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Transparency in research

14 January 2016

'The Peer Reviewers’ Openness Initiative’ logo

New initiative to revolutionise scientific research through openness

A group of researchers led by Cardiff University are attempting to revolutionise scientific research.

Today they launch ‘The Peer Reviewers’ Openness Initiative’ (PRO) with the aim of increasing the quality and efficiency of scientific research through the spread of open and transparent research practices.

In a paper, available online today, the authors extol new technological developments that facilitate open research and accelerate scientific progress, but lament that open research practices are “rare” in many parts of scientific literature.

This they attribute to the tendency of many researchers to perceive the act of opening their data and methods as benefiting their competitors with no guarantee of reciprocal openness, thereby placing themselves at a disadvantage in their own field.

The authors call this phenomenon “the social dilemma”. Withholding data and methods, they say, doesn’t necessarily mean that the researchers are opposed to the principles of openness – indeed, research cited in the paper contradicts this.

The paper describes the need for incentive. It proposes a new strategy for achieving this and places peer reviewers at its heart.

As part of the peer review process, it suggests that reviewers can act as an instrument of change by demanding that practices of openness should be considered equal to other research norms.

Scientists who subscribe to this idea are invited to sign up to the PRO Initiative; a statement indicating that after 1 January 2017, they will begin to apply “certain minimal open research standards to the manuscripts they review”.

These standards include data and materials being made publicly available; documents containing details for interpreting any files or code also being made available; and that all files are advertised in the research paper.

Central to the initiative is the idea that reviewers can indirectly engage authors on issues of scientific openness through an editor during the review process. In turn, authors are entitled to respond with a justification or a correction.

Only when satisfactory openness, or justification for a lack of openness, has been met can the research paper continue the peer review process towards publication.

Lead author Dr Richard Morey, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said:

“Science should be an open and transparent process, but in reality it often falls short of this ideal. Data and materials are often unavailable to other scientists or the public, hindering replication and verification.

“Most solutions to this problem focus on changing policy but here we offer a grassroots alternative: the Peer-Reviewers Openness Initiative (PRO).

“Under PRO, reviewers provide complete reviews only for papers that share data and materials, or where the authors justify their lack of sharing.

“The power of PRO lies in the unity of collective action: since science depends on reviews, reviewers hold the key to opening up science.”

Scientists are encouraged to join the initiative which can be accessed here.