22 November 2005

Chinese Research Lost In Translation

by Kate Melville

Valuable genetic research carried out in China often fails to reach the international scientific community, suggests a study published in the journal PLoS Medicine. Researcher Zhenglun Pan, of Shandong Provincial Hospital, China, and his international colleagues came to this conclusion after investigating the visibility of studies of thirteen gene-disease associations.

Searching a Chinese medical database, they found 161 studies on 12 of these gene-disease associations. But when they logged onto PubMed, a popular Western medical database, they found that only 20 of the 161 Chinese studies were indexed.

Additionally, the researchers found important differences between Chinese and non-Chinese studies. With one exception the first Chinese study appeared with a time lag (from 2 to 21 years) after the first non-Chinese study on the topic. The Chinese studies also showed significantly more prominent genetic effects than the non-Chinese studies. The researchers suggest that this was probably due to bias favoring the dissemination of impressive results, and that this bias seemed to operate beyond the Chinese studies.

Pan's work suggests that the evidence on whether a particular gene is associated with a particular disease will be skewed, depending on whether English language studies or non-English language studies are investigated. Pan added that the evidence would also be skewed depending on the extent of bias in favor of publishing "positive" spectacular results, while "negative" studies that are equally well done are not published.

Such problems could be overcome, said Pan, if all investigators working on the genetics of a specific disease were registered in a common network. "Such networks should aim for a global, inclusive outlook. The Chinese research output, as well as the output of other non-English speaking countries, should be appropriately captured. Failure to maintain a global outlook may result in a scientific literature that is driven by the opportunistic dissemination of selected results," he concluded.

Source: Public Library of Science