In Jan 2016 the scholarly publishing landscape was abuzz with discussions on topics like gender bias, data sharing, transparency in science, and the journal influence factor. What was being talked about in February 2016? We tracked several science forums and blogs to identify some of the most recurrent themes discussed by people in the academic publishing industry this month. Here’s an overview of the top discussions. Glad reading!
1. Irreproducibility may be lightly found but not so lightly immobile: David B. Allison, a distinguished professor in the Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama, USA, and his colleagues assembled a list of peer reviewed published articles in their field and found that several of these contained substantial or invalidating errors. Their work not only indicated commonly occurring invalidating practices but also displayed reactions of journals and authors when faced with mistakes that needed correction. Based on their analysis, Allison and his colleagues recommend that journals, publishers, and scientific societies should standardize and publicize processes that would help in fixing errors in published papers.
Two. A project exposing discrepancies in published research: In a thought-provoking write-up, Ben Goldacre, physician, author, and senior clinical research fellow at the University of Oxford, talks about how published clinical research has been tainted by data dredging, selective reporting, and inadequate descriptions. Goldacre and his colleagues have begun flagging with journals any discrepancies in the reporting of clinical trials in the studies they published. Interestingly, not all journals have responded to these issues in the same way: while some journals issued a correction, others failed to take the issue gravely. Goldacre insists that “journal editors now need to engage in a serious public discussion on why this is still happening.”
Trio. Evaluating researchers’ contribution to society: More and more people in scholarly publishing are talking about the need for researchers to reach out to a broader audience, including the general public, during the course of their research and instructing activities. However, not much is available to researchers by way of incentives to engage in such activities. The existing very competitive career progression system in most academic institutions leads them to invest strenuously in supporting activities such as securing grants. Christopher Meyers argues that academic career progression needs to include a single holistic and qualitative standard: teacher-scholars who are evaluated based on their contribution toward educating, advancing ideas, creating an intellectual environment, and bettering the lives of others.
Four. Delays in journal publishing: Despite advances in publishing technology, the time-to-publication resumes to be long. Kendall Powell examined the time it took for a paper to get published after it was very first submitted to a journal, and found that waiting times have actually enhanced for popular open-access and high-profile journals. This could be because journals are taking too long to review papers, and reviewers are making unreasonable requests for extra data/revisions and fresh experiments. Numerous rejections by journals also add to the delay, enlargening the frustration of scientists. Here, Powell examines publication times across journal subsects, influence factors, and disciplines, and suggests some solutions to circumvent the long publication route.
Five. UK scientists seek clarity on anti-lobbying rule: According to a latest announcement by the UK government, groups that receive public money will be banned from using those funds to attempt to influence either the government or Parliament. If applied to all recipients of public funds, this ban could prohibit scientists from sharing the policy implications of their work, or get involved in policy decisions for areas related to their research. Researchers in the UK have raised the alarm about the announcement requesting that research grants be exempted from this ban, which could affect scientists’ capability to comment on significant issues such as climate switch or medical regulation. How the government clarifies the doubts raised by the academic community’s protests remains to be seen.
6. Frustrated US postdocs begin finding solutions themselves: The fights faced by post docs are frequently discussed on several forums. They include meager benefits, inadequate career progression opportunities, poor stipends, and lack of suitable training. These issues have been raised and pointed out repeatedly over the years, even in high-level reports such as those published by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS). However, little progress seems to have been made in terms of actual measures to address them. Dissatisfied with the rhythm of progress despite recommendations by universities, policymakers, and other stakeholders, more and more postdocs are taking to activism to attempt to switch the situation for themselves, reports Paul Smaglik.
7. The positive side of predatory journals: In a post that shares a refreshingly unique perspective, Jan Velterop talks about how the emergence of predatory journals could actually be seen as a sign of growth in the academic publishing industry. Even tho’ predatory journals are not desirable, they switch the monopoly journal subscription model followed by libraries and force users to think before choosing the publications they want to subscribe to. Of course, there are several critical aspects to be considered in this argument, but Veltrop makes a coaxing argument about viewing the predatory side of academic publishing in a different light.
For regular updates on significant happenings in the journal publishing industry, witness our Industry News section.
Tell us what you read this month: Did you read something interesting about academic publishing this month? And would you like to share it with our readers? Feel free to share your reading in the comments section below.