The US government is allowed to punish researchers who fail to publish the results of clinical trials. But with little effort made to act on these rules, TrialsTracker is a project that shames those who fail to comply, forcing accountability on institutions from the outside. We explore the insights behind the innovation and why TrialsTracker’s hard line is encouraging medical researchers to share the fruits of their labours.
The ruling that forces researchers to share their findings was intended to spread knowledge around the medical community, letting doctors and regulators easily spot defective or dangerous drugs. However, the government has never taken action against those who’ve flouted the law, so the TrialsTracker website has decided to enact its own justice by publicly shaming offending institutions. The site lists all the researchers who have failed to publish their results, including a count of how many days overdue they are. “Public accountability is a vitally important tool in public policy and in improving standards. Public accountability is the reason why many states and countries require restaurants to publish their hygiene ratings on the front door,” says Ben Goldacre, a health-data researcher at the University of Oxford who created the site. “We hope our public tool will help encourage the FDA to enforce the law.”
Researchers aren’t always sharing the results of their studies
USF SLE, Creative Commons (2017) ©
Accountability is important to people, especially on behalf of companies. It’s why honesty is consumers’ number one desired quality in brands, and trust in institutions dips when powerful corporations are seen as shrugging off responsibility for their actions. But with research finding that “studies with ‘negative’ or non-significant results are twice as likely to be left unpublished,” it’s not surprising that only 3% of people believe big businesses are ‘very honest and transparent’. "What's nice about this tracker is that it allows responsible individuals within an institution to monitor what's happening," says Joe Ross, a professor of medicine at Yale University.
Now that the mainstreaming of transparent values has made accountability a must-have rather than a nice-to-have, when companies don’t prove their trustworthiness themselves, people are beginning to take matters into their own hands – whether that involves calling them out on social media or creating initiatives like TrialsTracker.
Mira Kopolovic is a behavioural analyst at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She has an MA in creative industries, which focused on artist-brand collaborations, and spends her spare time poring over dystopian literature.
16 Mar 18
2 min read