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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 25, 2013

Towards Better Papers, With Real Results in Them

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Posted by Derek

This has to be a good thing. From the latest issue of Nature comes news of an initiative to generate more reproducible papers:

From next month, Nature and the Nature research journals will introduce editorial measures to address the problem by improving the consistency and quality of reporting in life-sciences articles. To ease the interpretation and improve the reliability of published results we will more systematically ensure that key methodological details are reported, and we will give more space to methods sections. We will examine statistics more closely and encourage authors to be transparent, for example by including their raw data. . .

. . .We recognize that there is no single way to conduct an experimental study. Exploratory investigations cannot be done with the same level of statistical rigour as hypothesis-testing studies. Few academic laboratories have the means to perform the level of validation required, for example, to translate a finding from the laboratory to the clinic. However, that should not stand in the way of a full report of how a study was designed, conducted and analysed that will allow reviewers and readers to adequately interpret and build on the results.

I hope that Science, the Cell journals at Elsevier, and other other leading outlets for such results will follow through with something similar. In this time of online supplementary info and basically unlimited storage ability, there's no reason not to disclose as much information as possible in a scientific publication. And the emphasis on statistical rigor and possible sources of error is just what's needed as well. Let's see who follows suit first, and congratulate them. And let's see who fails to respond, and treat them appropriately, too.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. Teddy Z on April 25, 2013 1:17 PM writes...

Will this also increase fees for things like per page charges?

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2. Andrew on April 25, 2013 2:35 PM writes...

The problem is that publishers (including Nature) do not enforce their *existing* data release requirements. I've lost count of the number of times I have requested things from authors that are absolutely necessary in order to reproduce their results, and the answer is either silence or a "no".

Until Nature fixes this, such announcements are just meaningless blather.

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3. Cellbio on April 25, 2013 3:21 PM writes...

In all, this is a positive development. I do wonder, though, if there will be enough of an impact. Reading the Nature piece describing their intentions and the drivers of problems, they note:

"In academia, the ever increasing pressures to publish and chase funds provide little incentive to pursue studies and publish results that contradict or confirm previous papers"

And what about the role of Nature and other first tier journals in this pursuit of fame (first to publish) and fortune? Most of the problematic papers in Nature or Cell that I have dealt with relate to the most surprising or news worthy papers. The journals are a central part of this publish or perish ecosystem.

But, I do credit them for taking steps in the right direction. We'll see.

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4. Anonymous on April 25, 2013 11:22 PM writes...

Journals like Nature, Science and Cell engage in "tabloid" science. So its ironical to hear them talk about reproducibility. Try submitting something to these journals, the editors will only send it out for review if they think the paper will be cited extensively - meaning that the results have to be somewhat sensational. These journals act like the hot chick which plays hard to get. If you get to nail here, you brag about it to others, otherwise you want to nail her too.

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5. Anon on April 25, 2013 11:50 PM writes...

Interesting. I wonder if this is Nature trying to differentiate themselves from the open access journals. "Look, we add value! Our editors do important work! We are worth the price!"

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6. rb on April 26, 2013 7:30 AM writes...

If you rad the instructions that the "top tier" journals give to submitters, they are quite explicit in asking for a "story". it should not therefore be a surprise that they often get just that-fiction.

The differential effects on a career of a paper in nature vs others means that people will often do everything possible to achieve publication.

Another problem is that some fields are self-supporting, and that high impact publications are of benefit to everyone in the field, meaning that reviewers have an interest in allowing things to go through. I wonder if many of the subfields of stem-cell biology will eventually be found out-probably only when therapeutics are found to be non-beneficial.

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7. pgwu on April 26, 2013 10:31 AM writes...

I took an online course on data analysis recently. Even the prof. of the course wanted students to tell a story about their analysis though he emphasized reproducibility as part of it. It seems that selective telling is the problem. You repeat 10 experiments and one of them works. The one that works becomes the story and soon it has a life of its own.

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