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B.J. Visser: How much money do we waste on research?


It has been claimed that 85% of biomedical research is wasted because of inadequate production and reporting of research (1,2). This implies a considerable financial loss for society and industry. Overall biomedical research and development expenditures in the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region sum up to an astonishing $268.4 billion U.S. dollars (3). Do we waste 85% of these $268 billion (=$228 billion)? How much exactly do we waste annually on “useless” biomedical medical research? And in which field of biomedical research is most of the money spent?
These questions will remain very difficult, perhaps impossible, to answer. However, by sharing data on financial costs in scientific publications we might gain more insight in this non-transparent but important component of medical research. Moreover, sharing the costs of research might have other potential advantages.

Sharing costs of biomedical research; difficult, scary, but not impossible
As a young and aspiring researcher, I strongly support the use of reporting guidelines collected and published by the EQUATOR network. These guidelines help me to report transparently and uniformly. I consider them as valuable for young (and also more experienced) scientists. However, in current reporting guidelines the costs of research are not included. Why not?
Before being involved in medical research, I was convinced that scientific arguments in favour of, or against a certain research method in order to answer a research question is the most important consideration for scientists. During my research period however, I discovered that most decisions (e.g. choosing a research method for a new clinical study) are highly depended on practical considerations, such as the availability of financial resources. As a result of cutbacks in government spending and research funding for medical research, this financial factor becomes increasingly important in the decision making process. Therefore, and among other reasons, I propose that expenditure on biomedical research is important information that warrants inclusion into publication (4).

Benefits of publishing costs of research
Publishing the costs of research can not only help us estimate how much is wasted (or how much is well-spent) in biomedical research, but a transparent financial overview can also contribute to considerations based on reliable data in estimating costs of research for future experiments. It can help to properly negotiate budgets for research studies. For funding organizations, sharing costs of research promotes the most prudent use of public resources. Additionally, financial data can be used to explore related or new research methods which may be more cost-effective, particularly when combined with other published research cost data. It is also helpful in the education of new researchers and policy makers, especially when discrepancies between project proposals or budgeting exercises and the real published costs are observed. These are not the only advantages of reporting costs of research (4). The practical aspects of sharing research costs in publications brings a number of challenges for scientists, including difficulty of estimating personnel costs, rapidly changing prices of medical technology, ethical or legal constraints, lack of time (time to prepare data for sharing), lack of expertise how to properly report such costs (there are no guidelines for this, yet) etc.
For which type of studies could reporting research costs be valuable? This depends on the perspective of the reader. Should we develop another guideline for this, or should the reporting of financial information be included by respective guidelines? And most importantly, is it really valuable for science to report financial data? Evidence should become available to demonstrate this.

Reporting research costs in medical publications is not merely an additional tick box exercise. Rather, I think it can help to improve scientific transparency, efficiency and reproducibility of medical research. I call for a broader discussion among individual researchers and research funding organizations, whether we should publish research costs, and if so, which costs exactly should be reported.


Benjamin Jelle Visser, MD; Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam. Meibergdreef 9, 1105 AZ,  Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Email: b.j.visser@amc.uva.nl, Tel: +31205664400 (work)


1. Macleod MR, Michie S, Roberts I, et al. Biomedical research: increasing value, reducing waste. Lancet 2014; 383: 101-104. Available online at: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62329-6/fulltext

2. Glasziou P, Altman DG, Bossuyt P, et al. Reducing waste from incomplete or unusable reports of biomedical research. Lancet 2014; 383: 267-276. Online available at:  http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62228-X/fulltext

3. Chakma J, Sun GH, Steinberg JD, Sammut SM, Jagsi R. Asia’s ascent–global trends in biomedical R&D expenditures. N Engl J Med. 2014 Jan 2;370(1):3-6. Online available at: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1311068

4. Visser BJ, Buijink AW, Grobusch MP. Reporting of Medical Research Costs: Improving Transparency and Reproducibility of Medical Research. Methods Inf Med. 2014 Jul 2;53(4). Online available at: http://www.schattauer.de/en/magazine/subject-areas/journals-a-z/methods/contents/archivestandard/issue/special/manuscript/21347.html


The opinion expressed in this blog are those of the author, and they do not reflect in any way those of the institutions to which he is affiliated.


Other resources:

Research. Increasing value, reducing waste. researchwaste.net

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