EVBRES stands on the shoulders of giants


In scientific research, redundancy can have serious consequences for human life, making it more than an academic concern. The COST Action Towards an International Network for Evidence-based Research in Clinical Health Research (EVBRES) addresses the issue of redundant studies. It highlights the damage caused by overlooking established evidence.

photo of a scientist in a laboratory

Over 85% of the total investment in medical research might be lost to research waste.

In a 2009 article, Chalmers and Glasziou noted that over 85% of medical research investment could be lost to research waste, with 57% due to redundancy. This waste occurs at four key stages: formulating relevant questions, using appropriate design and methods, ensuring full accessibility of publications, and producing unbiased reports. Considering that more than $1.7 trillion is spent annually on research and development, with $400 billion spent in the European Union alone, the potential loss is significant.

Redundant trials have far-reaching consequences beyond the statistics. They disrupt lives, withhold interventions, and raise questions about research ethics. Initiatives like COST Action EVBRES are crucial in addressing issues arising from unnecessary study repetition.

Why is Evidence-Based Research so important?

Dr Klara Brunnhuber, the Vice Chair of EVBRES explains that “Evidence-Based Research (EBR) involves using prior research to inform new studies in a systematic and transparent manner. This ensures that new studies effectively address vital questions. EBR is implemented in two stages”, continues Klara, “during the planning phase of a study and when interpreting new findings in the context of existing knowledge. The approach aims to fill knowledge gaps, making research necessary and relevant”.

Patients and the public are the primary beneficiaries of valuable and efficient research, both in terms of impact and cost. Redundant studies, particularly in clinical trials, can needlessly expose participants to harm. Spending research budgets on unnecessary studies hinders progress in crucial areas, especially considering limited resources. As public funds often support research, it is essential to ensure that budgets are used for necessary and relevant studies that benefit everyone.

Challenges and opportunities of Evidence-Based Research

Some researchers see EBR as restrictive, potentially limiting their freedom and autonomy”, says Klara Brunnhuber. “Challenges also arise from the promotion of single study results by researchers and the media, a focus on validity rather than value, limited awareness about synthesising evidence, inadequate involvement of libraries and librarians in evidence synthesis, and scarce funding for meta-research activities related to EBR or evidence syntheses”. Additionally, according to the Vice Chair, EBR relies on high-quality and up-to-date systematic reviews, which demand specialized skills and are time-consuming and costly to produce. However, it encourages using existing knowledge when determining study design and interpreting new findings.

EBR helps focus research on genuine needs and values, allowing the research community to benefit from past expertise and stand on the shoulders of giants.

If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Sir Issac Newton, 1676

EVBRES initiatives and impact

EVBRES produced a White Paper for the European Commission on The need for an Evidence-Based Research approach in health science where the COST Action strongly recommend that the European Commission make the EBR approach a part of funding criteria and create a call to fund EBR-relevant projects. The Action worked on improving healthcare capacity by creating training and educational materials. These include the EBR Handbook in preparation, videos of presentations and the possibility of taking the course without synchronous online teaching. Additionally, EVBRES has organised EBR conferences, including an upcoming in-person conference in September 2024 in Prague, which will be held alongside the Global Evidence Summit. The network has also published several meta-research articles for researchers, funders, ethics committees, and publishers/editors.

Klara Brunnhuber also stressed that funding agencies have a crucial role to play. It is encouraging to see some of them beginning to apply EBR principles to their funding decisions. The Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research in Norway provides an example. They searched for and analysed information from systematic reviews to identify ten evidence gaps within child and adolescent mental health. They plan to spend their 2024 research budget of NOK 20 million (EUR 1,762 million) on these gaps. Two of the ten evidence gaps for 2024 invited proposals on issues focused on health equity. These issues include the evaluation of psychosocial intervention programs to prevent gender-based violence and the assessment of the effect of inclusion in school on the socio-emotional development and well-being of children with special educational needs.

Expanding the reach of Evidence-Based Research

The healthcare and medical sectors have robust databases that facilitate systematic review methodologies. However, EBR is relevant to all areas, even where databases are less established. It is essential to address areas of real need, where answers have meaningful implications for end-users. EBR is crucial in all fields due to the concept of opportunity cost within limited resources. The concept resonates widely. It extends beyond medical or veterinary science to seemingly unrelated fields such as astrophysics or criminology. According to Klara, “EBR is universally appealing because it satisfies the shared desire across diverse disciplines to conduct impactful and valuable research”.

“Our goal is to become a global network and expand our reach to the wider research ecosystem, including patient organisations and policymakers, as well as other scientific disciplines. We will achieve this over the next few years”

Dr Klara Brunnhuber, Vice Chair of EVBRES

Looking into the future

“Our work definitely will continue”, says Klara, “with the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences serving as the hosting institution”. It will provide support in terms of administration, finance, communication, and website management.

Currently, as a non-profit organisation, the continuing network rebranded as The Evidence-Based Research Network (EBRNetwork) is preparing for a conference, which will include the inaugural General Assembly and the first elections for a steering committee. The plans are to expand internationally into diverse scientific disciplines beyond healthcare. The focus now involves collaborating with funding agencies, ethics committees, and the publishing industry to systematically implement evidence-based research. The overarching goal is to promote more valuable and less redundant research, addressing the issue of research waste.

“Our goal is to become a global network and expand our reach to the wider research ecosystem, including patient organisations and policymakers, as well as other scientific disciplines. We will achieve this over the next few years”, concludes Klara Brunnhuber.

Additional information

Discover the Action website

Discover the EVBRES network website

Discover The Evidence-Based Research Network (EBRNetwork) website

Discover the EVBRES YouTube Channel

Listen to the podcast Towards evidence-based research

Discover the webinar “How to conduct EBR” presented by Hans Lund & Klara Brunnhuber available at the Elsevier Researcher Academy.