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Good practices

Support for the publication of unexpected results

Two years ago, the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), a German research center with about 7,000 researchers, began offering a €1,000 bonus to scientists who publish null results or studies that attempt to reproduce previous findings. The bonus is also paid for the publication of preregistered clinical trials on animals and papers that reuse data previously published by others. But the researchers do not keep the money—it is awarded, via a fund, for various purposes, such as student trips or research. According to Ulrich Dirnagl, director of BIH’s Center for Transforming Biomedical Research, those who accrue several bonuses could find they gain “quite a nice supplement to their research funds.”

This unusual financial incentive is part of a broader program designed to increase transparency in research and confidence in science, described in the scientific journal PLOS Biology in February. There is global concern that the pressure to generate positive results, which are more likely to be published by major scientific journals, leads some researchers to publish biased data that other scientists are not able to replicate. The institute sees the program as an opportunity to stimulate the debate on scientific integrity. “We are perhaps rewarding things that should be normal process, but it needs to be done,” Dirnagl told the English newspaper Times Higher Education.

€1,000 is offered as a bonus to researchers at the Berlin Institute of Health who publish negative results

The BIH applies the same principles to researcher career progression. Anyone applying to be a professor must give examples of how they have encouraged responsible science. Candidates must also describe their five most important papers, but without naming the journals in which they were published. The aim is to discourage overconfidence in journal reputation and encourage researchers to focus on the content of their articles, regardless of the impact of the journal that published them. “We are trying to get them to consider different factors and ideas,” said Dirnagl.