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LNCtips.com: Authoritative Journal Articles


Your attorney has asked you to review the testimony of an expert from the opposing side.  During his deposition, the expert cited several authoritative articles.  The attorney wants you to validate that the articles are indeed authoritative.  Let's use the CARS Checklist to find out.

The CARS Checklist includes Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, and Support.  College students use the CARS checklist to evaluate research sources.  The checklist works equally well to evaluate the authoritativeness of journal articles.  Let's look at each element of the checklist.

  • Credibility.  Ask yourself if both the article and journal are peer reviewed (also called refereed).  Information from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a peer reviewed journal, is probably more credible than information from a newspaper.  That's because reporters aren't experts in the fields they write about.  However, even peer reviewed journals may contain non-peer reviewed information, such as editorials and letters to the editor.  Next, check out the author's biographical information such as the author's training, education, experience, and employment status.  An author employed by a drug company who discusses the results of a drug trial may be less credible than one employed by the government, by a university, or one who's in private practice.  Anonymous authors, lack of editors, bad grammar, and misspelled words also indicate lack of credibility.

  • Accuracy.  One of the keys to accuracy for medical literature is timeliness.  A medical or nursing journal from 1982 probably isn't going to reflect current practice.  Granted, some information hasn't changed over time.  For example, prolonged pressure contributes just as much to decubiti formation today as it did years ago.  However, treatments and medical guidelines tend to change frequently.  Another problem with timeliness is a citation from a journal published last month if the medical malpractice incident occurred two years ago.  As you know, standards of care apply to the time of alleged malpractice.  Additional red flags for accuracy include sweeping language (always, never, completely) and vague information.

  • Reasonableness.  Reasonableness refers to fairness and objectivity.  Fairness means that the article has a balanced tone and is not slanted toward one viewpoint.  Objectivity refers to neutrality, the ability to control biases.  A conflict of interest is one way that authors are perceived as non-objective.  For example, I know of one physician who touts the value of radiation therapy over surgery for conditions that traditionally require surgery first.  This particular expert has part-ownership in a private radiation therapy center.

  • Support.  Support refers to source information and corroboration of information.  Peer reviewed articles usually have a bibliography or a list of references which are used as the source of the information.  Are the reference articles timely?  I've seen references in current publications to articles written in the 1960's.  They're definitely not timely.  >Corroboration refers to the ability to confirm the information in the article.  Are there references for statistics in the article?  You should be able confirm that the statistics are factual.

  • In addition to using the CARS checklist, also look for notations and highlighted sections of the article.  Experts often mark up areas of the article that bolster their opinions.  Also, review the expert's deposition testimony.  Does the testimony accurately reflect the key points of the journal articles?  Using all this information, you'll be able to report to the attorney whether the expert's journal articles are authoritative or not.

    ...Katy Jones