Ethics committees, managed though the Health Research Authority (HRA), are key for monitoring research integrity

Research output: Other contribution


There is no point conducting research if the results are not accurately communicated, but how research is communicated, and in how much detail, is not a straightforward issue. On one hand, it must be accepted that those who fund research should be allowed to reap the rewards in advance of other companies or enterprises. However, as research projects using animals or humans are often burdensome, there is an ethical imperative to ensure that results are published within a reasonable time and with enough detail to avoid unnecessary replication. When this doesn’t happen the problem of reporting bias occurs. Reporting bias is a research integrity issue, and has caused thousands of deaths within worldwide medicine, as medical doctors are not given access to the full information on the drugs they are prescribing. It is also the reason for an incredible waste of public funds such as during the H1N1 “Swine Flu” epidemic where £424 million was spent on Tamiflu by the British Government. Here, a subsequent systematic review of the evidence behind the clinical efficacy of Tamiflu found that eight out of the ten trials that were used by the company to show the drug was useful in preventing complications such as pneumonia had never actually been peer reviewed or published. Instead clinicians, and in this case governments, were relying on a marketing spiel claiming successful trials of this drug rather than being able to consider the actual evidence of the drug efficacy for themselves. It is encouraging that the problem of reporting bias is becoming increasingly prominent both publicly and politically. Significant steps such as the enforcement of clinical trial registration have recently been made, but this progress does not directly address the problem of reporting bias in the scientific literature. Recently calls have been made for sponsors and funders to audit their research and ensure that data is being suitably published[5]. Whilst this is undoubtedly important, we argue that research ethics committees are in a far better place to determine whether research is being published, and whether the published outcomes reflect the original research. In the UK it is a requirement for researchers intending to conduct many types of human research to submit their protocols for review by National Health Service research ethics committees. In England, there are sixty-eight research ethics committees overseen by the Health Research Authority who, as the national ethics regulator, have access to all the significant, and currently confidential, research protocols. The Health Research Authority is therefore in the best position to support research ethics committees in monitoring publications arising from projects, and determine whether publications accurately reflect the outcomes originally described in research protocols. We have previously described an auditing method that can achieve this[6], and now call on the Health Research Authority to provide a model for the international community of how publication and outcome reporting bias can be effectively detected and monitored using research ethics committee records. Although this process should be managed by the HRA, additional funding for this role should be raised from industry and investors, as they will directly benefit from ensuring there are no “skeletons in the cupboard” that might affect their investments.
Original languageEnglish
TypeEvidence to select committee
Media of outputWritten
PublisherScience and Technology Committee (Commons)
Number of pages11
Place of PublicationOnline
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2017


  • Transparency
  • Publication bias
  • Outcome reporting bias
  • Health Research Authority


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