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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

How international is bioethics? A quantitative retrospective study

Pascal Borry*, Paul Schotsmans and Kris Dierickx

Author Affiliations

Center for Biomedical Ethics and Law, K.U. Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer 35/3, 3000 Leuven, Belgium

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BMC Medical Ethics 2006, 7:1  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-7-1

Published: 13 January 2006

Abstract

Background

Studying the contribution of individual countries to leading journals in a specific discipline can highlight which countries have the most impact on that discipline and whether a geographic bias exists. This article aims to examine the international distribution of publications in the field of bioethics.

Methods

Retrospective quantitative study of nine peer reviewed journals in the field of bioethics and medical ethics (Bioethics, Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Hastings Center Report, Journal of Clinical Ethics, Journal of Medical Ethics, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, Nursing Ethics, Christian Bioethics, and Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics).

Results

In total, 4,029 articles published between 1990 and 2003 were retrieved from the nine bioethical journals under study. The United States (59.3%, n = 2390), the United Kingdom (13.5%, n = 544), Canada (4%, n = 160) and Australia (3.8%, n = 154) had the highest number of publications in terms of absolute number of publications. When normalized to population size, smaller affluent countries, such as New Zealand, Finland and Sweden were more productive than the United States. The number of studies originating from the USA was decreasing in the period between 1990 and 2003.

Conclusion

While a lot of peer reviewed journals in the field of bioethics profile themselves as international journals, they certainly do not live up to what one would expect from an "international" journal. The fact that English speaking countries, and to a larger extent American authors, dominate the international journals in the field of bioethics is a clear geographic bias towards the bioethical discussions that are going on in these journals.