This analysis was aimed at quantifying how many studies registered on the Open Science Framework (OSF) up to November 2017 are performed but not shared after at least 4 years. Examining a sample of 315 registrations, of which 169 were research studies, the researchers found that 104 (62%) were published. They estimated that 5550 out of 9544 (58%) registered studies on the OSF are published.
Researchers use registries to make unpublished studies public, and the OSF policy to open registrations after a four-year embargo substantially increases the number of studies that become known to the scientific community. In responses to emails asking researchers why studies remained unpublished logistical issues (e.g., lack of time, researchers changing jobs) were the most common cause, followed by null results, and rejections during peer review.
The authors concluded that their study shows that a substantial amount of studies researchers perform remain unpublished.
I find this truly shocking!
Researchers are able to do research only because they receive financial and other support from elsewhere. Therefore they have an ethical obligation to publish it. The reasons frequently given for not publishing research are nothing well and truly invalid:
- Lack of time is a mere excuse; if researchers had the time to get the grants, permissions, etc. they simply must have the time to finish the job properly.
- Researchers changing jobs is an equally flawed excuse; if someone changes position, he/she is obliged to finish the job they were doing. A surgeon can also not leave mid-surgery because he has a better offer.
- ‘Null results’ is even worse as a reason. Null results are just as important as positive findings – occasionally they are even more important. If researchers fail to realize this, they simply disqualify themselves as researchers.
- ‘Rejections during peer review’ is complete nonsense. Everyone who submits papers for publication gets rejected once in a while. In this case, one learns from the peer-review comments, improves the paper in question, and re-submits it to another journal.
I have seen many studies of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that, for this or that reason, never were published. And I feel strongly that this is a serious violation of research ethics – so much so that I would ban researchers who are guilty of this crime from conducting research in the future. I also feel that, in order to receive the necessary support (financial and other), researchers should sign that they will publish their findings within a given time after finishing their study. Failing to comply could then incur a penalty such as paying back part of the funds wasted. I think such measures would very quickly clear up the current intolerable situation.