In “Shake up conferences,” a commentary published August 10 in Nature, Shai D. Silberberg of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) – along with NINDS and FASEB colleagues – advocate for greater transparency at scientific meetings, a key facet of promoting rigor and transparency in the research enterprise.
“Conferences have served as crucial hubs for scientific communication for at least four centuries,” the authors write. “They provide an essential platform that facilitates collaboration and disseminates information, and they enable researchers to gain feedback on early-stage work. . . . And yet the staples of scientific conferences – presentations and poster sessions – can provide only snapshots of ongoing work. This is exacerbated by the complexity of scientific technologies, richness of acquired data and sophistication of data-analysis methods, all of which are ever-growing. As a result, attendees can find it difficult to evaluated presented results and interpret the findings.”
At an early 2017 meeting, participants hashed out strategies for improved transparency at science conferences. The resulting suggestions are outlined in the commentary:
- Rewrite presentation and poster guidelines to promote transparency. Beyond focusing on poster format, conference organizers could call for including relevant information on posters, such as the research question at hand and its rationale, whether the experiment is exploratory or confirmatory, and what measures were taken to reduce bias.
- Develop rigor emojis. Simple picture symbols such as emojis could be included on slides and posters to convey complicated information efficiently: that samples were randomized into comparison groups or that appropriate sample sizes were calculated, for example. Some science conferences already use symbols to indicate that a study received federal funding.
- Mobilize technology. Via technology, more information could be made available at conferences more efficiently: electronic posters that allow attendees to zoom in on experimental details; or Quick Response (QR) codes that provide additional information to attendees such as in-depth experimental details or other papers that support the study’s scientific premise.
The challenge is identifying the most successful tools for adoption based on the scientific field, the conference, or the needs of individual scientists. The authors propose pilot testing and evaluating new methods in conference presentations as a way to promote greater rigor and transparency.