Protocol paper

This has been a development of perhaps the last 20 years in which researchers publish a “protocol paper” as a public declaration of what they plan to do.

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Previously protocols might have formed part of an ethics committee or grant funding application going some way to satisfy the principle, at least within some research paradigms, particularly the Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST) statistical paradigm, that research has stronger likely replicability and trustworthiness if it can be seen to have followed the plan set before collecting the data rather than cherrypicking and reporting only what looked interesting post hoc. Work in that paradigm now largely expects that the work should have a protocol paper or that a protocol should have been placed in an open repository making it possible for us to check the final reports/papers methods against those described in the protocol.

This is part of the “replicability” movement and a counter to the “replicability crisis” and one protection against some forms of research fraud. There is much that is clearly excellent about the idea if work is being done in the quantitative NHST paradigm. There have been some interesting explorations and suggestions about using protocols and protocol papers and more of the “replicability” movement in qualitative research. However, there are also important concerns that the movement can further entrench research into that paradigm and amplify the problem of research treating the real world as if it were a laboratory or a factory production line. It can also be hard to frame practice based evidence work and practice oriented research within the entirely pre hoc protocol model.

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Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST)
Pre hoc & post hoc hypotheses/tests/explorations
Research fraud

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Not covered in the book.

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My own examples are:
Grau TouriƱo, A., Feixas, G., Medina, J. C., Paz, C., & Evans, C. (2021). Effectiveness of integrated treatment for eating disorders in Spain: Protocol for a multicentre, naturalistic, observational study. BMJ Open, 11(3), e043152.
Paz, C., Osejo-Taco, G., & Evans, C. (2021). Trajectories of success and/or distress: Protocol for an observational cohort study investigating changing psychological distress among emerging Ecuadorian adults over a year. BMJ Open, 11(12), e056361.
They’re both open access so clicking through those doi links should get you to the full papers if want to read the papers!

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First created 15.ix.23.

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