Pre-registration is closely linked with the Reproducibility or Replication Crisis. The concept is that if researchers have to state their hypothesis and their plan for testing it before they do the experiment then this will reduce the risk of interpreting or ‘cherry-picking’ the data in such a way that it supports the hypothesis regardless of how the experiments have gone.

A survey in Nature revealed that selective reporting was the number one reason for irreproducible research. One aspect of research that pre-registration is designed to prevent is so-called ‘p-value fishing’. The p-value is a measure of statistical significance (evidence against a null hypothesis), but this significance can be exaggerated by including large amounts of variables or a larger number of subjects (while not disclosing the effect size). Pre-registration of hypothesis and methods try to ensure that these manipulations cannot happen.

Some have raised concerns that pre-registration is too rigid and it will restrict creativity and exploration in fundamental research. The fear is that in order to avoid the falsification of data any later stage improvement or alteration to experiments will also be prevented.

Several journals, such as the BMJ and nearly 100 others ask for registered reports now. It may become a common aspect of science publishing in years to come. There is also a journal that publishes protocols: Bio-protocol.

Pre-registration is one specific method for enhancing the openness of the scientific process and possibly enhancing public trust in it. However, it may not be suitable for all types of research or publications.

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