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Journals Adopt New Reproducibility Standards

Dozens of publishers sign on to effort that aims to make research easier to confirm

by Andrea Widener
November 10, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 45

CORRECTION: On Nov. 10, 2014, this story was corrected to accurately present ACS journals’ involvement in research reproducibility. The story now includes the full quote from Susan King, senior vice president of ACS’s Journal Publishing Group.

Major publishers of preclinical research—including the journals Science and Nature—have committed to new standards to improve the reproducibility of scientific research results.

The editors and publishers of more than 70 journals last week announced their commitment to new guidelines on how to report research results. “The hope is that these guidelines will be viewed not as onerous but as part of the quality control that justifies the public trust in science,” Science’s Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt wrote in an editorial.

Nonreproducible research results have become an increasing problem, fed by pervasive issues such as bad study design, misuse of statistical data to justify inconclusive results, and disincentives for scientists to replicate research studies or publish negative findings.

This lack of reproducibility has caused major problems across the research spectrum. This situation is perhaps most evident—and costly—when major clinical drug trials fail because the initial research studies were not fundamentally sound.

In response, many federal funding agencies came together with science publishers in June to design standards for research journals. The resulting guidelines include more rigorous statistical reviews of papers, greater transparency in reporting research methods and study design, and mandatory sharing of data and materials. Journals that signed on to these principles also commit to publishing criticisms of papers, setting standards for use of images, and expanding published descriptions of biological materials to make them easier to identify.

Journals published by the American Chemical Society, publisher of C&EN, have not committed to the guidelines. Susan King, senior vice president of the society’s Journals Publishing Group, said they did not sign on because “the guidelines encompass preclinical research. ACS journals publish across chemistry and the allied sciences.” King also pointed to the “ACS Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research” and the instructions given to authors in every ACS journal that provide guidance for the reporting of reproducible research for the communities served by ACS journals.


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