Wellcoming the samizdat publishing revolution

Wellcoming the samizdat publishing revolution

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”

Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?

Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?

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?”

False priorities at EU2016NL: Mandate Open Data instead of Gold Open Access!

False priorities at EU2016NL: Mandate Open Data instead of Gold Open Access!

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!”

April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton

April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton

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”.

Continue reading “April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton”

Post-publication peer review: signed or anonymous?

Post-publication peer review: signed or anonymous?

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?”

Open Science, Open Scientists

Open Science, Open Scientists

On the evening of December 5th, I participated at the OpenCon Satellite Event in Berlin. It was organised by Jon Tennant and Peter Grabitz, my travelling was kindly subsidised by Stephanie Dawson on behalf of the publisher ScienceOpen.

First of all, I am glad that it is now understood that Open Access (OA) is not a final goal in itself, but the first key step to achieve reliable and transparent academic research. Open Science is about more than just open access to scientific literature. It is even more that openness of published data. It is about the openness of the entire research and the researchers. Academic research is riddled with back-room dealings and hidden conflicts of interests at peer reviews and scientist evaluations as well as with irreproducibility of published results, unacceptably widespread over- or even false interpretation of experimental data and even misconduct. Opening scientific literature without changing what is actually being published, without addressing the way how science is performed and presented, and how scientists are evaluated, could easily result in the OA revolution being hijacked by utterly wrong people. The currently hotly debated issue of predatory publishing and the scientists involved therein is just one example to be named here.

It is good therefore, that Open Science meeting and workshops involving young scientists and activists take place. Continue reading “Open Science, Open Scientists”

Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse

Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse

Nature News made a survey and asked scientists about the perspectives of PhD. The tag line goes:

“There are too many PhD students for too few academic jobs — but with imagination, the problem could be solved”.

One of the suggestions, by Anthony Hyman, cell biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, is to “split” the PhD. Nature News reports:

“Students in the academic-track PhD would focus on blue-skies research and discovery, he says. A vocational PhD would be more structured and directed towards specific careers in areas such as radiography, machine learning or mouse-model development”.

To me, this idea, unless Hyman has not thought it properly through, can be only described as wicked, exactly because it is perfectly applicable. All one needs, is the will to actually do something so unscrupulous and nefarious.

The article opens with Paula Stephan, full professor of economics and associate dean at Georgia State University, USA,  demanding “that graduate departments partake in birth control”. I am not sure whether depriving a large number of hopeful, ambitious and intelligent young people from access to PhD education is comparable to the wriggling sperm inside a discharged condom. It seems, the tenured faculty cynicism towards those who wish to make same careers as they did, has reached new, unsavoury levels. It is also a pity that Nature News chose to retain Stephan’s wording about “birth control” unchallenged.

Nevertheless, the problem is there and it needs to be somehow solved. Continue reading “Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse”