4.1 Improving reports of research

High quality, complete reports of research are needed to provide maximum return on the public’s substantial investment in research on the effects of treatments.

The Medical Research Council’s randomised trial comparing bed rest alone with bed rest and streptomycin for treating pulmonary tuberculosis (MRC 1948) is renowned for several reasons. As far as the research methods used are concerned, it introduced secure methods for assuring that the comparison groups would be similar (Chalmers 2010). However, another feature of the study report is that it was exceptionally clearly written. This reflected the care taken by the three members of the research team. One of them, Marc Daniels, went on to publish papers commenting on the inadequacy of many reports of research, and recommending reporting standards (Daniels 1950; 1951). Some years later, Austin Bradford Hill, one of Daniels’ two senior colleagues, also offered guidance (Hill 1965).

It was not until the 1980s that formal surveys of the quality of reports of research began to reveal just how common deficiencies were (Hemminki 1981; 1982). Remedies began to be suggested in proposed reporting standards (Chalmers TC et al. 1981; Ad Hoc Working Group 1987). The 1990s witnessed concerted international initiatives to improve the quality of reports of research (Standards of Reporting Trials Group 1994; The Consort Group 1996). In a BMJ editorial in 1994, Douglas Altman commented on “the scandal of poor medical research” – “we need less research, better research and research done for the right reasons”, he suggested (Altman 1994). Since then, he and his colleagues in the Equator Network (www.equator-network.org) created a library of  guidelines for reporting health research. Promoting adherence to these guidelines by researchers and journals remains a challenge.

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