A blobbogram is designed to show whether further research is needed. Studies crossing the vertical line are inconclusive. Here the summary (and two individual studies) shows that the treatment prevented babies from dying. Further studies like these are not needed.
A blobbogram is designed to show whether further research is needed. Studies crossing the vertical line are inconclusive. Here the summary (and two individual studies) shows that the treatment prevented babies from dying. Further studies like these are not needed.

The phrases "further research is needed" (FRIN), "more research is needed" and other variants are commonly used in research papers. The cliché is so common that it has attracted research, regulation and cultural commentary.

Meaning

Some research journals have banned the phrase "more research is needed" on the grounds that it is redundant;[1] it is almost always true and fits almost any article, and so can be taken as understood.

A 2004 metareview by the Cochrane collaboration of their own systematic medical reviews found that 93% of the reviews studied made indiscriminate FRIN-like statements, reducing their ability to guide future research. The presence of FRIN had no correlation with the strength of the evidence against the medical intervention. Authors who thought a treatment was useless were just as likely to recommend researching it further.[2]

Indeed, authors may recommend "further research" when, given the existing evidence, further research would be extremely unlikely to be approved by an ethics committee.[3]

Studies finding that a treatment has no noticeable effects are sometimes greeted with statements that "more research is needed" by those convinced that the treatment is effective, but the effect has not yet been found.[4] Since even the largest study can never rule out an infinitesimally small effect, an effect can only ever be shown to be insignificant, not non-existent.[5] Similarly, Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, argues that FRIN is often used as a way in which a "[l]ack of hard evidence to support the original hypothesis gets reframed as evidence that investment efforts need to be redoubled", and a way to avoid upsetting hopes and vested interests. She has also described FRIN as "an indicator that serious scholarly thinking on the topic has ceased", saying that "it is almost never the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from a set of negative, ambiguous, incomplete or contradictory data."[6]

Addressing the issue

Further research on the Piltdown man was once needed.[7]
Further research on the Piltdown man was once needed.[7]

Greenhalgh suggests that, because vague FRIN statements are an argument that "tomorrow's research investments should be pitched into precisely the same patch of long grass as yesterday's", funding should be refused to those making them. She and others argue that more thought and research is needed into methods for determining where more research is needed.[6][8]

Academic journal editors were banning unqualified FRIN statements as early as 1990, requiring more specific information such as what types of research were needed, and what questions they ought to address.[1] Researchers themselves have strongly recommended that research articles detail what research is needed.[9][2] This is conventional in some fields.[10][11] Other commentators suggest that articles would benefit by assessing the likely value of possible further research.[12]

Example

Both the needfulness and needlessness of further research may be overlooked. The blobbogram leading this article is from a systematic review; it shows clinical trials of the use of corticosteroids to hasten lung development in pregnancies where a baby is likely to be born prematurely. Long after there was enough evidence to show that this treatment saved babies' lives, the evidence was not widely known, the treatment was not widely used, and further research was done into the same question. After the review made the evidence better known, the treatment was used more, preventing thousands of pre-term babies from dying of infant respiratory distress syndrome.[13]

However, when the treatment was rolled out in lower- and middle-income countries, early data suggested that more pre-term babies died. It was thought that this could be because of a higher risk of infection, which is more likely to kill a baby in places with poor medical care and more malnourished mothers.[13] The 2017 version of the review therefore said that there was "little need" for further research into the usefulness of the treatment in higher-income countries, but further research was needed on optimal dosage and on how to best treat lower-income and higher-risk mothers.[14]

Further research was done, and found the treatment did actually benefit babies in lower-income countries, too. The December 2020 version of the review stated that the "evidence [that the treatment saves babies] is robust, regardless of resource setting (high, middle or low)" and that further research should focus on "specific understudied subgroups such as multiple pregnancies and other high-risk obstetric groups, and the risks and benefits in the very early or very late preterm periods".[15]

