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Reflections on the history of systematic reviews
  1. Mike Clarke1,
  2. Iain Chalmers2
  1. 1 School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Centre for Public Health, Institute for Health Sciences, Queen’s University, Belfast, UK
  2. 2 The James Lind Initiative, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Mike Clarke; m.clarke{at}

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One of the key elements in evidence-based medicine (EBM) is reliable information from research on the benefits and harms of specific interventions, actions or strategies. This is true for resolving uncertainties about interventions that might be used to treat illnesses or improve well-being and also for choosing screening or diagnostic tests, understanding risk factors and estimating the current and future burden of disease. As the principles and practice of EBM have become more accepted and widespread over the last few decades, there has been an accompanying tremendous growth in the number of systematic reviews and wider recognition of their value. From sporadic examples before the 1980s, through the estimated 3000 that were indexed in MEDLINE during the two decades to 2000,1 200 000 or more might now be available.2 More than 10 000 systematic reviews are published every year, and over 30 000 are registered in the prospective registry, PROSPERO.3 They are a vital part of EBM, and many of the reasons that we value them today have echoes in history.

We have written elsewhere about this history …

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