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PLOS, Center for Open Science, and Flu Lab collaborate to Open Influenza Research

The last influenza (flu) pandemic declared by the World Health Organization was as recent as 2009. And, even though this was 10 years ago, most of us would acknowledge that flu outbreaks, and their human and economic costs, are never out of global headlines for long, and the flu takes its toll every year. In their most recent factsheet the WHO reported that: “[w]orldwide, these annual epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 to 650 000 respiratory deaths.”

Despite the global implications of potential epidemic, gaps still exist in our understanding of influenza which we can only begin to solve by making more of the research— including replication studies and negative results—publicly available. The Flu Lab, the Center for Open Science (COS) and PLOS have announced a three-pronged collaboration to open influenza research and help tackle this perennial and massive threat to global health. PLOS ONE is publishing peer-reviewed research arising from a call for proposals funded and coordinated by the Flu Lab and COS. This will form part of a special collection, alongside commentaries and perspectives published by PLOS Biology and PLOS Pathogens.

The focus of these three prongs is emptying, and publishing, the “file drawer” of influenza research and doubling down on ensuring verification and reproducibility of this research, two notions that should never be in question for such a potentially devastating health risk. At PLOS we know that all science—including negative outcomes—informs the scientific record and this initiative will reduce the time and resources needed by current and future researchers to further advance the field.

In this collaboration, decisions on funding and publication will remain independent. All submissions to PLOS ONE will be peer reviewed without influence from the funding or coordinating partners. The commissioning of content by PLOS Biology and PLOS Pathogens will be editorially independent.

The full details of the initiative and call for proposals are here, and prospective authors are invited to submit inquiries to the inquiry form. In summary, the initiative invites researchers to:

  • Empty the file-drawers of existing negative and null results
    Researchers often feel pressure to leave experiments showing negative or inconclusive results out of reports for concern that they decrease publishability, yet the cost of doing so undermines the overall value and credibility of the published literature. We encourage laboratories to empty their file drawers and share negative and null results to highlight their existence and facilitate understanding of research pathways that are unproductive or not yet robust for advancing influenza research.
  • Empty the file drawers of existing replication studies
    Many laboratories conduct replication studies but do not publish them because of perceived lack of publishability. We therefore also explicitly invite replication studies and encourage comprehensive reporting of successes and failures to foster insight on the conditions under which phenomena can be observed.
  • Submit proposals for new, highly-powered replications of important results in influenza research
    Authors can propose to conduct highly-powered replications of existing influenza findings to improve credibility and verifiability of existing claims.

PLOS ONE’s rigorous methodological and ethical criteria for publication apply to this special collection and all new replications will be in the Registered Report format. As such, proposals will be reviewed prior to conducting the research. Successful Stage 1 peer review concludes with provisional acceptance of the research for publication, preregistration of the experiment(s) and analysis plan(s), and successful authors are eligible for up to $25,000 in awards to conduct the research and to cover any article processing charges (APCs). Stage 2 peer review begins after the research is completed and assesses only adherence to the accepted protocol and analysis plan and appropriate calibration of the conclusions.

We are delighted to partner with like-minded collaborators on such an important topic. Without the full picture of negative and null results, or replication studies, which this open science initiative will begin to provide, our knowledge is incomplete. This is a situation we cannot afford in the face of a public health threat like influenza.

(Read the Sept. 10, 2019 press release from COS here.)

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