The real reason critical research remains unpublished

Here’s something I didn’t know (so I’m guessing you may not know it either): Out of all the randomized clinical trials scientists conduct, you’ll never hear a word about nearly a third of them.

This statistic comes from a recent analysis of close to 600 registered trials. Results showed that 29 percent were still unpublished five years after they were finished.

We’re talking about data from nearly 300,000 subjects. And it has practically vanished from the public eye. You can only find results on–the government’s searchable database of current studies–for about a quarter of them.

I was also shocked to learn that once trials actually do get published, they usually feature less than half of the data regarding relevant patient outcomes, compared with original findings.

You probably have the exact same question I do: What, exactly, is going on here?

Well, follow the money, as they say.

You see, journals only print studies with results that further the agenda of the financier. And who’s funding the vast majority of clinical trials these days?

Two words: Big Pharma.

It’s funny. Back when I was in medical school, you didn’t take money from “the industry” (which is just code for “drug companies”) to do anything. Especially not research.

You just didn’t do it.

Yes, private companies gave medical residents pens or pizza–but that was about it. But today, there isn’t a medical research university on the map that doesn’t readily accept money from the pharmaceutical industry.

I dare say that most of them couldn’t stay open without it.

So when you think about it, all of this makes perfect sense.

Big Pharma has found a way to control the trials they fund–right down to the publishing of their results. Which includes withholding and releasing adverse data at their own discretion.

If this doesn’t sound right, well, that’s because it isn’t. But it’s the way things are. And this latest report just emphasizes the consequences of this insidious monopoly.

According to this study’s authors, “the lack of availability of results from these trials contributes to publication bias.” Meaning that the trials with results the industry bigwigs want you to know about are the only ones that actually get press.

The rest of them disappear into limbo along with all the other studies bearing less-than-ideal outcomes.

The non-publication rate of this research sampling came in at 32 percent for industry-funded trials. And 18 percent for those with independent, non-industry funding. Which basically means that studies bankrolled by Big Pharma “disappear” twice as often.

The authors go on to say that this phenomenon also “constitutes a failure to honor the ethical contract that is the basis for exposing study participants to the risks inherent in trial participation.”

Let me repeat: The unpublished studies this research looked at featured hundreds of thousands of participants in total. What if these people were exposed to something that could cause them harm? Don’t they have the right to know?

At the end of the day, any trial participant exposes him or herself to potential risks. Especially in the case of drug trials. We’re talking about unproven and very powerful treatments. But we accept this risk based on the greater benefit to society that the resulting knowledge will offer.

If the results of these studies never see the light of day, then the participants put themselves at risk for nothing. It’s as simple as that.

“Non-publication of large randomized clinical trials: cross sectional analysis.” BMJ. 2013; 347: f6104.
“Randomized Clinical Trials: 1 in 3 Not Reported.” Medscape. Oct 29, 2013.