New Author Guidelines for Displaying Data and Reporting Data Analysis and Statistical Methods in Experimental Biology

To improve the robustness and transparency of scientific reporting, the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), with input from PAASP’s Martin Michel, T.J. Murphy and Harvey Motulsky, has updated the Instructions to Authors (ItA) for ASPET’s primary research journals: Drug Metabolism and DispositionJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and Molecular Pharmacology. The revised ItA went into effect on January 1st 2020. Details and the underlying rationale are described in an editorial/tutorialthat appeared in all three journals.
Key recommendations include the need to differentiate between pre-planned, hypothesis-testing on the one, and exploratory experiments on the other side; explanations of whether key elements of study design, such as sample size and choice of specific statistical tests, had been specified before any data were obtained or adapted thereafter; and explanations of whether any outliers (data points or entire experiments) were eliminated and when the rules for doing so had been defined.
Importantly, Molecular Pharmacology has established a dedicated review process for each manuscript received to check compliance with the new guidelines. This is in contrast to JPET and DMD, which do not have similar policies in place (yet).
It will be interesting to analyze the impact of Mol Pharmacol’s additional review of manuscript and guideline compliance after a certain period of time.
Indeed, Anita Bandrowski and colleagues have recently shown that identifiability of research tools like antibodies was dramatically improved in journals like eLife and Cell since 2015/2016 compared to e.g. PLOS ONE. The reason identified was that both journals (eLife and Cell) not only changed their guidelines to make them more visible but also proactively enforced them. PLOS ONE also changed their ItA to improve how they describe research tools, but without the same level of active enforcement.
We do hope that the ASPET’s new instruction to authors will have a positive impact and will set an example for other journals and learned societies to follow. We also hope that the efforts by ASPET will further demonstrate the role of enforcing the guidelines and instructions.