Twenty years ago an editorial by Doug Altman in the BMJ [1], “The Scandal of Poor Medical Research”, decried the poor design and reporting of research, stating that “huge sums of money are spent annually on research that is seriously flawed through the use of inappropriate designs, unrepresentative samples, small samples, incorrect methods of analysis, and faulty interpretation”. Since then, change has been gradual, while the list of problems has lengthened, and documentation of their magnitude has accumulated. Recent years, however, have seen a crescendo of concern. Public awareness has been accelerated with the publication of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma [2], which clearly articulated the problems posed by biased non-publication and reporting of pharmaceutical research. Wider awareness of these issues helped spark the AllTrials campaign (http://www.alltrials.net/), which asks for “all trials registered; all results reported”. Of course, the problems of poor design and reporting, as well as selective non-publication, extend well beyond drug trials to most areas of research: drug and non-drug, basic and applied, interventional and observational, animal and human. A 2009 paper in The Lancet [3] estimated that three problems—flawed design, non-publication, and poor reporting—together meant over 85% of research funds were wasted, implying a global total loss of over US$100 billion per year. This year, a follow-up series [4] more extensively documented this wastage, confirming the earlier estimate, but adding details and a series of more explicit recommendations for action.

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