What can be done about research waste?

Slide from Professor Paul Glasziou’s keynote address

High levels of research waste have long been a concern of research funders and researchers themselves. In his recent keynote address at the AIMOS (Association for Interdisciplinary Meta-research and Open Science) 2020 conference, PCHSS researcher Professor Paul Glasziou reflected on his research from the last decade, which has sought to quantify the extent of research waste and to identify the leading causes and solutions to worthless research.

Back in 2009, when Professor Glasziou and Sir Iain Chalmers first crunched the numbers, they found that a disturbing 85% of research output constituted waste — meaning the vast majority of research was of little or no value. In his AIMOS2020 keynote address, Acting on Reproducibility and Avoidable Waste in Research, Professor Glasziou discussed subsequent studies which indicate waste levels identified in 2009 have not changed: “there is good evidence that at least 50% of studies have major avoidable design flaws…then there is 50% non-publication; and 50% of studies are unusable, because of such poor reporting that nobody would be able to replicate them. And if you multiply those you end up with 87.5 [percent waste]”

So how do we make research less wasteful?

According to Professor Glasziou, research funders may hold the key to enforcing higher research standards. Funders, such as the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia, are already beginning to develop more precise funding criteria to ensures money goes towards robust, reproducible research projects. The criteria are designed to incentivise researchers to realistically assess the likely impact and usefulness of proposed research.

What can researchers do?

Advancements in technology may also help researchers to reduce research waste. Literature reviews currently require vast amounts of researchers’ time and energy. The automation of systematic reviews, for example, could prevent research duplication, and enable the speedy identification and prioritisation of research areas and questions.

What can researchers do now to combat waste? Submit those unfinished manuscripts for publication! (Admittedly, that is easier said than done.)

View the full talk here:

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