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Failure to report and provide commentary on research ethics board approval and informed consent in medical journals
  1. K A Finlay1,
  2. C V Fernandez2
  1. 1
    Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  2. 2
    Departments of Pediatrics and Bioethics, Dalhousie University and IWK Health Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  1. Dr C V Fernandez, Departments of Pediatrics and Bioethics, Dalhousie University and IWK Health Centre, 5850 University Avenue PO Box 9700, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3K 6R8 Canada; Conrad.Fernandez{at}


Background: The Declaration of Helsinki prohibits the publication of articles that do not meet defined ethical standards for reporting of research ethics board (REB) approval and informed consent. Despite this prohibition and a call to highlight the deficiency for the reader, articles with potential ethical shortcomings continue to be published.

Objective: To determine what proportion of articles in major medical journals lack statements confirming REB approval and informed consent, and whether accompanying commentary alerts readers to this deficiency.

Design: Retrospective, observational study.

Setting: Online review of five major medical journals.

Population: All clinical research articles published online between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2006 in the BMJ, Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Measurements: Statement of REB approval and informed consent.

Results: Of 1780 articles reviewed, 1133 (63.7%) met inclusion criteria (manuscripts reporting human subjects, human tissue or identifiable personal data research), 36 (3.2%) articles lacked a statement of REB approval, 62 (5.5%) lacked disclosure of informed consent and 15 (1.3%) articles lacked both. Articles that did not state REB approval were associated with not stating informed consent (p<0.001). There were no editorial comments to alert readers to the lack of either REB approval or informed consent statements associated with any of the deficient articles.

Conclusions: Articles that lack explicit statements of REB approval and informed consent are infrequent but continue to be published in major medical journals without editorial statements to alert the reader to this deficiency.

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  • Competing interests: None.

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