Missing evidence: an inquiry into delayed publication of government-commissioned research

Government information Government productivity Research Open government Information resources management United Kingdom
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Last year Sense about Science asked Sir Stephen Sedley, a former judge in the Court of Appeal and a new trustee of Sense about Science, to undertake an inquiry into the scale and significance of non-publication of government-commissioned research.

Sir Stephen found out that:

  • The UK government spends around £2.5 billion a year on research for policy, but does not know how many studies it has commissioned or which of them have been published.
  • Only 4 out of 24 government departments maintain a database of research they have commissioned.
  • Government officials are forced to use Google to track down their department’s research.

The inquiry was initiated following a spate of media stories about government research being suppressed or delayed, allegedly because the findings were politically awkward. A review of cases submitted to the inquiry reveals that publication of research has been manipulated to fit with political concerns, but poor records conceal the extent of this behaviour.

Sir Stephen’s report finds a lack of clarity about what constitutes government-commissioned research and what is subject to publication rules. Rules which do require prompt publication of government-commissioned research are weak and open to political opportunism. Millions of pounds of research is lost from government records. Ghost research is being created: paid for but, unrecorded and unpublished, it becomes unfindable in the national archives and exists only in the memories of officials.

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