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Elsevier supports TOP Guidelines in ongoing efforts to ensure research quality and transparency

September 7, 2017 | 6 min read

By IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg

Window on research illustration

Elsevier’s new journal data guidelines promote the exchange and integrity of scientific research

Caption: What happens in the lab should be visible. Transparency and reproducibility of research are principles promoted by the TOP Guidelines. (Composite image with illustrations © and NebojsaKuzmanovic)

Editor’s note: This month, we are exploring the theme of “data and efficiency in science and medicine.” In this article Dr. IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Senior VP of Research Integrity for Elsevier, discusses how the effectiveness of science can be supported by focusing on the transparency and integrity of research.

Progress in science depends on many factors. One is the capability to effectively exchange research results, and over many years, Elsevier has been a leader in this area. For instance, we moved from print to electronic not only to provide access to articles but also to create environments for data sharingopens in new tab/window and tools for collaborationopens in new tab/window.

Another factor critical to progress in science is guarding the integrity of what is being exchanged. As the usefulness of scientific and medical research is fully dependent on its integrity, we are constantly seeking ways to increase the quality of published research by adding a variety of integrity enablers, promotors and validators to the traditional and high-quality peer review.

This month we have achieved another milestone to support the integrity of the published record: we introduced a number of journal data guidelines that encourage and enable researchers to make their research data available. Across 1,800 journals (and more to come), we implemented clear data guidelines with an infrastructure to share research data easily. More on this will be found in a forthcoming Elsevier Connect article. Here, we would like to tell you more about our other initiatives to increase transparency and research quality.

New journal data policies lead to Elsevier becoming a TOP signatory

Aside from Elsevier and other STM publishers, various organizations are actively pursuing ways to promote research integrity. One of these is the Center for Open Scienceopens in new tab/window (COS), which guided the development of the Transparency and Openness Promotionopens in new tab/window (TOP) guidelines in 2015. These guidelines are widely appreciated in how they support the transparency, openness and reproducibility of research, with standards in eight areas to support the integrity of science.

With the introduction of the new journal data guidelines, Elsevier is now very active in the majority of the areas addressed by the TOP guidelines, so we decided to become a TOP signatory. As Dr. Philippe Terheggenopens in new tab/window, Managing Director of STM Journals at Elsevier, explained:

Elsevier journals now encourage and enable authors to share data or make a data availability statement, which is part of our ongoing focus on research integrity and supporting good quality research. We look forward to strengthening our work with COS and will provide feedback from authors and editors to develop the best possible solutions to promote reproducibility, transparency and quality of research.

Dr. Brian Nosekopens in new tab/window, Executive Director of the Center for Open Science and a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia, said: “We are delighted to collaborate with Elsevier to help improve transparency practices across their journals portfolio. The TOP Guidelines are one element of a broader strategy to shift cultural norms and incentives for improving transparency in publishing.”

Promoting the integrity of research is a long-term and multifaceted effort

Next to the introduction of the journal data guidelines, Elsevier has many other initiatives to improve the integrity of science. Some of these align with the TOP guidelines but were already in place before these guidelines were published.

For example, in 2013, Elsevier introduced Registered Reports. The Elsevier journal Cortexopens in new tab/window became one of the first journals to offer these article types, which are designed to eliminate publication bias and incentivize best scientific practice. With Registered Reports, an article is provisionally accepted based on the submission of its study protocol. That way, researchers won’t be inclined to modify experiments or analyses halfway or withhold “negative” results, which are also essential to the scientific record. As Dr. Chris Chambers, editor for Cortex and a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Cardiff University, explained: “Armed with this provisional acceptance of their work, authors can perform the research safe in the knowledge that the results themselves will not determine the article's publication. At the same time, readers of the final paper can feel more confident that the work is reproducible because the initial study predictions and analysis plans were independently reviewed.”

In fact, a range of our initiatives address the need for experimental results to be reproducible, which is also a focus of the TOP guidelines. For instance, in 2013, we launched a special issue based on the Executable Papers Grand Challenge, in which each paper provides code, data sets, and the means to explore the computational elements while reading the article: readers can re-run code and change parameters – all to demonstrate that results are fully reproducible. More recently, we have been lowering barriers for researchers to publish replication studies by highlighting existing replication studies through a series of virtual special issues highlighting replication studies, introducing a new article type for replication studies, and issuing several calls for papers to encourage submissions.

In addition, we have initiatives to make methods and code more transparently available, through journals like MethodsXopens in new tab/window, which was launched in 2014 to publish the small but important customizations that scientists make to methods every day, and SoftwareXopens in new tab/windowAnd in 2016 Cell Pressopens in new tab/window, a division of Elsevier, introduced STAR Methodsopens in new tab/window for Structured, Transparent, Accessible Reporting of methods and resources. Its Key Resources Table is designed to improve transparency and reproducibility “by making reporting easier for the author and replication easier for the reader.”

Now, with the introduction of the journal data guidelines, Elsevier has made another significant step in supporting the integrity of science as promoted by the TOP Guidelines.

The attention to research integrity doesn’t stop with initiatives that correspond to a TOP guideline. A further activity to ensure the integrity of the published record is to detect text plagiarism and improper duplication or manipulation of images. Plagiarism detection protects the author of the original work against text and content theft, and ultimately citation theft. For many years, Elsevier has been using technology to compare each submitted manuscript against a large corpus of text material to identify plagiarism. Going one step further and protecting the reader from invalid research results, we are currently sponsoring, collaborating with, and piloting software development projects for the automatic detection of image manipulation or duplication.

These and many other related initiatives can be found on Elsevier’s Research Integrity website. Together, they can increase the transparency, reproducibility and quality of research – making a significant contribution to the progress of science.


Portrait photo of IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, PhD


IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg