What’s wrong with health reporting today?
“Reporting research is as important a part of a study as its design or analysis”
The Declaration of Helsinki states that researchers, editors and publishers have ethical obligations when the results of research are published. It stresses the completeness and accuracy of the reporting of human research. However, the evidence shows that we are far from this ideal:
- Whole studies are not either reported or are reported long after research is completed
Studies are incompletely reported
- Crucial components are left out: who the study participants were, what interventions were used, etc.
- Data and results are selectively reported; outcomes are left out
Studies are inaccurately reported
- Inconsistencies between abstracts and main text
- Statistical errors
- Harms are inadequately reported
- Data and graphs are confusing or misleading
- ‘Spin’: misinterpretation of results
The result is unusable information. These studies cannot be reproduced, properly appraised, or contribute to a systematic review’s dataset. The information gathered never enters the body of evidence; it is as if the research was never done. The funding involved is wasted and the contributions of the participants are squandered. With no record of the study, future researchers may unknowingly repeat the work.
The research is thus rendered useless, fallen victim to bad reporting.
Reporting guidelines: the solution to poor reporting
Reporting guidelines are checklists designed by methodologists and researchers. They describe the minimum set of items needed to ensure a study is reported accurately and completely, so that its results can be used. Although over 300 guidelines designed for specific study types now exist, researchers have been slow to use them. We at the EQUATOR Network believe that every stakeholder in the research publication process can play a role in promoting the effective use of reporting guidelines.
This short article in Science Editor explains a bit more about how reporting guidelines can support the work that journal editors do.