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Creating an exciting and sustainable future for 21st century neuroscience

Posted in Special Feature on 1st Jun 2020

Dr Anne Cooke, Chief Executive, British Neuroscience Association (BNA)
Published online: 5/6/20


In November 2019, the BNA officially launched its ‘Credibility in Neuroscience’ programme at an event at the Houses of Parliament. Along with keynote addresses from Professor Dorothy Bishop and Lord Robert Winston, the main focus of the event was the release of the BNA’s ‘Credibility in Neuroscience’ Manifesto with its vision for why and how we must urgently change the research culture within neuroscience.

An increase in irreproducible research

It’s not over-dramatic to state that we’re at a crucial turning point in research across the biosciences. It’s become clear we don’t always reward the best science – that’s science that lays equal value on both positive and negative outcomes (i.e. findings which reject and those which accept the null hypothesis) and that recognises the importance of replication. Instead, there’s a huge pressure to publish as much research as quickly as possible, to make findings newsworthy, and to favour certain kinds of research outcomes over others. Increasingly, researchers are being influenced to produce the ‘right’ result, which in turn has meant a growth in irreproducible research. And where research is irreproducible or non-replicable, we risk:

• Stalling scientific progress and understanding
• Jeopardising the translation of research to real-world applications
• Wasting time and money
• Hyped expectations
• Losing public trust in scientific findings

It’s a reality which most people will agree is detrimental to science, as well as society. As the UK’s largest professional neuroscience organisation, at the BNA we recognise our responsibility to address this threat in neuroscience. Which is what has led to the launch of our ‘Credibility in Neuroscience’ programme – one of our most important, high-profile programmes to date, championing the principles of open science, replicability, reliability and reproducibility in research. Supported by the Gatsby Foundation, the backbone of ‘Credibility in Neuroscience’ is our manifesto for change. Here, we’ve set out our clear vision to achieve our aim to support and promote the credibility of neuroscience.

Our vision To ensure that neuroscience research is as robust, reliable, replicable, and reproducible as possible; in short, to ensure the credibility of neuroscience. We’ve also outlined three core commitments that will ensure we can deliver and progress our vision as a scientific community.

Our commitments

• Supporting a shift in research culture that’s welcomed and desired by the whole neuroscience community.
• Equipping all neuroscientists – regardless of career stage, location, research topic or specialist technique – with the skills, knowledge, tools and processes they need to carry out neuroscience research which is as credible as possible.
• Changing the landscape in which neuroscientists operate, so that the influences which drive neuroscience research also drive the most credible research.

We believe strongly as an organisation that to ensure a sustainable future for 21st century neuroscience research, we must ensure the credibility of research. We must keep challenging aspects of today’s research environment. We must ensure everyone, at whatever stage or nature of their career, has access to support, guidance, and reassurance so they can embrace and implement the necessary changes that will benefit the whole community.

So, what is the BNA doing on the ground to promote credibility?

It’s important to point out this isn’t a campaign only of words, but of actions. From sharing best practice and creating a space for vigorous discussion and debate, to equipping researchers with the right tools and incentives to try something new, this is a programme of progress and development. On the one hand, we’re committed to raising awareness, facilitating discussion and helping all neuroscientists stay informed about credibility. On the other, we’ll be driving through practical changes, providing the knowledge and tools required to adopt credible research processes. Informed and supported by our Credibility Advisory Board of leading neuroscientists and open science experts, we’re launching an ongoing range of activities, events and practical guides. From running a UK-wide ‘Credibility in Neuroscience’ roadshow with seminars and workshops, bringing neuroscientists together to discuss and implement credibility, to credibility ‘toolkits’ consisting of practical resources and short guides developed by our team of experts.

Working together as one community

We’re committed to connecting and uniting everyone, from journal publishers and societies, to universities, funders and the general public, within one neuroscience community. It’s why our ‘Credibility in Neuroscience’ programme forms a fundamental part of what we’re doing to support and champion our members. Because bringing everyone together to be part of UK-wide events, news, networks, and support is vital to making changes and new practices universal and accessible to all. Only by ensuring everyone has the support to be ‘InCredible’ will we truly advance and secure the future of neuroscience.

More information can be found on the ‘Credibility in Neuroscience’ website: www.bnacredibility.org.uk

Take a step towards InCredibility today

If you are a neurologist or other healthcare professional…be InCredible by sharing your knowledge of preregistration, and by checking out the AllTrials campaign.

The clinical research community is already well-versed in preregistration, much more so than academic researchers. Take the chance to share your knowledge of preregistration with colleagues in academia. Also combat the invisibility of negative results by checking out the AllTrials campaign at alltrials.net.

If you are a researcher in neuroscience or another bioscience…be InCredible by changing how you publish.

Publish null results, preregistering research or submitting a Registered Report where appropriate, and using CRediT wherever possible. If you lead a lab then make sure your team are aware of new approaches in publishing.

If you work in industry or the commercial sector…be InCredible by sharing your knowledge.

Talk to an academic friend or colleague about the issues they are facing, share your knowledge with them, and take the chance to discuss how credibility is important to translate research into realworld applications.

If you are a publisher or editor of a scientifc journal…be InCredible by having journal policies which support replicability of research.

Accept replication studies and null results in your journal, and ensure methods sections are comprehensive enough to allow the published work to be replicated.

If you fund neuroscience research…be InCredible by supporting the sector to help make science open.

Talk to your grant holders about what they are doing to contribute to this cultural change and open science, ask them what they would like to see change and how the funding you offer could support this.

If you work in the media…be InCredible by including caveats and limitations.

Support and highlight negative results, including caveats or limitations when writing science or health news. Report what a study doesn’t show as well as what it might, ensuring column inches for the important detail as much as the headline grabbers.

If you want to be a part of the change…be InCredible by joining the BNA.

Join the voices of neuroscience and be the change you want to see.

We are your voice

With high profile campaigns like ‘Credibility in Neuroscience’ the BNA is ensuring we give a voice to everyone interested in the brain and nervous system, from researchers and clinical scientists to students and the general public. Be part of a vibrant, forward thinking community, for the price of one coffee a week (or much less!) , and benefit from:

• Up-to-date news about events, lobbying and networking opportunities

• Free membership of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the International Brain Research Organisation (IBRO)

• Free or reduced registration rates for all BNA events

• The BNA Bulletin magazine

• Reduced APC charges for the BNA journal ‘Brain and Neuroscience Advances’

• Up to 50% of Royal Society of Biology training events

• And much more

Join the community at www.bna.org.uk/register or get in touch at office@bna.org.uk

Let’s advance neuroscience together.