Replication studies and reproducibility of results are key factors in judging the importance, reliability, and accuracy of scientific research. Scientists who conduct their research in a silo, without sharing methods and data or using data from related research studies, are not only inefficient, but can slow scientific discovery. When scientific discovery involves the efforts and cooperation of multiple researchers, the significance and integrity of the research escalates automatically. When emphasis is placed on scientific advancement over personal gain, everyone wins. To that end, transparency and openness have become hot topics for publishers. That is why a group of publishers and openness advocates created the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines. What has transpired in the five years since the creation of the guidelines and what is the status of the transparency and openness movement?
Why transparency and openness are a top priority in academic publishing
In the blog “Is Reproducibility a Problem in Scientific Research?” we discussed the importance of reproducibility in producing valid, trustworthy science. Reproducing the results of earlier experiments lends credibility to the findings; however, failing to reproduce the same results can be equally important for furthering scientific discovery. To help scientists reproduce and replicate another’s research, transparency and openness about methods, data, computer codes, and other aspects of research are vital.
Although studies have consistently shown that there is a strong connection between openness and transparency with more reliable and trusted science, there is still reluctance among the research community to fully embrace this openness. For decades, researchers understood the way to advance their careers and receive tenure depended on publication in prestigious journals. They may see sharing their research methods and data as a threat to getting full credit for their work. It will take a fundamental change in this reward structure to move these researchers toward more openness and transparency. Publishers, academic institutions, and funding organizations must work together to encourage and reward open, reproducible research.
In 2014, a group of journal publishers and editors, disciplinary leaders, and funding agency representatives formed the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Committee. Its purpose was to promote openness by creating a set of standard guidelines for open practices across journals. The guidelines consist of eight standards, with three levels of rigor that publishers and funders can use to implement better research practices. They are modular, so they can be adopted gradually.
Are we there yet? Where science stands with openness and transparency
With the push toward more open research practices, many publishers are seeking guidance in creating new research sharing and publication policies. The TOP guidelines are providing a great resource, but they are just part of a broader push toward transparency in reproducible research practices. In fact, the Center for Open Science is implementing a joint project between the TOP Guidelines and the FAIRsharing registry to clarify existing data policies, classify them according to their level of compliance with TOP Guidelines, and assist with improving them.
One practice emphasized in the guidelines that is getting a lot of attention is preregistration. By putting your research plan in a public registry, you are obligated to publish the results, whether they support the expected outcome or not.
When publishers and funders work together to incentivize transparency and data sharing, researchers will be more likely to share their methods and results, initiate reproducibility practices, and conduct important replication studies. By promoting openness and transparency, publishers can help reduce research redundancy and speed discovery of effective cures and efficient solutions to improve quality of life.
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