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Preregistration at PLOS Biology and Call for COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 Research

 

Preregistered Research Articles, while not a new offering at PLOS Biology, offer authors additional guarantee of our commitment to emphasize the importance of the research question in the manuscript evaluation process. This is an important part of our new vision for the journal, and a timely one as it has given us a framework to join a rapid review network and joint call for Registered Reports related to COVID-19 study protocols organized by one of our Editorial Board Members, Chris Chambers. In addition, this article type may offer an opportunity to researchers during the global lab lockdown to begin plans for research projects that can be started once the labs are fully up and running again, knowing that the results will be published.

 

Call for Papers – Zoonotic Pathogen Emergence

We believe preregistration is a valuable option for researchers in the life sciences, especially now. Preregistration provides a clear way forward for new studies, to strengthen scientific rigor, increase likelihood of reproducibility, and guarantee a venue for publication of the final results before scientific investigation even begins.

To address the current pandemic, and to mitigate future risk, PLOS Biology has expanded the scope of the joint call for papers to include not only directly SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19-related research, but any study relevant to the emergence and outbreak of zoonotic pathogens. 

This initiative provides a path for researchers to engage in preregistration at a critical time, and PLOS Biology will support authors with fast-tracked peer review of research specifically related to COVID-19. Our aim is to complete initial Stage 1 peer review within 7 days of receiving the submission, so that researchers can proceed with these urgent investigations as quickly as possible. We will also waive the Article Processing Charge for all accepted Stage 1 Protocols in emerging zoonotic pathogens submitted within the first three months, regardless of when the final article is completed and published.

For more information about preregistration, and what this means for all PLOS Biology authors, please read on below. 

 

What is preregistration?

Preregistered research articles at PLOS Biology follow our same unique, rigorous editorial process as regular research articles with one exception: there are two stages of review. Authors first submit a manuscript describing your research question, rationale, study design, and proposed methodology for data collection and analysis which will be evaluated by one of our professional editors. If it seems likely that the proposed work will meet our publication criteria, they will consult with an Academic Editor to assess the importance of the research question. Peer reviewers will be invited at each stage to ensure that the study design and methodological approach are sound

Authors who receive an in-principle acceptance at this stage and can then go out–armed with the best study design possible–to begin their investigation with the confidence that PLOS Biology will publish all of the results, regardless of the outcomes.  

After the study is complete, authors will add results and discussion sections to their protocol to create a single, fully integrated article. Peer reviewers at this stage will focus on adherence to the approved protocol, the appropriateness of any deviations, and the accuracy of the conclusions.

 

What are the benefits of preregistration?

 

Additional security against publication bias and a strong foundation for reproducibility

PLOS Biology is interested in publishing the best research in the biological sciences that meets our publication criteria, even when that means disproving a theory rather than confirming it. Our new scope puts more emphasis on the research question and creates space for researchers to report different kinds of results than a highly-selective publisher would normally accept. Preregistration just takes this one step further.

Preregistered research articles provide a framework for improving and demonstrating scientific rigor in publications. With expert editors and peer reviewers evaluating the approach before investigation begins, we can ensure that researchers receive relevant advice to craft the best study design possible. By basing the second stage of peer review upon the adherence to this protocol, researchers are able to demonstrate the credibility of their results while ensuring that their work provides enough context to remain replicable over the long term.

With these two key pieces, preregistration frees authors to report negative and null results — even in a highly selective journal– adding to a more robust foundation of knowledge for future researchers to build upon. 

 

Guaranteed publication for authors

We know how difficult it is as a researcher to find the right journal for your work. Combined with the pressure from institutions and funders to be published in a handful of highly selective journals, it can take time to receive an acceptance and share your research with the world. As Chief Science Officer Veronique Kiermer discussed in an earlier post , some journal decisions may seem arbitrary or based on strong headlines rather than scientific quality. Shopping an article around to multiple journals may also slow down the time to publication.

Preregistering your study guards against this by providing early review and assessment before the work even begins. Not only does this result in more rigorously conducted studies, but it gives researchers a clear path to publication. So long as the completed study follows the approved approach or any deviations are deemed justified by reviewers, authors are guaranteed publication in PLOS Biology for their final work. 

To build a strong foundation for outcome-neutral assessment and reproducibility, we’ll need increased transparency at each stage of the research and publication process. Preregistration takes us part of the way there but may not be the right option for every research article. In next week’s post, we’ll talk more about the inspiration for two additional article types that help showcase each stage of research. 

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