Over recent years there has been a collective push by the medical communications industry to improve the transparency, openness and reproducibility of published scientific data. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) now mandates that articles reporting data from clinical trials include a data sharing statement, and require a data sharing plan at registration for all new trials commencing enrolment after 1 January this year. Ahead of these changes in requirements, Wallach et al analysed articles published between 2015 and 2017 for transparency, and compared results to a previous study they conducted from 2000 to 2014 to see if progress had been achieved.
Wallach et al took a random sample of 149 biomedical articles published between 2015 and 2017 and determined the proportion reporting funding sources, conflicts of interests (COI), protocol sharing and data sharing statements. Major improvements in inclusion levels of funding and COI statements were evident compared with the 2000–2014 study, but approximately one-third still did not include funding information and a similar proportion did not have a COI statement. Of 104 articles discussing empirical data, the number sharing protocols and/or data, critical components for reproducibility, was low. Only 18% mentioned publicly available data and just one article included a link to a study protocol. As not all readers have access to full text articles, the authors also analysed how much information (such as data sharing statements or COI declarations) is available alongside the open access abstract on PubMed. The analysis revealed that, while clinical trial identification numbers and funding details were often provided, details relating to data sharing and COI were generally not disclosed.
The authors acknowledge that advances have been made in recent years compared with their first analysis but conclude that further improvements are required. We await further studies, conducted after the implementation of the new ICMJE guidance, with interest!