MBoC adds request a protocol feature to enhance reproducibility of work it publishes


Beginning with the December 15, 2020, issue, Request a Protocol links will appear in the methods sections of most Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC) Articles and Brief Reports. Request a Protocol, devised and managed by the journal Bio-protocol, allows readers to ask the author of an article for detailed information about methods directly from within the article.

Although MBoC has long encouraged authors to provide complete Materials and Methods sections and has never imposed limits on the length of those sections, even the most detailed methods section can fall short of providing the step-by-step protocols that one would need to reproduce the authors’ findings. Questions often arise as readers attempt to use the methods described in a paper. An important feature of Request a Protocol is that with the author’s permission, the question and answer will be made permanently available in an archive maintained by Bio-protocol so that other researchers can benefit as well.

In a Perspective in the December 15, 2020, issue of MBoC, Vivian Siegel (former Editor of Cell and founding executive director of the Public Library of Science, who is now senior editorial advisor to Bio-protocol), explains how Request a Protocol works and emphasizes the importance of detailed protocols for reproducibility of results. As an example, she notes that in some procedures reagents behave in a lot-specific way and each new lot must be tested, but that sort of granular detail is often left out of the methods section of an article. Siegel explains that Request a Protocol will allow a third stakeholder besides the author and editor to participate in the publication process: the reader.

“Problems with reproducibility have shown us that for researchers to build on published work, more is sometimes needed than a detailed methods section,” said Matt Welch, Editor-in-Chief of MBoC. “Request a Protocol can serve as a nexus for a conversation between authors and other researchers. This will enhance the ease with which scientists can reproduce and build upon one another’s work.”

About the Author:

Mark Leader is ASCB's Director of Publications.