By Mary Jo Lechowicz, MD
Every year the American Society of Hematology (ASH) reinvents aspects of the program to improve attendees’ experience and to keep up with developments; this year is no exception. Some of these changes are obvious to meeting participants, while others are less visible. For instance, did you know that ASH is now using sophisticated software to detect submission of duplicate abstracts? Were you aware that the abstract review process is now blinded? And have you figured out what the little stethoscope symbol (seen next to some published abstracts) means?
In the past, some investigators have submitted abstracts for the ASH annual meeting that had been previously presented in other venues. Because of the volume of abstracts submitted, it was difficult for reviewers to consistently identify and “flag” all of these clones.
ASH has now developed and implemented a technological solution: an electronic program to avoid duplication and foster innovation. This year, the computer program reviewed the content of submitted abstracts against the content of the last three years abstracts from ASH, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the European Hematology Society (EHA) meetings. The program identified 51 submitted abstracts that were entirely identical to an abstract presented at another meeting within the last three years; other abstracts were found that included only minor changes in wording, and no new data. These concerning abstracts were then reviewed by the Program Committee, and authors were notified of the findings. The authors were asked to clarify whether any new information would be provided at the 2009 ASH Annual Meeting before the abstract was permitted to move forward to review. In the future, the roster of other meetings scanned for abstract replicates may expand.
Once the abstract gets through this first line of screening, it goes through a peer-review process. There are at least six reviewers per category, who are chosen to represent a range of expertise relevant to the category. ASH also ensures that each review committee includes members from diverse geographic areas inside and outside North America.
Beginning with the 2008 meeting, abstract reviewers received submissions for review without authors’ names or institutions attached, in an effort to decrease bias. A score from 1 to 10 was given to each abstract by the reviewer, with (unlike Olympic gymnastics or ice skating) lower scores being better. The reviewers were also asked to choose which abstracts meet criteria for clinical relevance and newsworthy appeal. Of the 5,498 abstracts submitted by the August 18 deadline and 31 submitted during the late-breaking window, 4,097 (75 percent) were selected for presentation at this year’s meeting in oral or poster form.
In previous years, ASH received feedback from a number of attendees who were interested in having clinically relevant abstracts clearly labeled in the meeting materials. Initially, authors were asked to indicate if their abstracts were clinically relevant during the submission process. Unfortunately, this system resulted in an extremely high proportion of abstracts noted as potentially clinically relevant. The current approach is that the abstract review groups identify the most clinically relevant abstracts in their category; this information is then passed on to the Program Committee for review and final approval. To delineate these presentations, a little stethoscope appears beside the chosen “clinically relevant” abstracts in the abstract book and online version.
In conclusion, I would like to offer a few helpful reminders and tips to keep in mind for next year’s abstract submission. It is never too early to plan!
- Submit early. More than half of the abstracts — 3,245 to be exact — were submitted in the last 48 hours before the deadline, which gave the electronic server running the submission program a workout.
- Make sure you chose the appropriate category for your abstract, to ensure that it is reviewed by a panel with proper expertise. Each year, new categories are created to accommodate areas of active research in hematology. For instance, the 2008 category, “Health Services and Outcomes Research,” was split into two separate categories for 2009: “Health Outcomes Research” and “Health Services and Education.”
- Make certain that you’ve included adequate data with your submission, so that your work can undergo a fair review. Vague abstracts with incomplete information or a lot of “hand-waving” typically do not score well.
- Clear writing makes your work look good! Reviewers have to sift through large numbers of abstracts in a short time. If your prose is impenetrable, the review panel may not be able to judge its merits adequately.
- Double-check the scientific literature to be sure that your data are novel. Remember that ASH’s software will pick up duplications in wording from previously published studies.
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