Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Ethics in systematic reviews
  1. Jean-Noel Vergnes1,
  2. Christine Marchal-Sixou2,
  3. Cathy Nabet1,
  4. Delphine Maret3,
  5. Olivier Hamel1
  1. 1Dental Faculty, Paul Sabatier University, Department of Epidemiology, Public Health, Prevention and Legislation, Toulouse University Hospital, Toulouse, France
  2. 2Dental Faculty, Paul Sabatier University, Department of Orthodontics, Toulouse University Hospital, Toulouse, France
  3. 3Dental Faculty, Paul Sabatier University, Department of Restorative Dentistry, Toulouse University Hospital, Toulouse, France
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jean-Noel Vergnes, Faculté de Chirurgie Dentaire - CHU de Toulouse, 3, Chemin des Maraîchers, 31400 Toulouse; vergnes.jn{at}


Since its introduction by the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki, the place held by ethics in biomedical research has been continuously increasing in importance. The past 30 years have also seen exponential growth in the number of biomedical articles published. A systematic review of the literature is the scientific way of synthesising a plethora of information, by exhaustively searching out and objectively analysing the studies dealing with a given issue. However, the question of ethics in systematic reviews is rarely touched upon. This could lead to some drawbacks, as systematic reviews may contain studies with ethical insufficiencies, may be a possible way to publish unethical research and may also be prone to conflict of interest. Finally, informed consent given for an original study is not necessarily still valid at the systematic review level. There is no doubt that routine ethical assessment in systematic reviews would help to improve the ethical and methodological quality of studies in general. However, ethical issues change so much with time and location, and are so broad in scope and in context that it appears illusory to search for a universal, internationally accepted standard for ethical assessment in systematic reviews. Some simple suggestions could nevertheless be drawn from the present reflection and are discussed in the paper.

  • Ethics
  • research
  • systematic review
  • review
  • meta-analysis
  • scientific research
  • codes of/position statements on professional ethics
  • ethics committees/consultation
  • position statements (of organizations/groups)
  • policy guidelines/inst
  • review boards/review cttes

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

Other content recommended for you