Clarity in 2020

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Science  03 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6473, pp. 5
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba6293

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We begin 2020 (or should I say 20/20) awash in references to ophthalmology. In that vein, we hope to make science clearer and brighter in the months ahead—which brings me to the issue of transparency.

The Science family of journals looks forward to a year in which the editors will strive for greater transparency and reproducibility in the science that we publish. Policies on conflicts of interest and professional behavior for authors are now uniform across our journals and strengthen our standards for disclosure. For the first time, we will require general disclosures from Science’s Board of Reviewing Editors; prior to this year, they were only asked to disclose conflicts that arose for papers on which they were consulted.

As readers of Science’s news section would know, I have been active for decades in the biotechnology business and disclosed competing interests to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, publisher of the Science journals) upon joining the editorial team. These interests are stated on my web bio (www.sciencemag.org/about/leadership-and-management#HoldenThorp), and I commit to keeping them updated for full public disclosure. The Science journals believe that the commercial application of scientific findings is critical to gaining public support and to ensuring that scientists are involved in the realization of their ideas. At the same time, vigorous disclosure of these competing interests is a must.

We will also continue to strive for greater reproducibility in the science that we publish. Last year, Science helped to develop a framework setting out minimal expectations for materials, design, analysis, and reporting (MDAR) and also participated with other publishers in piloting a checklist that operationalized this framework (https://cos.io/blog/journals-test-materials-design-analysis-reporting-mdar-checklist/). Authors were admirably enthusiastic about this process, and we are pleased to endorse the framework and implement the checklist this year for life science papers in Science. This should allow information to be used by others seeking to reproduce findings and will hopefully pave the way for more such standardization.

One of the questions I am often asked is how the Science journals correct or retract papers. With the rapid analysis that can happen on social media, these questions are being raised faster than ever before. We don’t seek to hide from these efforts: Image sleuth Elisabeth Bik (@MicrobiomDigest) recently stated on Twitter that she needed a list of journal editors’ emails and I immediately responded with mine (which is not hard to find at right).

Science journals prefer to publish a retraction signed by all authors. Deciding to retract in cases where not all authors agree can require a lengthy investigation by universities. In such cases, we publish an Editorial Expression of Concern (EEoC) in the meantime, to quickly alert readers that concerns have been raised about the reported work. We hope that making this information available promptly helps mitigate the waste of time, effort, and funds by researchers who might otherwise base future work on papers that are later retracted. During my short time as editor-in-chief, when we have contacted universities to begin this process, I have been giving a deadline by which we will decide if we are going to proceed with an EEoC. After running academic units for the past 14 years, I know that it sometimes takes a nudge to get things to the top of an inbox. We also publish an EEoC when authors alert us to problems with their published paper and need time to determine whether the findings hold. Authors taking the initiative to correct the record strengthens the integrity of the scientific enterprise.

The year 2020 brings a presidential election to the United States and a time of transition across the Atlantic. There will be great opportunities for everyone to stand up for science and for their beliefs. Breakthroughs in all fields will continue with new ideas, insights, and applications, hopefully for the good of all members of society and for the Earth that we cherish. And it will be exciting for AAAS, as our new chief executive officer, Sudip Parikh, begins next week. I have known Sudip for 25 years and look forward to his generous and thoughtful leadership.

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