Four private scientists without any agenda whatsoever published a research result preprint on the portal BioRxiv. The “new results” reported in the article are actually new ideas which are just as good as any research results, because they are supposed to bring the field of scholarly communication forward. The question is, where to, and why should anyone go there. Because the idea is to abolish the only tool science now has at hand to punish research misconduct: retractions. Fraudulent papers are to receive instead an amendment, which will notify those particularly inclined readers that research data or ethics approval (for clinical studies) might have been falsified or missing. Those proposing to remove the only punitive measure available in scholarly publishing are in fact the very people who are supposed to be overseeing the editorial integrity. The goats whom science welcomed as gardeners now dropped the pretence and declared their true vision for the garden. Continue reading “COPE, the publishers’ Trojan horse, calls to abolish retractions”
The EU €1-Billion-Flagship Human Brain Project (HBP) has passed its midterm evaluation with flying colours. Noone knows exactly what the objectives of this bombastic project is, as members of the evaluation panel indicated to me, while others refused to answer this question. The HBP leadership sure keeps the exact definition of these objectives secret, or maybe they don’t know them themselves. Which is easy to understand, because given the leniency HBP keeps receiving from those supposed to evaluate it, its real objective becomes perfectly clear: to secure the public funding. There, HBP succeeded indeed, the €1 Billion seems rather safe. It is none of the public’s business where the money will go, but it can rest assured it will certainly go somewhere. The public should also not expect any deliverables or return on its research investment, this the HBP leadership already made perfectly clear. I am showing below what a farce the recent HBP evaluations were, while the positive outcome was much hailed as evidence for excellent scientific performance. Continue reading “Human Brain Project: bureaucratic success despite scientific failure”
The British research funder Wellcome Trust (now just Wellcome) is about to launch its own journal, where the funding recipients and their collaborators are invited to published their research free of charge (since Wellcome will be covering those costs). Wellcome Open Research will be open access (OA) and offer fully transparent post-publication peer review, i.e. all reviewer reports, manuscript versions as well as reviewer identities will be posted alongside the final articles. Manuscripts which received peer review approval will become proper research papers and feature accordingly on PubMed and other databases. Wellcome specifically invites scientists to publish negative and null results as well as databases. Importantly, the funder also promotes data sharing through “inclusion of supporting data”. The platform on which Wellcome Open Research will operate is that of F1000Research, a post-publication peer review journal which prides itself of its open science approach.
This sounds like excellent news for science, which is plagued by irreproducibility and misconduct crises, and many welcomed the Wellcome initiative, hoping that other national funding agencies in Europe, North America and elsewhere might follow. It is indeed the first serious attempt by a major western funder to move away from publisher-dependence towards a “samizdat”, a self-publishing service run exclusively for own researchers and their partners. However, a similar model of university press proved unsuccessful before and never became accepted by the scientific community. Therefore, some are sceptical that this Wellcome publishing enterprise may ever take off. Continue reading “Wellcoming the samizdat publishing revolution”
Times Higher Education recently reported about an online survey on research integrity of British scientists. The study was performed and evaluated by Joanna Williams and David Roberts, two scientists at the University of Kent (their full report here). Interestingly, they not only assessed scientists’ own self-reported research misconduct (this being a topic where scientists tend to be less than perfectly honest), but also the so-called “unmatched count”, which “allows respondents to indicate malpractice without specifically implicating themselves”. The sad, but hardly surprising results: one fifth of the respondents acknowledged having fabricated their research data, one out of seven admitted committing plagiarism, and more than a third “reported having published extracts from the same piece in more than one location”.
Self-plagiarism is a convenient tool to boost one’s publication record without doing any proper additional research. This is why many academics see extensive copy-pasting of one’s previously published text as a form of misconduct. Of note, this behaviour has nothing to do with occasional repetition of standard formulations or methods descriptions. However, when I reported in April 2016 about certain excessive cases of self-plagiarism, some of my readers strongly disagreed these were anywhere near research misconduct. They showed a more relaxed attitude to self-plagiarism, especially where literature reviews were concerned. Many even reject the term, and prefer to speak of ‘text re-use’, for the purpose of spreading own knowledge and ideas to reach wider masses. From this perspective, which many journal editors seem to share, exact double-publishing of the same review or opinion paper is still frowned upon, but it is enough to introduce some additional paragraphs or a slightest modification of focus to avoid a retraction. Continue reading “Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?”
