Good Science is Rigorous Science

NINDS is committed to funding research that, by improving our understanding of how the brain and nervous system works, reduces the burden of neurological disorders and stroke. An important part of this effort is supporting projects that are carefully planned, of high quality, and that incorporate key principles of scientific rigor. In a previous Director’s Message, I said that good science is rigorous science. Today, I am calling your attention to our plan to build a first-of-its-kind educational platform to facilitate teaching and training in this crucial aspect of research.

Last summer, NINDS issued a Request for Information to the scientific community where we asked for your input about how to best enhance the quality of the science we fund. Thanks in no small part to your feedback, we have issued two Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), which will help provide scientists at all career stages with access to online training in the principles of scientific rigor. 

The first, “Creating an Educational Nexus for Training in Experimental Rigor (CENTER),” will take on the work of building, evaluating, and disseminating an online educational resource and harmonizing the content across educational “units,” which will address key principles of rigorous biomedical research. For this, we are looking to digital platform developers, educators, media producers, and others to build a state-of-the-art, free, and engaging way to provide this new educational content to anyone who is interested. CENTER will also engage the scientific community, including champions of rigorous scientific research, to ensure utility and effectiveness of the resource as well as to improve scientific culture around issues of rigor and transparency.

Of course, the success of an accessible educational platform depends upon its content. For that, we have posted a second FOA: “Materials to Enhance Training in Experimental Rigor (METER),” which supports subject matter experts in principles of rigorous research to develop materials for integration into the educational units of the resource. The digital components of the units will be produced in collaboration with CENTER and will be made available to scientists, trainees, and the public free of charge.

This project could not come at a more crucial time. Experiments designed, conducted, and analyzed without sufficient rigor are wasteful of resources and the scientist’s time. Errors related to non-rigorous research once published can permanently ruin the scientific reputation of all involved.  Compounding this issue is the fact that experimental methods are often not communicated in sufficient detail through scientific publications, making the reproduction and validation of potentially paradigm-shifting discoveries difficult, if not impossible. At NINDS, we believe that incorporation of a scientific rigor curriculum into a lab’s culture will help maintain its research at a high level of quality.

This idea originated with a NINDS workshop in 2018 and was later written up in eLife. Now, we are beginning the process of building a new, online comprehensive and engaging educational platform designed to provide training in scientific rigor. Our vision has never been done on this scale before, and we are inviting your participation through the CENTER and METER FOAs.

If you are interested in helping us develop content for this exciting project, I invite you to read the FOAs that have been posted. We holding an informational webinar about the project on August 17—you can register to attend on our webpage devoted to the initiative.

I hope that this new educational initiative will help current and future researchers improve the quality of their experiments and ensure that they are performing successful and rigorous science. Rigorous science is strong science by strong scientiststhat provides high value contributions to a range of challenging scientific questions.              

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