How often do leading biomedical journals use statistical experts to evaluate statistical methods? The results of a survey.


Scientific claims in biomedical research are typically derived from statistical analyses. However, misuse and misunderstanding of statistical procedures and results permeates the biomedical literature, affecting the validity of those claims. One approach journals have taken to address this issue is to enlist expert statistical reviewers. How many journals do this, how statistical review is incorporated, and how its value is perceived by editors is of interest. Here we report an expanded version of a survey conducted more than 20 years ago by Goodman and colleagues (1998) with the intention of characterizing contemporary statistical review policies at leading biomedical journals. We received eligible responses from 107 of 364 (28%) journals surveyed, across 57 fields, mostly from editors in chief. 34% (36107) rarely or never use specialized statistical review, 34% (36107) used it for 10-50% of their articles and 23% used it for all articles. These numbers have changed little since 1998 in spite of dramatically increased concern about research validity. The vast majority of editors regarded statistical review as having substantial incremental value beyond regular peer review and expressed comparatively little concern about the potential increase in reviewing time, cost, and difficulty identifying suitable statistical reviewers. Improved statistical education of researchers and different ways of employing statistical expertise are needed. Several proposals are discussed.