The Federal government must take action to promote stronger research practices that will help ensure the reliability of its scientific research, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a new report.

According to the report, the U.S. government funded more than $42 billion in science research in 2019. With such a heavy investment into that research, GAO said it’s vital for the government to ensure reliability of the research. Steps that the government can take to do that include disclosing research results and methods earlier, and incentivizing researchers to use rigorous methods and make their research more transparent.

In making its findings, GAO interviewed experts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and NASA – the three largest Federal funders of basic scientific research in the U.S.

They said Federal agencies could do more to increase “the rigor and transparency of the research they fund by taking actions to better align awards and recognition for researchers with more rigorous and transparent research practices.”

Suggestions made by the agencies include incentivizing or mandating that researchers preregister their studies as a means to share their research plans, while allowing other researchers to comment on and strengthen the methodology and analysis plans. Additionally, they suggested agencies help improve standards for data repositories where research data can be stored publicly, encourage publishing null research results, and support training in statistical analysis and study design.

GAO made six recommendations in its new report – two each for NIH, NSF, and NASA. NIH and NSF concurred with the recommendations, while NASA did not concur with the first recommendation and partially concurred with the second.

GAO recommended that each agency do the following:

  1. Take steps to collect information to determine whether current policies and requirements can achieve transparency through ensuring research results and data are findable, accessible, and usable, while implementing programmatic or policy changes, if needed; and
  2. Collect information on relevant indicators of rigor to assess research projects the agency funds and implement steps to promote strong research practices in future work.

GAO maintain that all of its recommendations are valid, despite NASA’s view on one of them.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.