Public Release: 

Tackling the 'credibility crisis' in science -- new PLOS Biology meta-research section

PLOS

Widespread failure to reproduce research results has triggered a crisis of confidence in research findings, eroding public trust in scientific methodology. In response, PLOS Biology is launching on January 4th, 2016, a new Meta-Research Section devoted to research on research.

Billions of dollars are wasted every year on research that cannot be reproduced. In an editorial announcing the launch of this new section, Stavroula Kousta and colleagues note: "With our new section on data-driven meta-research, we aim to highlight that research about research is an important area of science. By creating a prominent forum in this field, PLOS Biology will contribute to ongoing efforts to improve research standards in the biological sciences and beyond."

The launch of the meta-research section is marked with the publication of two articles examining issues surrounding study transparency and reporting. Shareen Iqbal at Emory University, John Ioannidis from the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS) and colleagues evaluate reproducibility and transparency practices across the biomedical sciences in a sample of articles published between 2000 and 2014. They found very poor reproducibility and transparency standards across the board. Specifically, the vast majority of studies did not share their data, did not provide protocols, claimed to report novel findings rather than replications, and did not mention funding or conflicts of interest.

In a complementary article focusing on research using mice and rats as subjects, Constance Holman at Charité Universitätsmedizin, Ulrich Dirnagl and colleagues examined hundreds of published stroke and cancer research experiments. They found that the majority of studies didn't contain sufficient information to indicate how many animals were used. What's more, many papers also contained animals that seemingly "vanished" over the course of a study, without explanation. The authors used a computer model to simulate the effects of "vanishing" animals on the validity of the experiments. They found that the more animals lost or removed, the shakier or more biased the experimental conclusions.

The launch of the new section is accompanied by a new collection of meta-research articles that highlight key issues hindering the scientific effort and offer ways to improve research practices.

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Please mention PLOS Biology as the source for these articles and include the links below in your coverage to take readers to the online, open access articles.

All works published in PLOS Biology are open access, which means that everything is immediately and freely available. Use these URLs in your coverage to provide readers access to the papers upon publication:

PLOS Biology Editorial: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002334

Holman, Dirnagl and colleagues: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002333

Iqbal, Ioannidis and colleagues: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002331

Meta-Research Collection: http://collections.plos.org/meta-research

Additional Launch Information:

  • PLOS will post a blog post publishing on Jan 4th discussing the new article type and collection. Link to PLOS Biologue [http://blogs.plos.org/biologue/]

  • PLOS will host a reddit science Ask Me Anything on January 13, 2016 at 1pm ET, where Malcolm Macleod discusses his recent PLOS Biology article on Risk of Bias in Reports of In Vivo Research: A Focus for Improvement.

Citation: Kousta S, Ferguson C, Ganley E (2016) Meta-Research: Broadening the Scope of PLOS Biology. PLoS Biol 14(1): e1002334. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002334

Competing Interests: PLOS is funded partly through manuscript publication charges, but SK, CF, and EG are paid a fixed salary (their salary is not linked to the number of papers published in the journal).

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