“If science accumulates truths, it does so on a rational basis, not through luck, thereby justifying the universal obtainability of its results. However, the universality of science appears to be measured in terms of the trust we place in science” (Nnaji, 2013).
Over the last decade, there has been a growing focus regarding the integrity of scientific research. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has amplified the need to find, check, share, and reuse data at a faster pace than ever before. At Ripeta, we believe that open science must support good science. This outbreak has heightened the importance of transparently sharing data, analysis methods, software, and code, and it has also highlighted the importance of rapidly checking research.
An inherent mysticism permeates science, yet trusting in science means trusting in something that you cannot always see. The owner of an electric coffee maker may not understand how all of the parts come together to form a moving, functioning, device, but they trust that they will have a hot cup of coffee every morning. (To all our Italian readers who do understand how to make the perfect caffè and the mechanics of electric coffee makers, please forgive us).
In this post, we will explain some of the major reasons why distrust in science has grown and how we — as Ripeta and as a scientific community — can work to build a more transparent way of communicating and partaking in science.
Trust (and distrust) in science today
The scientific method offers a systematic methodology for scientists to test research questions and present results. With the addition of scholarly publishing, modern science allows for more questioning, retesting, confirming, and review. The research and review process is built to hopefully produce a reliable result for which future scientists can build upon.
Yet, this same academic environment that has yielded numerous advances has also engendered research that is vulnerable to misinterpretation, human error, and flawed methodology — all of which lead to popular distrust. Perhaps more concerning are instances of retracted research, predatory journals, paper mills, made-up or misrepresented authors, fake news, and more. These potentially nefarious practices threaten the reliability of research on the whole and question many of the sources we rely on. This is why Ripeta’s mission is crucial in the fight for public understanding of science, and quality of scientific information sharing.
For more information on public trust in science today, check out these studies done by Pew Research Center and this article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
How we determine trust at Ripeta
Ripeta is dedicated to building trust in science by making science faster, open, transparent, and reproducible, and checked. When we assess a manuscript for trustworthiness, we break down trust in science into three groups: Research, Professionalism, and Reproducibility. Each of these groups are composed of indicators determining the trustworthiness of a manuscript. These categories represent multiple quality indicators one may find in a research paper. It is important to note here that the inclusion of these indicators in a paper does not ensure trustworthiness, it merely suggests that the writer is implementing necessary markers of trust.
Note: we are only listing some of the quality indicators for each category. We encourage you to think about your own experience with research, and what else you might look for in a ‘trustworthy’ source.
Trust in the Reproducibility
Reproducibility is the DNA of a manuscript. With the proper ‘genetic material’ to work with, future researchers can build upon the previous findings, and subsequently expand the discourse.
The indicators in this category support the potential for research reported in an individual paper to be reproducible. While reproducible research presents many challenges in practice, reporting the research transparently bolsters trust and improves the chances for future citations.
Indicators of Trust in Reproducibility include:
- Data Availability Statement (DAS)
- Data Sharing Locations
- Code Availability Statement
- Code Sharing
Trust in the Professionalism
Professionalism is the heart of the study. It is what keeps the study alive through passion, funding, support, and resources. Professionalism refers to the authorship of a paper and the legitimacy of the individual or institution that performed the study. At Ripeta, we examine Trust in Professionalism using a multi-layered approach.
First, we determine if the author is in fact a scientist (i.e., not an imposter or impersonating of a scientist). If the author passes the first check, we determine if they are reporting indicators expected within professional research and we verify previously published works.
Indicators of Trust in Professionalism include:
- Ethical Approval Statement
- Funding Statement
- Conflict of Interest Statement
- Low self-citation
- Verified author
Trust in the Research
Research is the skeleton of scientific trust, and if it is lacking then there is a fundamental problem with the paper that cannot be easily fixed – if it is supposed to be research, of course. Other forms of scientific communication occur through editorials, commentaries, and the like. However, research – quantitative and qualitative – is where we derive much of the critical scientific knowledge we use today.
Trust in research is derived from an author following established protocols within the scientific method. And this differs from other writings such as commentaries. While commentaries typically provide scientific experts summaries of a topic, they do not provide the scientific rigour of research.
An example that, when included, indicates Trust in Research:
- Study Objective
- Presences of certain sections (e.g. Methods, Results, Bibliography)
Fostering Trust in Science
Ripeta positions indicators of trust into three categories: Reproducibility, professionalism, and research. Each of these categories are needed to create a piece of research that promotes trust and transparency.
Let’s look at an example of a pseudo research article containing all necessary indicators of trust. Each indicator will be followed by the specific components within the paper.
Trust in Reproducibility – Can this paper be replicated for future research?
Look for… Code Availability Statement, Data Availability Statement (DAS), Data Locations
- Includes data availability statement and links to the data used.
- Detailed methods section laid out in the abstract.
Trust in Professionalism – Are the actors behind the study reliable?
Look for… Ethical Approval Statement, Funding Statement, Section Headings Information
- More than one author, and all are verified through their institution and previous works.
- Includes a funding statement and all pertaining information.
- Contains an ethics statement.
Trust in Research – Is this actual research?
Look for… Study Objective
- The study objective is clearly stated.
- Detailed Methods and Results sections.
Example research article: