MethodsX of questionable value?

A new science journal called MethodsX that publisher Elsevier claims will give researchers the opportunity to publish details of the methods they use to achieve their results and receive public credit and citations has come under fire.

In a report on the new journal in University World News, Elsevier executive publisher Irene Kanter-Schlifke said it was “a new approach to scientific publishing [and] we believe that MethodsX will dramatically change how researchers assess and build on recognised techniques, saving the scientific community valuable time and money”.

“Researchers spend up to 80% of their time customising and tweaking existing methods to make them better fit their specific research setting,” Kanter-Schlifke said.

“By providing a home for these often unpublished records, MethodsX allows researchers to receive public credit and citations for that work without spending time writing a full, traditional research article.”

But a senior United States scientist said the only way to verify that research was fraudulent was to replicate the experiment and that therefore detailed methods were essential.

The scientist, who asked not to be named, said some journals had resorted to putting the ‘methods’ section at the end of a research paper, which was good because it was still available with the results.

“There is a danger therefore in separating the methods from the paper if the description of the methods is not easily accessible. Enough detail of the methods should be in a scientific paper to allow replication,” he said.

But, as University World News also reported, Gregory J Tsongalis, a US professor of pathology at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said the new journal would fill a need for researchers to publish their work on developing methods so they could easily be found by others.

As advising editor for MethodsX, Tsongalis said it was also good for researchers that they could get acknowledgement for the time and effort they had spent on their research.

The American critic, however, pointed out that the first person to develop a method that became widely used would in turn have a tremendous science citation index, “such as MM Bradford's 1976 method for quantification of protein”.

“These seminal methods really should be in the mainstream journals of the discipline involved.

“If a researcher can just refer to a technique in another methods journal without describing it with their results, there is more likelihood that they may make a mistake, say, in the number of thermocycles, than when they themselves have to actually lay out the procedure as part of their written research description.”