In culture

The idea that research papers always end with some variation of FRIN was described as an "old joke" in a 1999 epidemiology editorial.[9] FRIN has been advocated as a position politicians should take on under-evidenced claims.[16]

FRIN has been advocated as a motto for life, applicable everywhere except research papers;[4] printed on T-shirts;[17] and satirized by the "Collectively Unconscious" blog, which reported that an article in the journal Science had concluded that "no further research is needed, at all, anywhere, ever".[18]

The webcomic xkcd has also used the phrase as a topic, for self-satire, and as a bathetic punchline.[19]

References

  1. ^ a b Godlee, Fiona (25 August 2010). "More research is needed—but what type?". BMJ. 341: c4662. doi:10.1136/bmj.c4662.
  2. ^ a b Vlassov, Vasiliy Victorovich (2004). "Further research is needed?". Cochrane Colloquium Abstracts.
  3. ^ Karianne Thune Hammerstrøm, Arild Bjørndal. (2011-03-14). "If there are no randomised controlled trials, do we always need more research? [editorial]". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 3(?) (8): ED000024. doi:10.1002/14651858.ED000024. PMID 21833983.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b Burnett, Dean (16 March 2016). "'More research is needed': empty cliché or words to live by?". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  5. ^ Martin Burton (October 7, 2016). "An invisible unicorn has been grazing in my office for a month... Prove me wrong". Evidently Cochrane.
  6. ^ a b Greenhalgh, Trish (25 June 2012). "Less research is needed". PLOS. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  7. ^ The [British] Natural History Museum (16 January 2013). "Piltdown man". Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  8. ^ Kessler, Rodger; Glasgow, Russell E. (June 2011). "A Proposal to Speed Translation of Healthcare Research Into Practice" (PDF). American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 40 (6): 637–644. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2011.02.023. ISSN 0749-3797. Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  9. ^ a b "Editorial: More Research is Needed". Annals of Epidemiology. Elsevier. 9 (1): 17–18. January 1999. doi:10.1016/S1047-2797(98)00050-7.
  10. ^ Coyne, James C.; van Sonderen, Eric (March 2012). "No further research needed: Abandoning the Hospital and Anxiety Depression Scale (HADS)" (PDF). Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 72 (3): 173–174. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2011.12.003.
  11. ^ Redd, Steven B. (2011). "Scope and Methods of Political Science, Political Science 700" (PDF). University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (course notes)
  12. ^ Phillips, Carl V (1 August 2001). "The economics of 'more research is needed'". International Journal of Epidemiology. Oxford University Press. 30 (4): 771–776. doi:10.1093/ije/30.4.771. PMID 11511601.
  13. ^ a b Iain Chalmers (October 4, 2016). "Should the Cochrane logo be accompanied by a health warning?".
  14. ^ Roberts, Devender; Brown, Julie; Medley, Nancy; Dalziel, Stuart R; et al. (The Cochrane Collaboration) (2017-03-21). "Antenatal corticosteroids for accelerating fetal lung maturation for women at risk of preterm birth". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons. 3: CD004454. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004454.pub3. PMC 6464568. PMID 28321847.
  15. ^ McGoldrick E, Stewart F, Parker R, Dalziel SR (December 25, 2020). "Antenatal corticosteroids for accelerating fetal lung maturation for women at risk of preterm birth". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004454.pub4. PMID 33368142.
  16. ^ "Election claim pitfalls: "further research is needed"". Full Fact. 4 May 2015.
  17. ^ Irvine, Anaise (29 March 2017). "More Research is Needed". Thesislink. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  18. ^ Dr. Psyphago (16 January 2013). "Scientists conclude: 'No further research is needed'". Collectively Unconscious. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  19. ^ "2268: Further Research is Needed - explain xkcd". www.explainxkcd.com., "2271: Grandpa Jason and Grandpa Chad - explain xkcd". www.explainxkcd.com. "2344: 26-Second Pulse - explain xkcd". www.explainxkcd.com.