Causes of reporting bias: a theoretical framework

Jenny T van der Steen, Gerben Ter Riet, Cornelis A van den Bogert, Lex M Bouter

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Reporting of research findings is often selective. This threatens the validity of the published body of knowledge if the decision to report depends on the nature of the results. The evidence derived from studies on causes and mechanisms underlying selective reporting may help to avoid or reduce reporting bias. Such research should be guided by a theoretical framework of possible causal pathways that lead to reporting bias. We build upon a classification of determinants of selective reporting that we recently developed in a systematic review of the topic. The resulting theoretical framework features four clusters of causes. There are two clusters of necessary causes: (A) motivations (e.g. a preference for particular findings) and (B) means (e.g. a flexible study design). These two combined represent a sufficient cause for reporting bias to occur. The framework also features two clusters of component causes: (C) conflicts and balancing of interests referring to the individual or the team, and (D) pressures from science and society. The component causes may modify the effect of the necessary causes or may lead to reporting bias mediated through the necessary causes. Our theoretical framework is meant to inspire further research and to create awareness among researchers and end-users of research about reporting bias and its causes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number280
Pages (from-to)280
Publication statusPublished - 2019


FundersFunder number
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme771483
European Research Council
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek917.11.339
Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum


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