Science, Done better
(August 21st, 2015) Reproducibility of published data is an ongoing problem in the scientific world. A new “Minimum Standards of Reporting Checklist” provides comprehensive guidelines to researchers, funders, and publishers. The checklist was launched by BioMed Central last month.
Science is an intellectual and practical activity elucidating the intricate functions of the world. Most importantly, science is done by experiments which should yield the same results time after time. Unfortunately, an increasing number of published experiments cannot be repeated.
The so-called "reproducibility crisis" has been actively addressed during the last two decades. For example, NIH has published the Principles and Guidelines for Reporting Preclinical Research; the EQUATOR Network is regulating the quality and reliability of published data in medical research. However, it seems that their advice has not been taken on board, as another initiative from BioMed Central, an open-access publisher, has recently been released: The Minimum Standards of Reporting Checklist aiming to enhance the reproducibility and reliability of published data.
The checklist concerns three areas: experimental design and statistics, resources, and availability of data and materials. It determines what kind of information should be included in the methods section. For instance, “how samples/organisms were allocated to experimental groups and processed, and full details of the randomisation procedure used” or “how many times each experiment shown was replicated and an indication of the extent of variation from experiment to experiment”. Four of BioMed Central's journals will use the checklist in a trial: BMC Biology, BMC Neuroscience, Genome Biology, and GigaScience. Six months into the trial period, all comments from authors, editors and reviewers will be collected and any necessary changes to the checklist will be made. The developers are hoping to apply this checklist to all BioMed Central journals in the near future.
Why is the checklist important? As well as for clinical research, "verification is equally important for preclinical research, something we all have an equal stake in. No one is able to invent new drugs overnight, no matter how rich they are, no matter which doctor they see. Better, more robust preclinical research benefits us all," say the BMC representatives. Another aim of the initiative is to increase public trust in newly published papers: "As most research is paid through tax payers, public trust in research is essential. We - researchers, funders, and publishers - must do a better job at communicating this message to the public. We must better explain that science is an activity that continually builds on and verifies itself."
Young researchers might find the new checklist as yet another hurdle during the difficult publishing process. The BMC checklist developers understand this and will provide author workshops as well as mock-completed checklists. The checklist is an ongoing improvement process: it will strengthen data reliability, reduce research costs and provide a better scientific environment for young investigators.
"Can we do science better?" ask the BioMed Central editors. You are welcome to give your say by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.