Transparency in Research: a Cross Sectional Survey Across Scientific Disciplines

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Aim: To assess differences in opinions and experiences of researchers, peer reviewers and editors regarding the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Guidelines (1), as well as perceptions of their work climate.

Methods: We sent an online anonymous survey using the ConfirmIT survey platform to 100,355 researchers, peer reviewers and editors across all fields of science. The full survey protocol,as well as details of the research project Fostering Transparent and Responsible Conduct of Research: What can Journals do?, of which the survey was a part, are available on our projects’data repository site (2). In short, the survey consisted of 5 parts: a) attitudes toward transparency in reporting and conducting research, b) perceptions of the work climate, c)perception of prevalence of detrimental research practices, d) knowledge of statistics, and e) socio-demographic data. The survey was sent out on 24 April 2018, with two reminders on 9 and 24 May 2018, and closed on 12 June 2018. An ethical waiver for the study was obtained from the Medical Ethics Review Committee of the Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam. We report here preliminary results using absolute numbers and percentages based on number of respondents to each question,however, at the conference we plan to present the full results as specified in our protocol, and planned for august 2018, which will include exploring associations between respondents’attitudes, their perception of the work climate, the frequency of detrimental research practices and the respondents’ sociodemographic characteristics.

Results and Discussion: In total we had 3659 (3.6 %) respondents to the survey. The majority of the respondents were male (n=2037, 64.3 %), (senior) researchers (n=2183, 68.9 %) and were working at a university (n=1976, 62.2%). The respondents came from 126 different countries, most commonly USA (n=516, 16.2 %) and India (n=266, 8.3 %). While almost all of the respondents (n=3462, 94.8%) stated authors should appropriately cite all data, analytic methods and materials used in the study; and almost three quarters of respondents (n=2675,73.8 %) agreed that authors must follow appropriate reporting guidelines for disclosing key aspects of the research design and data analysis; less than two thirds (n=2174, 59.9 %) thought the authors should deposit data to a trusted repository; only half (n=1810, 49.9 %) that journals must verify that research findings are replicable using the deposited authors’ data and methods of analysis; and just over a fifth of respondents (n=751, 21.4 %) that authors should pre register their studies prior to conducting the research. In regards to the research environment, more than two thirds (n=2516, 72.7 %) of the respondents expressed difficulties in publishing studies with null or negative results, more than half stated (n=1893, 55.7 %) there was insufficient funding available for research in their field, and almost one sixth of the respondents stated difficulties in obtaining ethics approval for their research (n=494, 14.5 %).Finally, in regards to prevalence of detrimental research practices, more than a third (n=1240,37.9 %) of respondents stated that undeserved authorship (i.e. guest or gift authorship) was(very) prevalent, as was not citing prior relevant research (n=1089, 33.3 %). As with many large online surveys, our results should be interpreted with caution, due to the low response rate and possibility of a response bias of researchers interested in the topic. Nevertheless, it is (to the best of our knowledge), the largest and only survey conducted on researchers across all disciplines in regards to recommendations of TOP guidelines.

Conclusions: Our preliminary results indicate that while a majority of respondents agreed with transparency in citing and proper reporting of research, less than two thirds felt that research data should be deposited in trusted registries and just over a fifth that studies should bepreregistered before the they have commenced. Additionally, respondents perceived high prevalence of several detrimental research practices, indicating that the behaviour of scientists still leaves much to be desired.