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Research Revealed

Four ways you can make hidden research public with PLOS

You never know how a discovery may affect future research—and as much as they try to anticipate the contribution or future application of a paper, neither do editors.

When journals only focus on significance of advance and priority of discovery, valuable information is excluded from the scientific record. Rigorous research that adds supporting evidence, re-examines and broadens our understanding leads to a stronger foundation of knowledge. But without the right ways to share it, many important insights could remain hidden from public view, buried in filing drawers and hard drives. 

At PLOS, we’re committed to helping researchers share more of their science—including contributions that might otherwise be excluded from the scientific record. We use journal policy, specialized articles types, and unique editorial selection criteria to help ensure that important advances receive the respect and attention they deserve. Here’s how:

1. The PLOS-wide Complementary Research (or “Scooping”) Policy

Sometimes, two research groups independently achieve similar results around the same time. When that happens, it can be difficult for the second group to publish their work, because it may no longer meet the novelty requirements for selective journals.

At PLOS, we see complementary findings as a positive, reinforcing the validity of both studies. That’s why all of our journals—even the most selective—offer scooping protection to ensure that complementary results will not be rejected for novelty within six months of a similar preprint or publication by another group.

Read more about the PLOS Complementary Research Policy.

Emma Rawlins

“I’m delighted to support PLOS Biology’s mission for open science by acting as an Academic Editor. The editorial process is a collaboration between the academic and professional editors – the best of both worlds! The no-scoop policy for manuscripts under consideration reflects the emphasis on quality.”

Emma Rawlins, Cambridge University UK, Academic Editor, PLOS Biology

2. Registered Reports and Preregistered Research Articles

Preregistration is the practice of formally depositing a study design in a repository and submitting it for peer review at a journal prior to conducting experiments, data collection or analysis. Evaluating study designs supports a strong methodological approach, increases the credibility and reproducibility of results, and helps address publication bias. Accepted study design protocols receive a provisional acceptance for the future research article reporting the results—so researchers can proceed with the study knowing that the work will be publishable, no matter the outcome. Preregistration can be especially beneficial for Early Career Researchers, and anyone conducting high risk/high reward research. PLOS offers two options for researchers seeking to preregister their work: Registered Reports (PLOS ONE) and Preregistered Research Articles (PLOS Biology). 

Read more about the value of preregistered research.

Mark Williams

“Preregistering the analysis that you’re going to do beforehand doesn’t mean that you can’t do exploratory analysis later, but it does mean that people know what you’re actually going to do before you do it. And it means that you’ve had to think through that process.”

Mark Williams, Macaquarie University, Academic Editor, PLOS ONE

3. Incremental advances, negative, and null results

With all the pressure to publish exciting and impactful new results, incremental advances, negative and null outcomes can get left behind—and left out of the scientific record. Over the long term, this creates knowledge gaps in the literature that can undermine credibility, slow progress, and waste resources.

Small advances, negative outcomes, and inconclusive results do matter. Seemingly minor findings can have major impacts down the line. Small discoveries can plant the seeds for future investigations. In demonstrating what doesn’t work, negative and null results can point the way toward alternative solutions which may prove more effective—not to mention saving other research groups time and resources.

All PLOS journals will consider meaningful negative and null outcomes if the research question they answer is sufficiently relevant to the field—but we also publish several journals that make incremental, negative and null results essential to their mission and editorial vision: PLOS ONE, PLOS Global Public Health, PLOS Climate, and PLOS Water.  Each of these journals is built on the editorial philosophy that all rigorous, well-conducted research has value, and should be preserved as a part of the permanent scientific record—including replication studies, as well as negative, and inconclusive results.

Read more about PLOS’s approach to negative and null results.

Yvonne Fondufe-Mittendorf

“Very frequently, journals will not accept negative results …publishing that negative data helps move science forward so that another lab shouldn’t spend money and time repeating the same experiments only to come out with negative data.”

Yvonne Fondufe-Mittendorf, University of Kentucky

4. That hard-to-place research article

Interdisciplinary research and studies from emerging fields can be difficult to place in many field-specific journals. Small or specialized editorial boards may lack the expertise necessary to evaluate the work from different angles, scope may rule some excellent research out if it is perceived to be on the edge of the field. PLOS ONE ensures this research finds a home and is discoverable to readers everywhere. Because of the journal’s inclusive scope, commitment to rigor instead of novelty or impact, and our broad network of editorial board members with expertise in more than 200 disciplines, all research in the sciences and related disciplines can be evaluated and shared with readers around the world.

Read more about PLOS ONE’s scope.

Beth Middleton

“My questions are often much bigger than I can answer. Our PLOS ONE article …  required molecular geneticists, population ecologists in Eurasia and North America, geographical statisticians, climate ecologists, and worldwide citizen scientists. True interdisciplinary research is rare. Few reviewers are available with the proper mindset, but reviewers and editors with these views are critical to the success of these papers. “

Beth Middleton, US Geological Survey, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

Bonus: Ensuring research reaches the broadest audience

Even when published, research may remain out of view from audiences who need it. Broadly, Open Access licensing, article promotion and indexing all help ensure published (or preprinted!) research is available to as many people as possible. But where and how research is shared still shapes who sees it.

Many journals are built with a specific community in mind, catering to researchers in a specific field as both authors and readers eager to stay up-to-date on progress from their peers or dive deeper into discoveries and techniques that directly impact their own research. These journals are helpful spaces for building networks and sparking discussions that accelerate progress in a given field—but some topics are too big to tackle from within just one discipline or have far-reaching implications beyond a single field of study.

Multidisciplinary journals bring different viewpoints, skillsets and analytical approaches together, encouraging collaboration and conversation amongst research groups and decision-makers working to solve similar challenges. Many of our journals consider multi- or inter- disciplinary research in order to present a robust view of the field and it is a centerpiece of the mission for PLOS Climate, PLOS Global Public Health, and PLOS Water. These journals bridge gaps between related fields, consider social, economic, and behavioral factors that affect these issues, and bring regional perspectives together to address global challenges. By bringing together this work in a single venue, readers get a more holistic view of the topics and challenges in these areas, and how they might inform each other to foster more creative solutions, robust decision-making, or deepen existing knowledge.

What other aspects of scientific research should be uncovered and preserved?

Are there more ways PLOS could help to facilitate the sharing of high quality research that would ordinarily remain hidden? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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