The unexpected benefits of study registration

RegistryLogoLast week, UCL held a debate asking ‘Is science broken?’. According to one account, by Aidan Horner, it emerged during the debate that study registration was felt to be ‘a way of controlling scientists’. I disagree, because it is scientists themselves who decide how to design their study, and choose to register it. Furthermore, study registration does not preclude exploratory research, it simply makes more transparent whether the research is intended to be exploratory or confirmatory.

Back in 2012, Jim Kennedy and I launched the KPU Registry for Parapsychological Experiments. This provides a platform for researchers to deposit information about planned studies. The KPU study registry provides a platform for irreversibly public registration. Incidentally, last time we checked (December 2014) the most popular option for study registration in psychology, Open Science Framework, did not provide irreversibly public registrations.

The main benefits of study registration are well-known. Reporting or publication biases are minimised. Study registration also increases confidence in a study by providing clear evidence that the key hypotheses and analyses were planned prior to conducting the experiment. But Jim and I were surprised to find other benefits.

1. Registration can maintain information about studies indefinitely and is important for literature reviews. Increasingly, registries provide links to abstracts, results, or published papers, which also helps reviewers locate published and unpublished studies.

2. Public study registration prevents unintended duplication of effort, and promotes efficient science.

3. Registration can serve a social function, letting others know about the research activities of a researcher or an institution.

We recently published in Frontiers of Psychology a brief account of the lessons we’ve learned from running the KPU Study Registry. Our experience may be helpful to psychologists, who are themselves beginning to grapple with replication issues. To read our paper, click here. Aidan Horner’s blog about the UCL debate is here. And the KPU Study Registry is here.

(Update – in June 2015 OSF changed its policy to make registrations irreversibly public; it still does not review registrations.)



About Caroline Watt

Prof Caroline Watt is a founder member of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit.
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