Forest restoration or propaganda? The need for Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) scores to uphold research integrity

  • Jasper A. Slingsby 1.Fynbos Node, South African Environmental Observation Network, Centre for Biodiversity Conservation, Cape Town, South Africa; 2.Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1246-1181
Keywords: objectivity, advocacy, scholarly publishing, public trust

Abstract

In a time of environmental crisis and ‘fake news’, there are calls for scientists to engage in public debate or advocacy. Some are wary, fearing that revealing subjective views poses a risk to scientific credibility or erodes trust in scholarly publishing. Others are less concerned, seeing it as their duty to society or an opportunity to boost their profile. Ideally, we need better checks and balances that allow scientists to contribute to public discourse without fear of compromising the credibility of their science, while avoiding subjective views influencing the outcomes of peer-reviewed research. For better or worse, scientists have personal views. The question is not whether they should be condoned or condemned, but how they should be managed in the context of scholarly publishing to maximise benefits and minimise negative outcomes. Using the recent contention around global tree ‘restoration’ potential as an example, I propose we score journals and articles based on the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines and associated criteria. A high TOP score means readers have sufficient access to information to assess the objectivity and credibility of scientific publications and their authors. I show that current practice provides very little access to information, and readers are essentially being asked to have faith in the scholarly publication system. We must do better.

Significance:

  • Science is predicated upon objectivity, yet readers are rarely given enough information to assess the objectivity, and thus integrity, of peer-reviewed research.
  • To address this issue, a scoring system is proposed, which is based on the principles of transparency and openness.
  • Improving transparency and openness in scholarly publishing is essential for allowing readers to assess the objectivity of published research and researchers, growing public trust, and allowing researchers to engage in public debates without fear of loss of scientific credibility.
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Published
2020-07-29

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