Open Science is these days largely about mandatory publishing in Open Access (OA), regardless of the costs to poorer scientists or the universities which already struggle to pay horrendous subscription fees. Meanwhile, publishers openly declare that the so-called Gold (author-pays) OA will be much more expensive than even current subscription rates, yet wealthy western institutions like the Dutch university network VSNU or the German Max Planck Society do not seem troubled by this at all. They seriously expect the publishing oligopoly of Elsevier, SpringerNature and Wiley to lower the costs for Gold OA later on, out of the goodness of their hearts (as this winter’s invitation-only Berlin12 OA conference suggests).
At the last major Open Science conference in Amsterdam on April 4-5 (EU2016NL) the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas and EC Director-General for Research and Innovation, Robert-Jan Smits, announced to achieve the flip to Gold OA by 2020. Open Data, on the other hand, is just a buzzword to them.
Below, I will argue that Open Data is much more important than OA, which in turn will be much cheaper and easier to achieve once unconditional sharing of research data is in place. Continue reading “False priorities at EU2016NL: Mandate Open Data instead of Gold Open Access!”
On March 22nd, Tom Reller, Head of Global Corporate Relations for the publishing giant Elsevier, declared the often criticised and occasionally reviled Dutch conglomerate to be “4th largest open access publisher” and announced: “we will continue to produce that highly relevant academic and professional research and knowledge”.
Today, on April 1st, Reller explained how exactly Elsevier aims to deliver on its promise. He stated:
“The new Elsevier will not be the greedy and unscrupulous monster of the past, but an open and transparent publisher every true scientist will be proud to work with. There will be no tolerance for research irreproducibility, misconduct and data manipulation at Elsevier from now on. The times, where dishonest scientists could safely rely on our quasi-official policies of looking away and cover-up are over. We will be revising all evidence on PubPeer and elsewhere, which we previously only used to laugh at, and we will correct all problematic literature accordingly. We will demand unconditional sharing of original research data and we will call out research misconduct for what it is. There will be many retractions coming”.
The post-publication peer review (PPPR) has become a heated discussion topic. Precisely, the issue is not whether PPPR is necessary (the opposition comes only from the most system-entrenched dinosaurs or from those who have their good reasons to fear PPPR). It is the anonymity of PPPR which is under debate. The discussion was kicked-off by Michael Blatt, botany professor at the University of Glasgow, in an editorial in the journal Plant Physiology, where he is editor-in-chief. Blatt’s concern was the perceived lack of responsibility behind the anonymous public criticisms left on the PPPR internet platform PubPeer. Soon enough, his editorial was hotly debated on PubPeer as well, including by myself, and most prominently, by the physics professor from University of Nottingham, Philip Moriarty. Moriarty has a strong record of promoting research integrity and reproducibility, yet he always does it in the open and is strongly opposed to anonymity in academic discussions. Hence, he lent his support to Blatt by calling for openness at PPPR, decrying the insistence on anonymity behind even the most “innocuous” PubPeer comments.
I have been in personal contact with Blatt and Moriarty, and my initial scepticism gave way to my support of their ideas. Importantly, they both agree on the need for the whistle-blower protection where data integrity concerns are reported. Blatt is convinced that the identity of the whistle-blower should be known at least to the direct recipient of evidence, whose task would be to treat it fully confidentially. Moriarty’s case however is less with the accusations of possible data manipulation and misconduct, but with the scientific discussion, which is exactly what PPPR is about. He sees no reason to hide one’s identity while expressing objective and thought-through criticisms of a published paper. I tend to agree with him, and will provide below examples on how anonymity in PPPR can become counter-productive or even toxic, while signed PPPR can lead to remarkable results and to personal recognition for named scientists involved therein. Continue reading “Post-publication peer review: signed or anonymous?”