Iain Chalmers on publication bias

Iain Chalmers, British health-services researcher, and founder of the Cochrane Collaboration, recently wrote a column, “Publish or Perish.”  Excerpts:

“…failure to publish research results is by far the most common and worrying form of scientific and ethical misconduct in health research – and it has had lethal consequences.

Anecdotal evidence of publication bias has existed for a long time. But, as requirements for registering clinical trials have become more stringent, its magnitude has become quantifiable: the results of at least half of the clinical trials involving patients and healthy volunteers remain unpublished years after completion. Studies with “negative” results are particularly unlikely to see the light of day. But neglecting to report research can lead to distorted clinical-practice recommendations, suffering, and death.

…the drug-discovery process suffers from built-in inefficiency, owing to inadequate reporting. But, while waste may be tolerable, avoidable harm to patients is not. Drug-trial volunteers should not accept this abuse of their participation in research. Failing to publish the results of clinical trials is a betrayal of the implicit trust that they have placed in researchers to use their contribution to increase and improve the stock of scientific knowledge.

Nor should the public accept this squandering of resources. There is simply no justification for withholding the results of health-research studies. Publication is a moral imperative.”


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