Association between trial registration and positive study findings: cross sectional study (Epidemiological Study of Randomized Trials—ESORT)

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To assess whether randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that were registered were less likely to report positive study findings compared with RCTs that were not registered and whether the association varied by funding source.


Cross sectional study.

Study sample:

All primary RCTs published in December 2012 and indexed in PubMed by November 2013. Trial registration was determined based on the report of a trial registration number in published RCTs or the identification of the trial in a search of trial registries. Trials were separated into prospectively and retrospectively registered studies.

Main outcome measure:

Association between trial registration and positive study findings.


1122 eligible RCTs were identified, of which 593 (52.9%) were registered and 529 (47.1%) were not registered. Overall, registration was marginally associated with positive study findings (adjusted risk ratio 0.87, 95% confidence interval 0.78 to 0.98), even with stratification as prospectively and retrospectively registered trials (0.87, 0.74 to 1.03 and 0.88, 0.78 to 1.00, respectively). The interaction term between overall registration and funding source was marginally statistically significant and relative risk estimates were imprecise (0.75, 0.63 to 0.89 for non-industry funded and 1.03, 0.79 to 1.36 for industry funded, P interaction=0.046). Furthermore, a statistically significant interaction was not maintained in sensitivity analyses. Within each stratum of funding source, relative risk estimates were also imprecise for the association between positive study findings and prospective and retrospective registration.


Among published RCTs, there was little evidence of a difference in positive study findings between registered and non-registered clinical trials, even with stratification by timing of registration. Relative risk estimates were imprecise in subgroups of non-industry and industry funded trials.

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