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Background: Improving rigor and transparency measures should lead to improvements in reproducibility across the scientific literature; however, the assessment of measures of transparency tends to be very difficult if performed manually.

Objective: This study addresses the enhancement of the Rigor and Transparency Index (RTI, version 2.0), which attempts to automatically assess the rigor and transparency of journals, institutions, and countries using manuscripts scored on criteria found in reproducibility guidelines (eg, Materials Design, Analysis, and Reporting checklist criteria).

Methods: The RTI tracks 27 entity types using natural language processing techniques such as Bidirectional Long Short-term Memory Conditional Random Field–based models and regular expressions; this allowed us to assess over 2 million papers accessed through PubMed Central.

Results: Between 1997 and 2020 (where data were readily available in our data set), rigor and transparency measures showed general improvement (RTI 2.29 to 4.13), suggesting that authors are taking the need for improved reporting seriously. The top-scoring journals in 2020 were the Journal of Neurochemistry (6.23), British Journal of Pharmacology (6.07), and Nature Neuroscience (5.93). We extracted the institution and country of origin from the author affiliations to expand our analysis beyond journals. Among institutions publishing >1000 papers in 2020 (in the PubMed Central open access set), Capital Medical University (4.75), Yonsei University (4.58), and University of Copenhagen (4.53) were the top performers in terms of RTI. In country-level performance, we found that Ethiopia and Norway consistently topped the RTI charts of countries with 100 or more papers per year. In addition, we tested our assumption that the RTI may serve as a reliable proxy for scientific replicability (ie, a high RTI represents papers containing sufficient information for replication efforts). Using work by the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology, we determined that replication papers (RTI 7.61, SD 0.78) scored significantly higher (P<.001) than the original papers (RTI 3.39, SD 1.12), which according to the project required additional information from authors to begin replication efforts.

Conclusions: These results align with our view that RTI may serve as a reliable proxy for scientific replicability. Unfortunately, RTI measures for journals, institutions, and countries fall short of the replicated paper average. If we consider the RTI of these replication studies as a target for future manuscripts, more work will be needed to ensure that the average manuscript contains sufficient information for replication attempts.

Journal Link: Journal of Medical Internet Research

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Journal of Medical Internet Research