Learning from the mistakes of others: Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine moves to open peer review

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‘A wise man learns by the mistakes of others, a fool by his own’ Latin proverb

This is especially true in evidence-based medicine. While it is often the ‘positive’ data—those that support carefully-constructed hypotheses—that get the most attention, non-confirmatory, so-called ‘negative’, data have an integral role to play in guiding future research. Indeed, even if an experiment supports a hypothesis, there is always the possibility that it may be rejected by future experiments. Conversely, a negative result may gain significance in years to come.

This idea that all data are valuable and should be published now enjoys widespread support, as evidenced by the popularity of the AllTrials campaign, with over 60,000 signatories, and initiatives such as the Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials (RIATs) initiative.

It was to try and address this balance that the Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine was launched in 2002 by BioMed Central, to provide a platform for the publication and discussion of unexpected or controversial results, and observations that refute current tenets. The aim of the journal is to provide researchers with balanced information to advance the improvement of experimental design and clinical decision-making.

However, researchers often fear that negative results will be perceived to suggest that a study was poorly designed and that the researchers were either not knowledgeable about the phenomenon, or incapable of tailoring more robust research hypotheses. Moreover, they are often discouraged from submitting publications reporting negative results due to concerns that these papers will be filtered by the peer-review firewall, given their perceived lack of soundness in comparison to studies with ‘successful’ results.

Therefore, to correct this misapprehension, Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine has now changed to an open peer-review policy. This move was announced in an editorial published earlier in the journal and has taken effect as of 18 February 2014.

From this point forward, reviewers will be asked to sign their reviews, and the pre-publication history, including all submitted versions, reviewers’ reports and authors’ responses, will be linked to the published article. Articles that have already been submitted or published by the journal will not be affected by this change, but JNRBM is now following in the footsteps of the BMC-series journals and Biology Direct, whose open peer-review policy was recently praised by Research Award winner, Kenneth Stedman.

As Victoria Murphy of Sense About Science says:

“Making sense of science stories can be difficult, whether you’re a parent concerned about the dangers of Wi-Fi in schools or a policymaker trying to understand claims about nuclear energy. One of the first questions people can ask when trying to make sense of science stories is, ‘Is it peer reviewed?‘ I hear from early-career researchers who are frustrated by the lack of formal recognition and training for reviewing. With so many pressures to secure grant funding and publish research, there is a risk that reviewing will become marginalised and inevitably inconsistent and shoddy.”

Making the reviews part of the record will not only give credit where it is due, but will also demonstrate that negative results do not imply that a study was poorly conducted. Sharing the referees’ critique of the manuscript will provide valuable information to those reading the article, and present all the necessary information for them to make an objective evaluation for themselves.

To submit your manuscript, please go to http://www.jnrbm.com/manuscript, or contact jnrbm@biomedcentral.com if you have any queries.

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