Errare humanum est – To err is human. Biomedical research, a human enterprise, is no exception in this regard. Ever more sophisticated methodologies probing how complex organisms function in health in disease invite errors on all levels – from designing experiments and studies to the collection of data and the reporting of results. The stakes are high, in terms of resources spent, and professional rewards to be gained for individuals.
Recent concerns about the reliability and reproducibility of biomedical research have focused on weaknesses in planning, conducting, analysing, and reporting research. Clearly, the discussion is revolving around factors which negatively impact on the quality of research – and which may be remedied by structured measures to improve research quality. However, the potential contribution of errors to the disappointingly low level of reproducibility and predictiveness of biomedical research, and how scientists deal with these errors, has not yet been considered.
In a PLOS Biology article which appeared this week we propose the implementation of a simple and effective method to enhance the quality of basic and preclinical academic research: critical incident reporting (CIR). CIR has become a standard in clinical medicine but to our knowledge has never been implemented in the context of academic basic research. We provide a simple, free, open-source software tool for implementing a CIR system in research groups, laboratories, or large institutions (LabCIRS). LabCIRS was developed, tested, and implemented in our multidisciplinary and multiprofessional neuroscience research department. It is accepted by all members of the department, has led to the emergence of a mature error culture, and has made the laboratory a safer and more communicative environment. Initial concerns that implementation of such a measure might lead to a “surveillance culture” that would stifle scientific creativity turned out to be unfounded.
A demo version and source code of LabCIRS can be found via the supplement of the article.