, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 294-297

The quantity and quality of scientific graphs in pharmaceutical advertisements

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We characterized the quantity and quality of graphs in all pharmaceutical advertisements in the 1999 issues of 10 U.S. medical journals. Four hundred eighty-four unique advertisements (of 3,185 total advertisements) contained 836 glossy and 455 small-print pages. Forty-nine percent of glossy page area was nonscientific figures/images, 0.4% tables, and 1.6% scientific graphs (74 graphs in 64 advertisements). All 74 graphs were univariate displays, 4% were distributions, and 4% contained confidence intervals for summary measures. Extraneous decoration (66%) and redundancy (46%) were common. Fifty-eight percent of graphs presented an outcome relevant to the drug’s indication. Numeric distortion, specifically prohibited by FDA regulations, occurred in 36% of graphs.