In 2013, the journals Cortex, Social Psychology, and Perspectives on Psychological Science launched a groundbreaking publishing format—called a registered report—that they hoped would solve several problems worsened by conventional publishing practices. One issue was that many journals declined to publish important negative results, judging them not sufficiently novel. In addition, many authors analyzed their data in multiple ways but only reported the most interesting results.
The trio of journals thought registered reports offered a better way. The approach turns the normal publishing timeline on its head: Authors write manuscripts laying out only their hypotheses, research methods, and analysis plans, and referees decide whether to accept them before anyone knows the study’s results. The innovation is that this guarantees publication for even the most mundane findings. Unlike standard papers, “the decision [to publish] … is based on the importance of the question, and the quality of the methodology you’re applying,” says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and an advocate of registered reports.
But until recently, concrete data to support the benefits of this publishing model have been thin. Today, Nosek and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Human Behaviour reporting that reviewers rate registered reports as more rigorous, and their methods as higher in quality, than similar papers published in the standard format. And despite concerns that the approach could stifle research creativity, the reviewers considered registered reports to be as creative and novel as the comparison papers. The findings join the first small wave of studies exploring whether the publishing format—now offered by at least 295 journals—lives up to its promise.
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