Important research on publication bias

Last modified: May 20, 2017

By Rikard Juttmann MD PhD – retired coordinator scientific integrity Erasmus MC
 

Publication bias is the most radical threat to the value of science, in particular where clinical research is concerned. The most eloquent protagonist of this point of view is, in my opinion, Ben Goldacre. In the Erasmus MC Scientific Integrity Course for PhD-students we always show the students Goldacre’s brilliant TED-talk on this subject, which I also heartily recommend to the NRIN members. Please find this performance in the following link. Goldacre argues that the substantial lack of information on unpublished clinical research data impedes effective treatment by physicians and undermines the confidence in medical science in general. Moreover, we don’t apprehend the extent and nature of this lack of knowledge, which makes things even worse.

However, we don’t have to bow to this situation. Publication bias concerns, to paraphrase former US defense minister Donald Rumsfeld, “the known unknown”. It is about data we know that exist, but are unavailable. In contrast to Rumsfeld “unknown unknown”, at least efforts can be made to unveil unpublished clinical research data as much as possible and to investigate the reasons and circumstances leading to their absence in the published medical literature. A valuable attempt to do this is undertaken by C.A. van den Bogert et.al. They published the design of an inception cohort study to the occurrence and determinants of selective reporting of clinical drug trials in the Netherlands initiated in 2007, in BMJ Open. Please find this paper in the following link. The results of this study will be published halfway 2016. The NRIN newsletter will report and comment on these results at the same time.

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