There's no question that the public relies on scientists to report their findings honestly and accurately.

In recent years, however, pharmaceutical companies have made it a normal practice to omit information about clinical trials for drug testing. These blatant misreports lead to untrue conclusions about drug efficacy and safety, potentially causing harm to consumers and patients.

In a new report, the British Journal of Medicine (BMJ) is asking all drug and pharmaceutical companies to send copies of their abandoned or unreported clinical trials within the next 30 days. With British Journal of Medicine having access to this information, and if the information changes original conclusions made, the scientists will have one year to edit their work and resubmit to the journal. If the scientists do not comply with the one year given, BMJ claims it will release the information to the public.

This threat against poor reporting may be a step in the right direction. Scientists, often in a hurry to publish a finding before anyone else, or to prove to those giving them grants that their research is going well, will doctor data in a reasonable way in order to make conclusions in a clinical setting more palatable. For example, if in a study where three out of 100 people experienced an adverse reaction to a drug, the scientists may choose to report that no one experienced an adverse reaction because it was a minority result. If the drug is approved for use, this is extremely dangerous, as users could potentially suffer those unreported risks.

The call for missing or misreported data will also benefit other scientists. When scientists try to collect their own data for a study that was already performed by another group, it becomes a difficult task when the original researchers leave out vital information like procedures or potential adverse effects. A list of drugs that have failed to report adverse effects and data include zanamivir, a drug to prevent influenza infection, and atorvastatin, a drug to lower cholesterol, though the list is much more extensive.

The number and variety of drugs on the list show that incomplete reporting of clinical trial results is not an isolated occurrence. Rather, an editorial commentary on the original report indicates that it's a widespread problem. "Secrecy and selective reporting were an integral part of the system... If we do not act on this opportunity to refurbish and restore abandoned trials, the medical research community will be failing its moral pact with research participants, patients, and the public. It is time to move from whether to how, and from words to action," the critics said.

Source: Doshi P, Dickersin K, Healy D, Vedula SS, Jefferson T. Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials: A Call For People to Publish The findings. BMJ. 2013.