From Registered Reports to Publish Mess in a Dignified Manner

Why the acceptance of messiness can help dealing with maladies that we are experiencing in science.
From Registered Reports to Publish Mess in a Dignified Manner

A Nature Editorial (see Nature 571, 447; 2019) emphasizes the use of Registered Reports to address the challenges of publication biases. The instrument of Registered Reports, an idea that has already been around since at least the 1960s, is a very good gatekeeper for publication biases (e.g., whether a hypothesis is supported or rejected) or for reducing the incentive to massage data and misrepresent the scientific discovery process. Objections against Register Reports, nicely discussed in a recent book by Chris Chambers (The 7 Deadly Sins of Psychology), are full of flaws. It is, for example, important to note that Register Reports are not designed to stop fraud. More and more journals are now taking up Registered Reports which is a great development. However, we all are also aware that such an instrument is not the cure to many maladies that we are experiencing in science. For example, the worshipping of impact factors among journal editors, scientists, promotion committees, and the academic leadership has spread out like a cancer and has put science in chains. Yes, we live in a world with limited resources which pressures us to quantify and compare. But what and how much do we need to measure when judging research quality or scientific achievement are not clear and we should not self-deceive us that the answer is simplicity. Just because a measure is tractable and easily computable does not mean that it contributes to the long-term transparency and functioning of science. It can make things worse! We don’t like to be imprecise, but sometimes it can be a virtue. It opens the door to think, discuss, and question what we do and who we are. Just having a set of indicators and a name for it can make us feel as though we actually have the answer itself which is dangerous. As scientists we often have a compulsion to avoid or reduce disorder and mess. But transparency means that we also need to embrace ways of allowing us to communicate and disclose our confusions, ignoble thoughts, or blind alleys when deriving scientific insights (see previous post Changing the Way We Communicate Scientific Findings). So far, scientific journals have been too polished to help us to communicate in a dignified manner how messy we are. 

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