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Science Establishes Dedicated Statistical Review Panel

1 August 2014 1,017 views 3 Comments
Jeff Myers, ASA Public Relations Coordinator

Science magazine editor-in-chief, Marcia McNutt, recently announced the July 1 appointment of a new statistical board of reviewing editors (SBoRE)—composed of prominent members of the statistical community—that will help address reproducibility issues and increase confidence in the papers published in the magazine.

“So why is Science taking this additional step? Readers must have confidence in the conclusions published in our journal, and that we have taken reasonable measures to verify the accuracy of those results,” said McNutt in a recent editorial. “We believe that establishing the SBoRE will help avoid honest mistakes and raise the standards for data analysis, particularly when sophisticated approaches are needed.”

The statistical experts appointed to five-year terms on the newly created SBoRE are:

  • Ron Brookmeyer, professor of biostatistics at the University of California at Los Angeles’s School of Public Health
  • Alison Motsinger-Reif, associate professor of statistics at North Carolina State University
  • Giovanni Parmigiani, professor of biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health and chair of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology
  • Richard L. Smith, professor of statistics and biostatistics at The University of North Carolina and director of the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute
  • Jane-Ling Wang, professor of statistics at the University of California at Davis
  • Chris Wikle, professor of statistics at the University of Missouri-Columbia
  • Ian Wilson, professor of structural biology and chair of the department of integrative structural and computational biology at The Scripps Research Institute

Last year’s ASA president, Marie Davidian, whose initiatives included raising the profile of statistics within the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the publisher of Science magazine) and whom was asked by McNutt to recommend individuals for the SBoRE, praised Science’s efforts: “I commend Dr. McNutt and her colleagues for addressing reproducibility issues and for recognizing the important role of statisticians in doing so. As one of the most influential scientific journals in the world, Science should be a leader in publishing scientific articles of the highest quality. The SBoRE and the magazine’s complementary moves are critical steps in achieving that objective.”

Regarding the ASA’s assistance, she added, “I am pleased the ASA and I could assist in these efforts. I also thank the talented members of our profession who are serving on this board for their service to the statistical community and, more generally, to science.”

McNutt requested the ASA’s assistance during a meeting last September. Davidian had requested the meeting to discuss how statisticians could be helpful to Science, especially with reproducibility and reviews of scientific papers, and talk about ways to familiarize the science community with the expertise of statisticians. The ASA contingent did not have to do much convincing, finding McNutt and her team appreciative of the important role of statisticians in advancing scientific research.

The long-established board of reviewing editors (BoRE) is a critical part of Science’s review process for the approximately 250 manuscripts it receives each week (of which 7% are eventually published). The magazine’s editors read all the manuscripts, and BoRE members review 70% of the manuscripts received.

The primary charge of the new review panel is to improve the statistical rigor of papers published in Science. Its members will be brought into the editorial review process after a manuscript is deemed a contender for publication.

SBoRE members will discharge their responsibilities by reviewing the data analysis in a paper and recommending whether the analysis warrants further scrutiny by a statistical expert in the given field. If so, the SBoRE member will recommend one or more independent expert reviewers and provide a summary of the specific statistical issues that warrant a more careful examination.

In those instances when a manuscript has a statistical advance as its primary focus, a designated SBoRE member will join the review process at the initial stage of screening for appropriateness for publication. In these instances, he or she will function as a member of Science’s regular BoRE in scoring the manuscript.

During the September meeting, McNutt also encouraged ASA members to submit to the magazine papers that review or propose new statistical methodology. Find more information about submitting a paper at the Science website.

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