facts” in medical research articles: A review of study methodology and recalculation of quotation error rate

posted on 14.09.2017 by Scott A. Mogull

Previous reviews estimated that approximately 20 to 25% of assertions cited from original research articles, or “facts,” are inaccurately quoted in the medical literature. These reviews noted that the original studies were dissimilar and only began to compare the methods of the original studies. The aim of this review is to examine the methods of the original studies and provide a more specific rate of incorrectly cited assertions, or quotation errors, in original research articles published in medical journals. Additionally, the estimate of quotation errors calculated here is based on the ratio of quotation errors to quotations examined (a percent) rather than the more prevalent and weighted metric of quotation errors to the references selected. Overall, this resulted in a lower estimate of the quotation error rate in original medical research articles. A total of 15 studies met the criteria for inclusion in the primary quantitative analysis. Quotation errors were divided into two categories: content ("factual") or source (improper indirect citation) errors. Content errors were further subdivided into major and minor errors depending on the degree that the assertion differed from the original source. The rate of quotation errors recalculated here is 14.5% (10.5% to 18.6% at a 95% confidence interval). These content errors are predominantly, 64.8% (56.1% to 73.5% at a 95% confidence interval), major errors or cited assertions in which the referenced source either fails to substantiate, is unrelated to, or contradicts the assertion. Minor errors, which are an oversimplification, overgeneralization, or trivial inaccuracies, are 35.2% (26.5% to 43.9% at a 95% confidence interval). Additionally, improper secondary (or indirect) citations, which are distinguished from calculations of quotation accuracy, occur at a rate of 10.4% (3.4% to 17.5% at a 95% confidence interval).