Transparency and Openness: TOP Guidelines will promote standards in biomedical publishing

3 March 2016 - 9:49am by Andy Hickner

(by Kate Nyhan)

Because the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library supports both students and researchers, we pay special attention to trends in science policy and scholarly communication. One initiative I'm watching and applauding is the Transparency and Openness Promotion Guidelines -- TOP Guidelines for short. Journals, publishers, scholarly societies, and repositories are signing on to these standards to promote transparency and reproducibility. Marcia McNutt, president-elect of the National Academy of Sciences and editor-in-chief of Science discussed this movement at AAAS 2016, and I encourage you to learn more about the project by reading “Promoting an open research culture.”

How will the TOP Guidelines affect researchers at the Yale Schools of Public Health, Medicine, and Nursing? Well, it depends on the journals where researchers hope to publish. Science, PLoS Medicine, and more than five hundred other journals have signed on to the guidelines, and you can check to see if the journals where you plan to publish have also signed on here. But you'll need to get a little more granular, because the TOP Guidelines are actually eight modular standards, each of which can be accepted at four levels.

Science policy goals

Standards from the TOP Guidelines

Reward researchers who engage in open practices through:


  • Citation standards
  • Replication

Support replication and evaluation by describing “transparency” in practical terms:

  • Analytic methods (code) transparency
  • Research materials transparency
  • Design and analysis transparency
  • Data transparency

 Support preregistration through:

  • Preregistration of analysis plans
  • Preregistration of studies

The levels allow journals to find the "sweet spot," as Dr. McNutt put it in her remarks at AAAS: verification, openness, transparency, or mere encouragement. Verification involves ascertaining compliance or validity; openness means that authors must make evidence widely available; transparency means authors state what they have done regarding data sharing, code sharing, and preregistration; encouragement is, well, encouragement, but not a mandate.

I encourage everyone to check out the TOP Guidelines documentation, no matter where you publish. You may decide to hold yourself to some or all of the TOP Guidelines, whether you currently publish in TOP signatory journals or not; you may even decide to start framing student assignments in similar terms. All of us need to keep up with changing expectations in scholarly communication.

I'd love to talk with you, your class, or your journal club about what to expect from funders and journals in the near future. Contact me at