Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) are becoming an increasingly important design. However, authors of CRTs do not always adhere to requirements to explicitly identify the design as cluster randomized in titles and abstracts, making retrieval from bibliographic databases difficult. Machine learning algorithms may improve their identification and retrieval. Therefore, we aimed to develop machine learning algorithms that accurately determine whether a bibliographic citation is a CRT report.
We trained, internally validated, and externally validated two convolutional neural networks and one support vector machine (SVM) algorithm to predict whether a citation is a CRT report or not. We exclusively used the information in an article citation, including the title, abstract, keywords, and subject headings. The algorithms’ output was a probability from 0 to 1. We assessed algorithm performance using the area under the receiver operating characteristic (AUC) curves. Each algorithm’s performance was evaluated individually and together as an ensemble. We randomly selected 5000 from 87,633 citations to train and internally validate our algorithms. Of the 5000 selected citations, 589 (12%) were confirmed CRT reports. We then externally validated our algorithms on an independent set of 1916 randomized trial citations, with 665 (35%) confirmed CRT reports.
In internal validation, the ensemble algorithm discriminated best for identifying CRT reports with an AUC of 98.6% (95% confidence interval: 97.8%, 99.4%), sensitivity of 97.7% (94.3%, 100%), and specificity of 85.0% (81.8%, 88.1%). In external validation, the ensemble algorithm had an AUC of 97.8% (97.0%, 98.5%), sensitivity of 97.6% (96.4%, 98.6%), and specificity of 78.2% (75.9%, 80.4%)). All three individual algorithms performed well, but less so than the ensemble.
We successfully developed high-performance algorithms that identified whether a citation was a CRT report with high sensitivity and moderately high specificity. We provide open-source software to facilitate the use of our algorithms in practice.