Call for better protocols to cut waste in biomedical research

Research conduct, reporting and management needs overhaul, says Lancet study

January 9, 2014

Biomedical scientists need to tighten their methods and ensure that work is reproducible to stop wastage in research, according to a study.

The report is part of a series of papers published in The Lancet on 8 January that propose sweeping changes to research conduct, reporting, management and regulation to boost the value of biomedical research.

More than $240 billion (£147 billion) was spent on such research worldwide in 2010, according to a commentary on the series.

In one of the papers, John Ioannidis, professor of health research and policy at Stanford University, and colleagues write: “Correctable weaknesses in the design, conduct and analysis of biomedical and public health research studies can produce misleading results and waste valuable resources.” Overhauling these processes could lead to research that better contributes to health improvements, they argue.

Among the problems listed are the lack of detailed written protocols, the misuse of techniques to indicate statistical power, and the insufficient consideration of previous or ongoing studies.

“Inadequate emphasis is placed on [the] recording of research decisions and on [the] reproducibility of research,” the authors say.

The problems in research methods are “intricately linked” to the training and composition of the science workforce, the environment of science and its reward system, they add. To circumvent this, the authors suggest that academics win funding and promotion based on the quality and reliability of their research, as opposed to the quantity and novelty of the work. The workforce should also get better training in methodology and should involve statisticians more often.

Meanwhile, a second study in the series looks at how biomedical science could be more efficiently regulated to cut waste.

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