Rush to Publish Leads to Repeated COVID-19 Studies

Study finds significant duplicate efforts to determine the most common imaging findings of the virus in children.

In the push to find out as much about how COVID-19 manifests and affects patients, researchers could have passed the tipping point on research publications, experts said. And, repeated efforts to pinpoint how the virus appears on pediatric imaging nearly tops the list of questions investigated.

In a research letter published Jan. 7 in JAMA Network Open, a group of international experts pointed to high level of duplicative studies all focused on answering the same query. While valuable details were discovered, the repeated efforts were wasteful, they said.

“Replication of systematic reviews may be appropriate to verify their findings or to extend or narrow the question they are trying to answer. However, needless repetition is wasteful,” said the group led by Giordano Pérez-Gaxiola, M.D., MSc, associate faculty member at Sinaloa Pediatric Hospital’s Cochrane Associate Centre. “Duplication at a massive level, which has happened with a COVID-19, is unjustified and may be unethical.”

Based on a search of the Living Overview of Evidence platform for COVID-19, the team identified 25 systematic reviews – including 17 primary studies – that specifically address the question, “What are the most common findings in children with COVID-19?” Only six reviews (24 percent) had been registered with PROSPERO or other registries designed to help prevent repeated studies by alerting potential authors to ongoing or already published investigations.

Each systematic review identified between one and nine primary studies, they said, and another 11 eligible primary studies were not pinpointed by any of the reviews, bringing the number of primary studies to 28. However, even the review with the most included studies only incorporated nine of the 28 – 32 percent – because four studies were likely overlooked, and 15 were published post-review search.

There are two reasons why none of these systematic reviews included all primary studies, the team explained. First, the rate of publication during the pandemic has been so fast that it has been difficult for investigators to conduct searches for existing publications, and second, their findings shine a light on how quickly published reviews become obsolete if they are not continuously updated.

Still, the team asserted, these results point to a rise in unnecessary repeated publications throughout 2020.

“With the explosion of publications on pre-print servers and in journals, waste in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) research is common,” they said.