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Trying Something New

BMC Psychology says it plans to launch a randomized controlled trial for a pilot peer-review program that doesn't allow reviewers to see results or discussion sections for the papers they're looking at until the end of the review process.

This so-called "results free" review process is meant to ensure that research papers are judged on the strength of their methods and theses, rather than their outcomes, the journal said. University of Bath researcher Katherine Button says in a statement that publication bias is a serious problem in the peer review process, and that the current system makes the problem worse as results are seen as more important than the actual studies themselves.

The results-free trial will start with an initial pilot phase, BMC Psychology says. The first 10 authors to opt in will go through the process to make sure it's feasible and efficient. And after the pilot, the randomized control trial will begin — authors who opt in will be randomly assigned to either the results free or normal peer-review process.

"Authors who are in the 'results free' group will submit a full manuscript for review but the results, discussion and conclusions will be hidden from the peer-reviewers," says BioMed Central Associate Publisher Liz Bal. "In the first stage of review, the manuscript will be 'accepted in principle' based on the rationale and methods only. These manuscripts will then be reviewed again by the same reviewers but with the omitted sections visible. At that stage, the decision to publish can only be revoked if the results and discussion deviate unjustifiably from the stated aims and methods. We believe that this could help reduce publication bias by basing the decision to publish purely on the scientific rigor of the study design."