Misunderstanding publication bias: Editors are not blameless after all

Stephen Senn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


In analysing whether there is an editorial bias in favour of positive studies, researchers have made implicit assumptions that are implausible. In particular, to justify the conclusion that there is no bias because observed editorial acceptance rates do not favour positive studies, the assumption that the decision to submit an article is based solely on quality would be required. If, on the other hand, submission were based on perceived probability of acceptance, negative and positive studies would not differ in terms of acceptance rates, but in terms of quality. It is shown, using a simple graphical model, how similar underlying situations as regards the relationship between quality and probability of acceptance on the one hand and study outcome (positive or negative) and probability of acceptance on the other could produce dramatically different results depending on the behaviour of authors. Furthermore, there is, in fact, some evidence that submitted negative studies are, on average, of higher quality than positive ones. This calls into question the standard interpretation of the studies examining editorial bias. It would appear that despite similar probabilities of acceptance for negative and positive studies, editors could be discriminating against negative studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number59
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2012


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