In support of transparent reporting in research practice: MDAR framework

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Research Publishing
By: Sowmya Swaminathan , Mon Apr 26 2021
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Author: Sowmya Swaminathan

Springer Nature has long been committed to advancing reproducibility and open research practices across our journals, examples include steps taken to improve reproducibility of published research by the Nature journals (see here, the introduction of Springer Nature Data policies  and longstanding support for protocol sharing (including through Protocol Exchange, our open repository for community-contributed protocols).  Our approach has blended developing editorial policy, publishing infrastructure and partnership with stakeholders across the scholarly ecosystem to drive positive change across the research community and in scholarly publishing.  

As part of this ongoing commitment, we see our role as publisher as one where we can, and should also play an active voice in the community, collaborating with other partners to help develop standards, tools and services to better support sustainable open research, and therefore open science practice. One example of this is our collaboration on the development of the MDAR Framework, a harmonised approach to transparent reporting in life sciences including aspects that are essential for better reproducibility, replicability and improved open research practices.   

Over the course of 2021, we will be exploring how the MDAR Framework can support improved practice across Springer Nature’s life science journals.

The below blog post has been authored by  The MDAR Working Group and will be coordinately released by each partner organisation.


The MDAR Framework - a new tool for life sciences reporting

(Materials, Design, Analysis, Reporting)

Incomplete or imprecise reporting of life sciences research contributes to challenges with reproducibility, replicability, and biomedical applications. For the last three years we - a group of journal editors and researchers - have been working together to develop a new framework for transparent reporting of life sciences research. This framework has just been published in PNAS.

The MDAR Framework establishes the four domains – research Materials, Design, Analysis, and Reporting - in which we define both a set of basic minimum requirements, and best practice recommendations.

We were motivated to develop the MDAR Framework as part of our own and others’ attempts to improve reporting to drive research improvement and ultimately greater trust in science. Existing tools, such as the ARRIVE guidelines, guidance from FAIRSharing, and the EQUATOR Network, speak to important sub-elements of biomedical research. This new MDAR Framework aims to be  more general and less deep, and therefore complements these important specialist guidelines.  

Previous approaches have led to improved reporting, but often at considerable cost to both authors’ and editors’ time. A recent period of experimentation has resulted in a thorough but fragmented landscape of reporting guidelines for life science journals. A drive for efficiency  inspired us to learn from each other’s experiences and to harmonize the most effective practices. 

The MDAR Framework provides flexibility along with broad applicability. The standard articulation of expectations across different journals will make it easier for: (i) authors to better understand what is expected of them, and (ii) for more journals to adopt an established approach rather than develop it from scratch. Journals can choose a level of implementation appropriate to their needs, enabling greater adoption potential. 

We also hope that the MDAR Framework will be helpful for other organizations such as funders, who can signal reporting expectations early and therefore have an effect at the time the studies are designed, and tool/software developers, who can devise means of facilitating compliance for authors and journals. 

Alongside the framework, the project provides a checklist (for authors, journals or reviewers) as an optional implementation tool, and an explanation and elaboration document. The checklist was piloted on over 289 manuscript submissions across 13 journals, seeking feedback from authors and editors actually using the checklist. Our team analysed agreement between observers, sought feedback from outside experts, and revised the framework in the light of this experience. 

The full set of MDAR resources will be maintained and updated as a community resource, in a Collection on the Open Science Framework. 

We are sharing this update on the MDAR Framework through coordinated posts on working group member platforms. Working group members have been free to add any additional context as appropriate.

On behalf of the MDAR working group:

  • Andy Collings (eLife)
  • Chris Graf (Wiley)
  • Veronique Kiermer (PLOS)
  • David Mellor (Center for Open Science)
  • Malcolm Macleod (University of Edinburgh)
  • Sowmya Swaminathan (Nature Portfolio/Springer Nature) 
  • Deborah Sweet (Cell Press/Elsevier)
  • Valda Vinson (Science/AAAS)
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Author: Sowmya Swaminathan

Sowmya Swaminathan is Head of Editorial Policy & Research Integrity for Nature Research

Sowmya is responsible for the development of editorial policies including policies relevant to rigour and reproducibility, research integrity, publication ethics, bioethics, biosecurity and scholarly communications. She chairs the Nature Research Policy Forum and the Nature journal Reproducibility Steering Group. Sowmya has been at Nature journals since 2003.