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This is terrible: "Hiding negative trials by pooling them: a secondary analysis of pooled-trial

Ymkje Anna de Vries, Annelieke M Roest, Erick H Turner, Peter de Jonge

Psychological Medicine 2018 September 28, : 1-7

BACKGROUND: Previous studies on reporting bias generally examined whether trials were published in stand-alone publications. In this study, we investigated whether pooled-trials publications constitute a specific form of reporting bias. We assessed whether negative trials were more likely to be exclusively published in pooled-trials publications than positive trials and examined the research questions, individual trial results, and conclusions presented in these articles.

METHODS: Data from a cohort of 105 randomized controlled trials of 16 antidepressants were extracted from earlier publications and the corresponding Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews. A systematic literature search was conducted to identify pooled-trials publications.

RESULTS: We found 107 pooled-trials publications that reported results of 23 (72%) of 32 trials not published in stand-alone publications. Only two (3.8%) of 54 positive trials were published exclusively in pooled-trials publications, compared with 21 (41.1%) of 51 negative trials (p < 0.001). Thirteen (12%) of 107 publications had as primary aim to present data on the trial's primary research question (drug efficacy compared with placebo). Only four of these publications, reporting on five (22%) trials, presented individual efficacy data for the primary research question. Additionally, only five (5%) of 107 pooled-trials publications had a negative conclusion.

CONCLUSIONS: Compared with positive trials, negative trials of antidepressants for depression were much more likely to be reported exclusively in pooled-trials publications. Pooled-trials publications flood the evidence base with often-redundant articles that, instead of addressing the original primary research question, present (positive) results on secondary questions. Therefore, pooled-trials publications distort the apparent risk-benefit profile of antidepressants.


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