In advance of Valentine’s Day, here’s a pitch for a timely rom-com: a pair of healthcare workers have been in an on-again and off-again relationship for years, never quite settling down, in part because of his fear of commitment. While on a bit of a break, the pandemic hits and between demands of work and social distancing, they’re never quite able to connect and they both wonder what their future holds. Then, a twist: a long-lost uncle dies, very publicly leaving her a sizable fortune. Soon thereafter, the pair meet up, and he professes his undying love and desire to finally marry. But she has her doubts: is this change of heart real or borne out of an interest in her newfound wealth? She spurns him, and he walks off, dejected. Just then, a postal carrier arrives with a bundle of long-delayed mail, weeks overdue. On top of the pile rests a letter, from him, postmarked well before her uncle’s death, wherein he bares his heart and tells her he wants to be with her forever. Clutching the letter, she chases him down. They embrace. The end.
So that’s research preregistration: researchers outline in a public and/or time-stamped manner their intentions, including hypothesis, protocols, and statistical analysis plan, prior to conducting the research. As Olevska and co-authors describe in their recent article “Ensuring Reproducible Research Requires a Support Infrastructure: The Value of Public Registries to Publishers”, preregistration of research can be a useful tool to combat “often unintentional and questionable research practices such as p-hacking and HARKing.” Exploratory analyses of generated data are important and essential for new discoveries, but the authors advocate for greater support of preregistration for preclinical and fundamental research by journals to promote greater transparency and reproducibility.
This call for an active role for journals comes from the fact that preregistration for clinical trials is a scientific publishing success story. Since 2005, any researcher who wants to publish their clinical trial in a journal that belongs to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) (i.e., every prominent medical journal) needs to ensure that their trial is registered on a public registry, such as clinicaltrials.gov, prior to patient enrollment. At the time this was implemented, preregistration was still relatively new, but the requirement worked and trial registration increased significantly soon after the mandate went into effect. Nowadays most authors are aware of this requirement, but the occasional trial goes unregistered and editors must make the tough call to reject what may otherwise be a decent manuscript.
Because they involve human subjects, the argument for strictly requiring registration of clinical trials is strong, but even if journals stop short of requiring that all research be preregistered, Olevska and co-authors outline ways that journals can integrate preregistration into the publication process that will encourage and support researchers who do. Researchers and journals, standing together, embracing preregistration. The end?
Editor-in-Chief, Science Editor
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Recent Early Online Articles
Statistical review is becoming an essential component of rigorous peer review. It’s also a process that needs its own infrastructure and support to be successful; without these, you’ll either spend weeks looking for stat reviewers or burn out the few that have agreed to help. In his recent interview with Anna Jester, Dr. Leonard Jack, Jr, Editor-in-Chief of the CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease journal shares how they have established their statistics review committee both to provide reliable and careful statistical review, but also as a working group to “disseminate the best statistical methods and testing available in public health.” The full interview is here: Dr Leonard Jack, Jr: Preventing Chronic Disease Through Statistical Rigor
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If you really consider it, there’s a good chance your organization is not running as effectively as it should. In publishing, so much has changed in the last decade or so that workflows that made sense even a few years ago may be bloated or inefficient now. Making changes can be challenging, especially in scientific publishing where we are always effectively in the middle of some process or schedule. If and when you do get a chance to adjust your internal procedures, you may find this recent article by the Editorial Services Team at the United States Pharmacopeia helpful as they walk through each step in their process, from surveys through implementation, and provide their top 5 recommendations: Workflow and Team Optimization for Editorial Services Within the United States Pharmacopeia
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Resource of the Month
Many (hopefully most) journals now require that authors include a data availability statement in their articles, clearly stating how to access or request underlying data (or not, in some cases). Just the act of requiring this statement can help promote good data sharing and encourage authors to pay attention to this underappreciated aspect. But not all Data Availability Statements are equal, with some authors providing vague and unhelpful statements. To help authors write better, more informative statements, I recommend this blog post by Tristan Matthews (@TrisCurator) from Springer Nature with Tips for Writing a Dazzling DAS (Data Availability Statement) and examples from the Center for Open Science as part of the TOP Guidelines.
Without an in-person CSE Annual Meeting last year, we were robbed of the opportunity to give the recipients of the CSE Award for Meritorious Achievement, the CSE Distinguished Service Award, and the CSE Certificates of Appreciation a well-deserved round of applause. Instead, be sure to check out the CSE’s 2020 Awards and Honors recap from the Winter issue and raise a glass to the honorees as you read about their accomplishments and contributions. Huzzah!
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