Open Science in the Focused Ultrasound Community

Written by Charlie Manning

On January 11, 2023, the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) officially launched the Year of Open Science, an initiative to advance open science nationwide through new research funding policies and improvements in research sharing and transparency infrastructure. The Biden-Harris administration cited as the motivation for this initiative a desire to heighten delivery of evidence-based results to the American people and amplify the quality of research results involved in making key decisions on US strategic interests.

A Nine-Month Delay

Here at the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, we have been keenly aware of the need for open science for many years. In 2016, a clinical trial at the University of Virginia yielded transformative findings for the use of focused ultrasound in treating essential tremor. The results of the trial represented a major step forward in medical knowledge of focused ultrasound treatment, but the publication of this new and critical information was delayed nine months by an embargo from the prestigious journal in which the researcher hoped to publish. This embargo not only delayed the direct translation of these results into FDA approval for life-changing treatments; it also choked public dissemination of a landmark discovery.

Patients, researchers, and other stakeholders in the focused ultrasound community around the world had to wait nine months to learn of this breakthrough. We asked: what could have been done in nine months, had the world known sooner? Perhaps researchers could have begun developing study protocols for the next steps; young tech companies could have leveraged the new clinical results for greater investment; and patients could have found hope sooner. We recognized that we needed to help ensure that future focused ultrasound discoveries were disseminated freely and quickly.

First Steps

In the following years, the Foundation launched a preprint server (FocUS Archive) and a data repository (Focused Ultrasound Foundation Collection), and instituted an open access publication mandate for all funded research. These were meaningful steps forward in bolstering our community’s research-sharing infrastructure and increasing accessibility to Foundation-funded results. However, a few years later (mid 2020), we still felt that openness in the focused ultrasound research community was falling short. Specifically, there was low transparency around the sharing of study data and even less actual sharing of same – and other research reporting practices that we viewed as optimal, such as preregistration, were sparsely observed.

Changing Researcher Behavior

In diagnosing this problem, we determined that altering researcher behavior in these areas would need to be accomplished through policy changes at both the funder and publisher levels. While advancing our own policies could certainly influence researcher practices, we recognized that the publication policies of the major journals in our field had an equally significant impact on how focused ultrasound research data were shared and reported.

The Foundation’s Open Science Policy

At the time, the Foundation had already implemented several meaningful open science policies: Foundation-funded research must be published open access; it must be uploaded in preprint form to our FocUS Archive server; and the Foundation reserves the right to request that researchers deposit all data generated through Foundation funding into public repositories. Although these policies established a good baseline for scientific openness in our funded research, we sought to increase the scope of our policy and establish stances on a broader range of meaningful research practices.

This meant developing positions and guidelines on a wide range of topics—from preregistration of preclinical and technical research to code and materials availability. We wrote the new policies to convey the Foundation’s expectations for best practice on all aspects of research reporting and to provide researchers with clear guidelines and examples of what compliance with such standards looked like. We established what we believed to be best – but still reasonable – guidelines for all pertinent aspects of research publication and reporting and added them to our official Open Science Policy.*

Journal Outreach

While we reviewed and developed the Foundation’s Open Science Policy, we also began assessing the state of open science policies in the major publications of our research ecosystem. These major publications were the top 20 journals that published the most focused ultrasound articles. For each, we conducted a comprehensive assessment of open science-related publication policies using the Transparency and Openness (TOP) guidelines developed by the Center for Open Science.

The TOP scoring system was ideal for our purposes because it provided both an overall ‘openness’ score by which to quickly assess a journal’s policies and more granular sub-scores for each category of open science policy, which we used to inform and customize our policy-related outreach.

For policy outreach, we wrote letters to each journal describing our assessment of its open science publication policies and providing customized recommendations for how the journal could increase transparency and accessibility of its published research. In these recommendation letters, we identified key policy shifts that would require the least structural change for each journal and produce the highest yield in bolstering openness. We also expressed interest in opening active dialogues to discuss justification for these policy changes and workshop implementation. Most of the journals responded to these letters, and many of them reported making policy changes that were in line with our recommendations (or plans to implement such).

We felt that this effort to shift open science policy in our research ecosystem – which is ongoing in terms of journal assessment and outreach – was successful in bolstering our own policies and guidelines and engendering awareness, and in some cases actual policy change, in the major journals used by the focused ultrasound community. There is still ample room for improvement, however; as many of the practices we view as optimal for research openness are still only encouraged—not required—by the Foundation and our publisher partners.

2023 is the Year of Open Science

Now that the US federal government has launched a significant open science effort, we are more optimistic than ever that tangible, positive change can occur in the research sharing and publication paradigm. The Year of Open Science (2023) is in full swing, and federal agencies that fund research are rolling out new publication policies, many of which are focused on data availability and design transparency.

Here at the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, we are engaging in the Year of Open Science by requiring that all research we fund is published with a data availability statement. Previously only encouraged, as of 2023, a data availability statement is now a requirement.

Data availability statements are placed near the top of an article and state whether the data discussed in the article is publicly available; if so, the statement describes where and how to access the data. These statements are a key practice for increasing transparency (and ideally accessibility) into study data, generally one of the most important outputs of research. The Foundation’s new policy on data availability statements.

In a January 2023 Fact Sheet, the White House OSTP announced that all federally funded research would be fully and freely available by the end of 2025. The Focused Ultrasound Foundation also has plans to require full data availability for the research it funds, along with many other shifts in publication practices we believe will meaningfully increase transparency and accessibility in focused ultrasound research.

A Promising Future

With the momentum for open science clearly mounting, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation is glad to be a part of this important push toward newer and better standards for how research is conducted and published across multiple disciplines. The speed and accuracy with which research is conceptualized, performed, and shared is of paramount importance to our mission and to those of many others, including the federal agencies of the US government.

While this Year of Open Science is already proving to be an important step forward, the Foundation’s goals for openness in the focused ultrasound ecosystem extend beyond 2023. We will continue striving to elevate the standards for transparency and accessibility in focused ultrasound research and hope others in our community will do the same.

*The Center for Open Science’s TOP Guidelines for Funders were instrumental in developing our policies on multiple issues. They provide reference language for policies at multiple levels in each aspect of open science and encourage funders to draw on it to create policy.

Charlie Manning joined the Foundation as an Intern in June 2020 and assumed the Open Science Manager position in January 2021. He now works with Emily White, MD, on developing the Foundation’s Open Science initiative and serves as a contract specialist for many of the Foundation’s research awards. Charlie earned a bachelor’s degree in classical studies from the College of William and Mary.