BMJ: How systematic reviews can reduce waste in research

‘If you asked a member of the public “Should researchers review relevant, existing research systematically before embarking on further research?” they would probably be puzzled. Why would you ask a question with such an obvious answer? But in the current research system, researchers are only rarely required by research funders and regulators to do this.’

‘The most extensive relevant analysis found that published reports of trials cited fewer than 25% of previous similar trials. Furthermore, many researchers appear unaware of existing systematic reviews of research….’

Below are extracts of a new blog by Paul Glasziou and Iain Chalmers in the BMJ. The full text is available here:

The authors quote from the National Institute for Health Research:

“Where a systematic review already exists that summarises the available evidence this should be referenced, as well as including reference to any relevant literature published subsequent to that systematic review. Where no such systematic review exists it is expected that the applicants will undertake an appropriate review of the currently available and relevant evidence.”

I would like to ask HIFA members: What can be done to address this problem? How can researchers be encouraged to make their own research ‘evidence-based’ (taking account of previous similar research, especially systematic reviews, and undertaking a systematic review where one does not already exist)? Is it not time for funding agencies and governments – and ethics committees – to insist that all research should be preceded by a review of available evidence before it is approved? This is indeed an ethical issue – we are talking about the potential for unnecessary trials causing harm to patients, not to mention the huge waste of public spending on research that should never have been done.  

Best wishes, Neil

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