We welcome a guest post from our colleague Rebecca Sax!
The scientific research community is notoriously siloed and competitive. Even after the rapid, global collaboration resulting in the COVID-19 vaccine in 2020, health research is still bogged down by opaque publication processes and limited access to results. We wrote about this in October 2020, and it is just as true today.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in August 2022 updates to their Data Management and Sharing Policy that will drastically increase access to all federally-funded research projects. This blog will highlight some of the established barriers to the implementation of health services research and how this new policy will change the game.
Expensive paywalls to access articles
It is no secret that unless you are affiliated with an academic institution, accessing scientific journal articles is expensive. If, like me, you often scour the internet for credible sources for non-research purposes, access could cost you $30 an article – without even knowing whether the findings will actually meet your needs.
Under the updated policy, any research project that receives funding from the NIH (and eventually other federal agencies) must make its data and findings freely publicly available. Researchers will likely be asked to submit their publications to PubMed or other federal repositories but it isn’t yet clear how this will impact for-profit research journals such as Science Direct, Nature, or JAMA.
Prolonged delays between research and publication
It can take up to 17 years for researchers to acquire funding, perform the research, develop the findings, and go through the peer-review process for publication. Fewer than half of trials funded by the NIH are published in a peer-reviewed journal within 30 months of project completion. This is not just a logical inconvenience, but actually leads to significant financial waste and delayed healthcare innovations. Experts estimate that inefficiency results in $85 million a year of wasted medical research due to publication delays. Once the data is ready and able to be published, research journals often impose embargoes – planned publication delays to encourage readers to purchase access before the data is made available to the general public.
The NIH’s updated policy makes huge strides to address these delays by mandating researchers to share their data and findings immediately upon publication. While this doesn’t totally address the outrageous gap between research and implementation, we are excited about any policy change that encourages quicker access to data.
Opaque data storage and recording of null results
While methods, tables, and discussions are valuable items within journal articles, the reader cannot replicate the researchers’ analyses or findings without access to the raw dataset. Ownership of this data is primarily held by the researchers themselves, even though the odds of that data being available declines by 17% per year, probably due to staff turnover and outdated information systems. Not only is this information less likely to be available over time, but this only contributes to well-documented publication bias. Researchers, journals, and funders are reluctant to document studies that demonstrate no effect or prove the null hypothesis. Publication bias is a serious issue in open access research by preventing others from learning from their experiences and limiting available information on a topic.
To us, this is the most exciting change in the updated data-sharing policy. As of 2023, all NIH-funded research will have to commit to sharing raw research data as freely and immediately as the publication itself. This has huge implications for the research community’s ability to replicate results and improve the transparency of the research process.
PubTrawlr is driving access to scientific research data through its unique online platform. The updated NIH data-sharing policy will enable PubTrawlr’s powerful algorithm to aggregate more data in a more timely way.
Contact us to see how we can partner to get this important research into implementation for you and your company.