Scholarly Communication and Concerns for Our Conferences

Article excerpt

An open letter to our colleagues:

We write to express concern about the process of reviewing abstracts for occupational therapy scientific conferences and the rate of rejection of high-quality, internationally well-regarded research studies at occupational therapy conferences of both national and World Federation of Occupational Therapists' (WFOT's) events over the past 5 years. The cosignatories of this letter acknowledge that this journal does not have a direct link with association or WFOT conferences. In expressing our concerns, we also recognise the relationship between research and practice and that researchers have a responsibility to present results with clear clinical implications. However, the current trend is that this platform for communication of research results is not readily available.

In 2003, a number of clinical trials were rejected or allocated to poster presentation for Australian conferences. In 2006, the WFOT Scientific Committee rejected a number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews from leading occupational therapy researchers, prompting telephone calls, letters of complaint and requests for reappraisal. The then editor of the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal wrote a letter of concern to OT AUSTRALIA regarding this occurrence. This trend is not specific to Australia as the recent conferences from COTEC (Council of Occupational Therapists for the European Countries) in Athens (2004) and Hamburg (2008) rejected presentations of high quality RCTs (published in international scientific journals of high scientific impact) while presentations of interventions based on opinion-level evidence were accepted.

As members of our countries' professional associations and of WFOT, we are extremely concerned that our professional conferences do not promote the inclusion of presentations which provide high levels of evidence and quality of studies. There is common bemoaning by colleagues that there are limited RCTs to support our occupational therapy interventions, and yet, when such trials are submitted for presentation to our conferences, they have not been accepted.

We have all been involved in the review of abstracts for conference programmes and realise that the task of the Scientific Programme Committee is difficult. However, it is essential that careful consideration is given to the review process. There are important ramifications if the Scientific Review of papers is not correct. This was apparent at the recent national OT AUSTRALIA conference (2008) and highlighted that the current procedure for review of abstracts, including a lack of a written policy on this process, is to the detriment of our profession.

We write to ask the profession to advocate strongly for WFOT and its member associations to adopt a new Scientific Review Policy for both national and international occupational therapy conferences, and that such a policy is developed with wide consultation and leadership from all aspects of our professional community, including both clinicians and academics. In requesting this, we are aware that there is both research and procedures adopted by other health professions available to our profession which we believe could be used to guide where WFOT should now head.

Much research has been conducted on the issue of scientific review of abstracts for conferences, with results concluding:

* Blinded review of abstracts remains important; however, it must be accepted that blinding to author and institution identity does not improve the amount of variability in scores between abstract reviewers (Smith et al 2002). In fact, the effect of blinding creates, at best, a perception of objectivity but not objectivity in and of itself.

* Positive-outcome bias remains an issue (that is, negative findings studies are unlikely to be accepted to conferences) which is not related to study design or quality (Callaham et al 1998). …