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Announcing a new PLOS policy on inclusion in global research

PLOS empowers researchers to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. We push the boundaries of “open” to create a more equitable system of scientific knowledge and understanding. 

Today, we are taking further steps to bring equity to publishing by launching a new policy to improve transparency in the reporting of research that is conducted in other countries or communities. Some global research has been criticised as being “parachute research” also known as “helicopter” or “neo-colonial science”. This occurs when researchers travel to under-resourced communities, conduct their research, and leave, often with little or poor understanding or involvement of the communities they studied, and few direct benefits to local participants. 

This policy, implemented across all PLOS journals, aims to improve reporting of global research. Authors conducting research of this nature may be asked to complete a questionnaire that outlines ethical, cultural, and scientific considerations specific to inclusivity in global research. The questionnaire also asks authors conducting research without local authors why none have been included on the authorship list. A reminder of the PLOS criteria for authorship is also included, which states that all individuals who meet these criteria should be included in the author byline, rather than in the acknowledgements.

The information collected in the questionnaire will be made available to editors and reviewers during the peer review process to help assess whether the research meets the journal’s standards for the ethics of experimentation and research integrity. The completed questionnaire will also be included as a Supporting Information file with the published paper, improving transparency in global research.

PLOS publishes research in over 200 disciplines and we recognise that expectations for conducting research may vary between fields. As such, at the time of launch, we won’t have specific requirements for global research practices, beyond our existing policies. Instead, we’ll work with our community of reviewers and editorial board members to consider questions that arise from the policy on a case-by-case basis. We hope the policy will improve awareness of the concerns related to global research, laying foundations for future development of additional policies in this area. 

The policy has been developed in close collaboration with members of the research community across the globe, including researchers from South Africa, New Zealand, the USA, and Kenya. This has included individuals from multiple research areas, including population health, genetics, biological sciences and paleontology. We’re incredibly grateful for their valuable input in developing the policy.

To celebrate the launch of the new policy, some of the individuals involved in its development recently participated in a discussion with the title ‘Inclusion in global science: Preventing ‘parachute research’. The panel discussed how parachute research is an offshoot of academic narcissism and the result of pervasive views that ‘we know best’, ‘we are the experts’ and ‘we will tell you the solutions’. They further discussed the role for publishers, institutions and funders in preventing parachute research, before noting the importance of capacity building and local ownership of research programs in low- and middle-income countries. You can listen to the full discussion here.

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