“85% of biomedical research is wasted” and librarians

First to the rather disturbing 85% figure. This originates from a 2009 Lancet article that suggests much research is wasted due to asking the wrong questions, being badly designed, being not published, being poorly reported and more. The paper has been cited some 400 times in Google Scholar which indicates that it is an area of interest and concern.

So where where do librarians fit in? A recent paper (“Impactful librarians : identifying opportunities to increase your impact”) suggests that they can play a very important role in improving research quality in their organisations. At the same time, this will help raise the profile and value of clinical librarians, which is increasingly important in the current economic climate.

Shona Kirtley, from the University of Oxford in the UK, outlines a number of steps that librarians can pro actively take to achieve some of these desirable outcomes. 16 possible actions are handily summarised in the article, and no doubt there are other approaches which can be adopted.

To highlight just one area as an example, one aspect of research inefficiency is in the reporting of research methods and results. Reporting guidelines, which often take the form of check-lists or flow diagrams, have been developed to improve reporting of various study types, such as randomised controlled trials (CONSORT), systematic reviews (PRISMA), observational studies (STROBE), case reports (CASE) and so on. As clinical librarians are often in contact with researchers, they are ideally placed to promote awareness of guidelines such as these. For instance, this could be when a clinician requests a search for research, during training classes, on the library website etc.

It is valuable to have a look at the EQUATOR Network site which provides online access to numerous reporting guidelines; searchable by study type and/or clinical speciality. Just making researchers aware of this site alone would significantly contribute to research quality.

My own country Australia has just become the fourth member of the network worldwide, following the United Kingdom, Canada and France. There is a Librarian section of the EQUATOR Network if you would like to be involved in establishing it in your own country or contributing generally. Another site focussed on preventing research waste is The Reward Alliance.

In short, the Kirtley paper is well worth printing off and reading, giving as it does much food for thought and outlining potential opportunities for librarians to have a positive and valued impact on biomedical research.

Comments, suggestions, tips, anecdotes etc welcome below,

– Rob

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