Nautilus

Where did the scientific method go?

Michela Noseda of Imperial College, London and Gary R. McLean of the University of Texas Health Science Center write in this month’s Nature Biotechnology (26, 28 – 29; 2008) a response to the Brief Communication published by Mazor et al in the May issue (Nat. Biotechnol. 25, 563–565; 2007). What bothers Noseda and McLean is not the article itself, but that it contains, they write, “a lack of documented methodology and information that is essential to faithfully reproduce the science claimed in the manuscript. Surely, the aim of scientific publication is to disseminate scientific information to further advance our knowledge and to allow others to use such information for expansion and possible improvements to the work. Mazor et al. are clearly not the only authors being forced into abbreviated paper formats that follow this trend, which suggests the problem goes significantly deeper.

Admirably, Nature has recently implemented ”http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/gta/index.html#a5.3">new guidelines for the addition of methods to their published research articles and letters. Authors are given multiple options for the appropriate presentation of methods within their manuscripts, avoiding the demotion of Methods to the supplementary section. This approach should be commended and we hope adopted universally by additional scientific periodicals. Aside from these rules, we should all make an extra effort as authors and reviewers to ensure that scientific methodology resumes its rightful position as the foundation of basic scientific research."

The Nature Biotechnology editors respond (Nat. Biotechnol. 26, 29; 2008):

“Noseda and McLean raise interesting points. With regard to the ability to reproduce a paper’s methodology and findings, the fact that descriptions of methods in Supplementary Material online are not copy edited for grammar or clarity at Nature Biotechnology (or at any other Nature monthly journal) could be argued to potentially compromise the lucidness and ease with which a reader can repeat a published experiment. As the authors also point out, ”http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/gta/index.html#a5.3">Nature‘s new guidelines for the addition of methods to its published papers provide authors with flexibility in how to present their methods within the final printed issue and online. One additional benefit to Nature’s approach, not mentioned by Noseda and McLean, is that references to methods or protocols that appear in the Methods section remain in the printed paper rather than being relegated to online only (where they are less likely to be cited). We would welcome feedback from our readers as to whether they feel Nature Biotechnology should follow a similar model to Nature."

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