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Meta-research is a recent field of research that studies research practices with the aim of finding evidence-based improvements.[1][2] It is also known as "research on research" or "the science of science" as it uses research methods to study how research is done and where improvements can be made. It covers all fields of scientific research (including health and medical research) and has been described as "taking a bird’s eye view of science".[1] It aims to improve scientific practice as summed up by John Ioannidis, "Science is the best thing that has happened to human beings [...] but we can do it better".


Meta-research has grown as a reaction to the replication crisis and concerns about waste in research.[3] The earliest meta-research paper was published in 1966 and examined the statistical methods of 295 papers in ten high-profile medical journals in 1964, and found that, "in almost 73% of the reports read [...] conclusions were drawn when the justification for these conclusions was invalid."[4]

In health and medical research concerns have been raised about waste due to publication bias, inadequate research reporting, and poor study design, such as inadequate blinding. It is estimated that 85% of the worldwide research budget in health and medical research is currently wasted.[5] The 85% figure is supported by multiple empirical studies in a range of fields that have attempted to reproduce published peer reviewed research and failed on 75% to 90% of occasions.[6]

Many high-profile scientific publishers are interested in meta-research and improving the quality of their publications. Many of the concerns about waste in health and medical research were described in the 2014 Lancet special issue on 'Research: increasing value, reducing waste'. There is an ongoing special section in Nature on "Challenges in irreproducible research" with 12 editorials (as at August 2017). Science has had an editorial [7], a policy forum [8] and a special issue [9] on meta-research and the problems with reproducibility. PLOS ONE launched a Reproducibility Initiative in 2012. PLOS Biology included a section for papers on meta-research in 2016.[10] Biomed Central introduced a minimum standards of reporting checklist to four titles in 2015.

Illustration of scientists studying scientists on the front cover of the Science special issue on meta-research

In the media there have been articles on the flaws in science in The Economist, New York Times, The Atlantic and The Guardian.

The first international conference in the broad area of meta-research was the Research Waste/EQUATOR conference in Edinburgh in 2015; the first international conference on peer review was the Peer Review Congress in 1989.[11] The first journal specifically targeting meta-research was Research Integrity and Peer Review launched in 2016. The journal's opening editorial called for, "research that will increase our understanding and suggest potential solutions to issues related to peer review, study reporting, and research and publication ethics".[12]

Meta-research centres[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • R. Harris, Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hopes, and Wastes Billions, Basic Books, 2017 [13]


  1. ^ a b Ioannidis, John P. A.; Fanelli, Daniele; Dunne, Debbie Drake; Goodman, Steven N. (2015). "Meta-research: Evaluation and Improvement of Research Methods and Practices". PLOS Biology. 13 (10): e1002264. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002264. ISSN 1545-7885.
  2. ^ Ioannidis, John P. A. (2018). "Meta-research: Why research on research matters". PLOS Biology. 16 (3): e2005468. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2005468. ISSN 1545-7885.
  3. ^ "Researching the researchers". Nature Genetics. 46 (5): 417–417. 2014. doi:10.1038/ng.2972. ISSN 1061-4036.
  4. ^ Schor, Stanley (1966). "Statistical Evaluation of Medical Journal Manuscripts". JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 195 (13): 1123. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03100130097026. ISSN 0098-7484.
  5. ^ Chalmers, Iain; Glasziou, Paul (2009). "Avoidable waste in the production and reporting of research evidence". The Lancet. 374 (9683): 86–89. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60329-9. ISSN 0140-6736.
  6. ^ Begley, C. G.; Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2014). "Reproducibility in Science: Improving the Standard for Basic and Preclinical Research". Circulation Research. 116 (1): 116–126. doi:10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.114.303819. ISSN 0009-7330. PMID 25552691.
  7. ^ Buck, S. (2015). "Solving reproducibility". Science. 348 (6242): 1403–1403. doi:10.1126/science.aac8041. ISSN 0036-8075.
  8. ^ Alberts, B.; Cicerone, R. J.; Fienberg, S. E.; Kamb, A.; McNutt, M.; Nerem, R. M.; Schekman, R.; Shiffrin, R.; Stodden, V.; Suresh, S.; Zuber, M. T.; Pope, B. K.; Jamieson, K. H. (2015). "Self-correction in science at work". Science. 348 (6242): 1420–1422. doi:10.1126/science.aab3847. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 26113701.
  9. ^ Enserink, Martin (2018). "Research on research". Science. 361 (6408): 1178–1179. doi:10.1126/science.361.6408.1178. ISSN 0036-8075.
  10. ^ Kousta, Stavroula; Ferguson, Christine; Ganley, Emma (2016). "Meta-Research: Broadening the Scope of PLOS Biology". PLOS Biology. 14 (1): e1002334. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002334. ISSN 1545-7885.
  11. ^ Rennie, Drummond (1990). "Editorial Peer Review in Biomedical Publication". JAMA. 263 (10): 1317. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440100011001. ISSN 0098-7484.
  12. ^ Harriman, Stephanie L.; Kowalczuk, Maria K.; Simera, Iveta; Wager, Elizabeth (2016). "A new forum for research on research integrity and peer review". Research Integrity and Peer Review. 1 (1). doi:10.1186/s41073-016-0010-y. ISSN 2058-8615.
  13. ^ "Rigor Mortis". Google Books. 2017-03-09. Retrieved 2017-04-09.