Establishing ground truth in the traumatic brain injury literature: if replication is the answer, then what are the questions?

Diana R. Priestley, Jason Staph, Sai D. Koneru, Sarah M. Rajtmajer, Andrew Cwiek, Samantha Vervoordt, Frank G. Hillary

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The replication crisis poses important challenges to modern science. Central to this challenge is re-establishing ground truths or the most fundamental theories that serve as the bedrock to a scientific community. However, the goal to identify hypotheses with the greatest support is non-trivial given the unprecedented rate of scientific publishing. In this era of high-volume science, the goal of this study is to sample from one research community within clinical neuroscience (traumatic brain injury) and track major trends that have shaped this literature over the past 50 years. To do so, we first conduct a decade-wise (1980-2019) network analysis to examine the scientific communities that shape this literature. To establish the robustness of our findings, we utilized searches from separate search engines (Web of Science; Semantic Scholar). As a second goal, we sought to determine the most highly cited hypotheses influencing the literature in each decade. In a third goal, we then searched for any papers referring to 'replication' or efforts to reproduce findings within our >50 000 paper dataset. From this search, 550 papers were analysed to determine the frequency and nature of formal replication studies over time. Finally, to maximize transparency, we provide a detailed procedure for the creation and analysis of our dataset, including a discussion of each of our major decision points, to facilitate similar efforts in other areas of neuroscience. We found that the unparalleled rate of scientific publishing within the brain injury literature combined with the scarcity of clear hypotheses in individual publications is a challenge to both evaluating accepted findings and determining paths forward to accelerate science. Additionally, while the conversation about reproducibility has increased over the past decade, the rate of published replication studies continues to be a negligible proportion of the research. Meta-science and computational methods offer the critical opportunity to assess the state of the science and illuminate pathways forward, but ultimately there is structural change needed in the brain injury literature and perhaps others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberfcac322
JournalBrain Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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