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Checks and balances in early-stage research

June 12, 2020

In today’s environment, it’s clear that rapid dissemination of research can prove critical to advancing scientific discovery. But we’ve also seen examples that when research is rushed to distribution, even after reputable and careful peer-review, it can still prove faulty. How, then, can we expect to assess the quality of research not yet reviewed by expert peers through traditional means? How do we balance the need to rapidly distribute early-stage research findings against the measures of quality and accuracy provided by a rigorous and trusted peer-review system? 

Part of the purpose of sharing findings throughout the research process is to increase transparency and collaboration in science. This sharing and discussion most often takes place in the limited environment of the scientific conference, where posters and presentations are available to those who have the funds to attend and then select a particular session from within a program jam-packed with competing options. When we offer early-stage research to the scientific community in a digital environment, we naturally broaden its audience. And by getting research in front of a larger audience, we can improve upon the current findings and future research direction by introducing a set of community-led checks and balances.

Providing a platform for early-stage research allows us to harness the insights and expertise of the global scientific community and helps to facilitate discourse and improve research results. A proper digital environment allows both the dissemination of pre-published research and engagement with a broad online community who can review information in a way that actually mimics some of the attributes of the traditional peer-review system. Plus, rather than selecting only a handful of researchers, this method allows for the additional dynamics of an open and engaged set of worldwide experts in a variety of fields. They can review, comment, and flag concerns on the research of their peers, working together as a community to ensure everyone remains accountable.

There are many ways this discourse and review can be encouraged. When research is available on a platform built for early-stage research, where posters and presentations are assigned DOIs, connected to authors' ORCiD IDs, and tied into broader scholarly communications, discussion can be tracked and comments aggregated in a transparent manner for current and future reference. Social media can be used to further boost dissemination and increase the discussion around early research findings. Metrics, including shares, likes, and comments, can also be tracked to show engagement and monitor activity. Finally, posters and presentations can then be preserved, archived, and linked to all future stages in the research lifecycle so that others can fully understand, learn from, and build upon these findings, based on the full knowledge of the research journey, rather than just the published end result. 

Posting early-stage research in this manner can actually provide greater input and collaboration from the community, and in turn enhance the quality of the findings at all stages of the research journey.


Image credit: Scott Graham

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