A recent study by Oxford University and UCL researchers suggests that money is being wasted on research into social and psychological inter­ventions. The study claims that because meth­ods used by researchers aren’t fully reported in academic journals, these important details aren’t available for policymakers and practi­tioners. 

Details of the research methods used are also needed, according to the study, to indi­cate whether the results of an experiment are biased. 

The study reviewed over 200 experiments across 40 of the leading journals in social and behavioural sciences. 

Paul Montgomery, Professor of Psycho-Social Interventions at the University of Oxford, commented in a University Press Release “In this era of austerity, policymakers increasingly look for evidence of “what works” to ensure that revenue is well-spent on programmes that address issues such as poverty, mental health, crime, and drug use.”  

He continued “When they are reported fully and transparently, they can help policymakers choose the most effective way to spend public funds; however, readers rely on reports of these studies in academic journals to effectively understand and use the research. Reporting guidelines are a critical step in improving this area of research for policy decision-making.” 

To try and improve the situation, new guidelines similar for those used for medicine will be developed to try and encourage improved reporting standards of these reports. These guidelines will be developed in consort with researchers from across the disciplines. 

In response to the study, a student told Cherwell “As a social science student, it’s not all that encouraging that professional academics are being told that their research may be a waste of time. I hope that this can be improved quickly otherwise it may discourage students from doing research or graduate study which would have a negative effect on progress within the social sciences. It seems like they’re working hard to try and improve the situation though.” 

Harry Burt President of the Oxford PPE Society opined, “Although the paper in question raises some interesting points and will no doubt prompt some much needed improvements in intervention reporting standards, I do not think it will or need alarm those considering further study, whether in PPE or otherwise. This is not least because the issues implicit in moving from experimental data to policy implementation are already well documented, allowing researchers to help mitigate those concerns from the moment they begin their research onwards.”