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J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2019 Dec 30. pii: ocz209. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocz209. [Epub ahead of print]

Understanding the nature and scope of clinical research commentaries in PubMed.

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Department of Biomedical Informatics, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.
Department of Medicine, New York University, New York, New York, USA.


Scientific commentaries are expected to play an important role in evidence appraisal, but it is unknown whether this expectation has been fulfilled. This study aims to better understand the role of scientific commentary in evidence appraisal. We queried PubMed for all clinical research articles with accompanying comments and extracted corresponding metadata. Five percent of clinical research studies (N = 130 629) received postpublication comments (N = 171 556), resulting in 178 882 comment-article pairings, with 90% published in the same journal. We obtained 5197 full-text comments for topic modeling and exploratory sentiment analysis. Topics were generally disease specific with only a few topics relevant to the appraisal of studies, which were highly prevalent in letters. Of a random sample of 518 full-text comments, 67% had a supportive tone. Based on our results, published commentary, with the exception of letters, most often highlight or endorse previous publications rather than serve as a prominent mechanism for critical appraisal.


PubMed; publishing; scientific commentary; scientific communication; topic modeling


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