The WHO joint statement from funders on trials transparencyBMJ 2017; 357 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j2816 (Published 19 June 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2816
- Ben Goldacre, senior clinical research fellow
- Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6GG, UK
It costs nothing for an organisation to issue vague statements in favour of transparency and integrity. This time, a World Health Organization joint statement on clinical trials transparency, signed by 15 major non-industry research funders (see box), gives unusual grounds for optimism. Where previous documents have been shapeless, this one makes clear commitments to transparency, with timelines; it promises unambiguous outcomes where compliance can be easily assessed; it gives technical details around implementation; and crucially it includes a commitment for open self-auditing, so progress can be monitored.
This matters, because definitive forward movement is long overdue. We have known that clinical trials are incompletely and selectively reported since the 1980s,12 and much has been written on our collective poor progress since then.34 A 2014 systematic review found 17 studies that followed up cohorts of trials approved by ethics committees,5 of which only half were published (46.2%, 95% CI 40.2% to52.4%). Twenty two cohort studies of trials on registries gave similar rates of unpublished results (54.2%, 95% CI 42.0% to65.9%). Studies with statistically significant results were much more likely to be …