In part two of our series on rigor and transparency in research grant and career development award applications, we focus on scientific rigor, the strict application of the scientific method to ensure robust and unbiased experimental design, methodology, analysis, interpretation, and reporting of results.
We can all agree that attention to scientific rigor is important. But how can we be sure a rigorous experiment was performed? In published papers, full transparency in reporting experimental details is crucial for others to assess, reproduce, and extend the findings. Likewise, in grant applications, full transparency is necessary for reviewers to properly assess the proposed studies.
Therefore, as part of the Approach section of the Research Strategy, updated instructions clarify this expectation to emphasize how the experimental design and methods proposed will achieve robust and unbiased results. Solid, well-controlled experiments can produce robust results capable of being reproduced under well-controlled conditions using reported experimental details. A robust approach might include use of appropriate statistical methods, prospective sample size estimation, replicates, or standards (for example, reference reagents or data standards). Robust and credible results are those obtained with methods specifically designed to avoid bias, such as blinding, randomization, and prospectively defined exclusion/inclusion criteria, to name a few.
It is important to keep in mind that each scientific field may have its own set of best practices or standards to achieve scientific rigor. Reviewers are well-positioned to identify strengths or weaknesses of the proposed plans. Applicants are encouraged to include a succinct description of the experimental design and methods with enough detail to assure the reviewers that the necessary elements of rigor will be addressed.
NIH strives to fund the best, most rigorous science. NIH encourages professional organizations to engage in these discussions with their respective communities. For example, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) recently published a set of recommendations that arose from a series of community dialogues on antibodies and mouse models as tools for basic research. Attention to scientific rigor will ensure we are all creating solid foundations on which future research can build.
Coming up in my next blog, consideration of biological variables in NIH grant applications.