How can we value the studies used in meta-analysis?

Not by doing this to primary researchers. So let’s change things. Photo credit to Killer Cars on flickr.

I signed a letter this week asking ISI, Google scholar and Scopus to recognise the articles used in meta-analyses as if they were regular citations. I and many other people who use data that we haven’t collected feel that those that did the primary research are not being fully recognised and given enough credit. Research is ranked by citations and it is perverse to award someone a gold star for getting a citation that may support a single statement, but not for supplying data forms the basis of an entire study.

I agree with what I signed but, even if successful, it will take a while to implement.

My question is: What should I do about the problem that will make a difference now?

As far as I can see I have three options, none of the them perfect:

  1. Continue as before, ignoring this issue
  2. Cite papers I used in the main text so credit is given to primary researchers
  3. Offer co-authorship to those authors that provided me with data

Really I don’t know which is best.

The first would be the easiest to do and I’m sure many researchers will continue to do this – their lives are already complicated enough. I’m not really happy doing that though – it undermines valuable work by people in the field, without whom I wouldn’t have a job.

The second, for me, will never really work. I have a meta-analysis that I recently carried out that has >80 papers as data sources. I couldn’t cite these papers unless I wanted to have a reference list of >100 papers. This kind of thing doesn’t make publishers happy.

The third seems to me like a good compromise, but is the most difficult to do. For example, I am currently working on something using the data of others that has potentially controversial conclusions. What do I do in this case? Do I offer people co-authorship, even though they may well disagree with me about my analysis and conclusions?

It’s been running through my head for a while now and I’d like to get a few opinions from others about this. If you think any of these options is particularly appealing, tell me. Or do you have other ways to fix this problem in the short term? What would you do?

Whatever your thoughts, give me some feedback so I can work out the best path to take and please sign the open letter.

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