Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, April 2017

Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, April 2017

The month of April was perhaps the most exciting time for academics around the world as several hundred researchers and supporters of science participated in the March for Science. While this movement dominated the news in academia, many other happenings too deserve notice. The Editage Insights team has curated a list of some of the most noteworthy updates in this month for you. Happy reading!

1. Can the stigma around retraction be eliminated? A group of publishing experts have put up a preprint in BioRxiv that proposes that instead of retracting published papers or issuing corrections that address problems in them, authors should amend published articles. According to them, any post-publication changes to an article should be added as amendments labeled “insubstantial,” “substantial,” or “complete” (equivalent to a retraction). This would enable authors to circumvent the stigma associated with retraction. The word "retraction" or even "correction" emphasizes that there was something wrong with the manuscript, which is inaccurate when a point is being added to the publication or some part of the publication is reframed. Having a neutral term like "amendments" to refer to all post-publication changes will help academics accept the idea of editorial changes and they would not avoid correcting literature because it can feel like a form of punishment.

2. Why science blogs are better than academic papers: In an interesting article, Daniel Lakens, author of the blog 20% Statistician, explains why blogs are an important source of scientific communication. He says that blogs are of higher scientific quality than academic papers. According to him, most blogs are open access and have open data, and thus practice open science to a greater extent as compared to journals. The quality control mechanism is also more transparent in blogs as some even have open pre-publication peer review, Lakens argues. Also, the comments posted on a blog post give readers an idea about what peers thought about the blog post, and often provide important insights and alternative viewpoints. Additionally, he says that it is quicker and easier to correct errors in blogs as compared to journals. 

3. Good practice in authorship of published papers: The UK Research Integrity Office has published a new guidance note on good practice in authorship of research papers. Written by Dr. Liz Wager, former Chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), this note focuses on ethical considerations and other issues applicable to internet-mediated research. It covers issues relevant to all disciplines of research and is aimed at both researchers and research organizations. It highlights particular challenges relating to authorship and aims to foster discussion on what might constitute good practice in this aspect of the research process.

4. Science supporters marched for science: Hundreds of thousands of researchers as well as science enthusiasts around the globe came together on April 22, which was also Earth Day, to take part in the March for Science. The main intent of this movement was to celebrate science and to persuade governments to support science policies and scientific institutions. However, what propelled it was U.S. President Donald Trump's anti-science stance and the budget proposal he released last month which spelled disaster for many scientific institutions that are held in high regard. His policies have also been dismissive about environmental protection. To create awareness about the contribution of science and scientists, the March for Science movement was launched. Around 220 official science organizations supported the movement, and marches were organized in 37 countries. While most academics were rooting for the movement, some criticized it for lacking a clear objective and felt that it politicized science.

5. Brazilian government slashes federal spending on science: On March 30, the Brazilian government announced a 44% cut to the federal science budget. This translates to the trimming of science spending by 42 billion reais, which can severely affect scientific progress in Brazil. With this slash, the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC) will receive only 2.8 billion reais (US$898 million), the lowest ever in 12 years. President Michel Temer justified the decision saying that it was a tough albeit essential decision given that Brazil’s fiscal deficit is escalating at an alarming rate. This article states that, "The country faces the worst recession in its history, and recovery has been much slower than expected: gross domestic product growth predictions for 2017 were revised down from 1.4% to 0.5% last month." The recent cuts have increased anxiety among Brazilian researchers who feel that science has already suffered a lot. In fact, a preliminary 2016 estimate indicated that Brazil's research output was already declining. How institutions deal with the cuts and make crucial decisions related to research funding remains to be seen.

6. The need for a new peer review standard: Peer review is one of the greatest ironies of our time, says Jon Tennant, Communications Director of ScienceOpen, in this blog post. He articulates that given the increasing number of issues with peer review, there is a need to think beyond the traditional blind and closed peer review model. "What we need is a new standard of peer review that is suitable for a Web-based world of scholarly communication," Jon argues. According to him, we cannot improve the peer review system if it is controlled by journals and publishers. So we need a new gold standard for peer review in response to the new challenges we are faced with today. Jon says open peer review has several advantages over the traditional model as it is inclusive, non-secretive, and reproducible, which increases the validity of the process. The biggest advantage, however, is that the validation of a paper is given publicly and the decision making process is not concealed from the academic community.

7. How scientists use Twitter: A group of researchers at School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, U.S., led by Qing Ke analyzed the behavior of 45,867 scientists from around the world on Twitter. They studied who these scientists networked with and what they tweeted about and made some interesting observations. It was seen that women had a better representation on Twitter than in published literature. According to the data, the male-female ratio of scientists on the social media platform (0.62) was greater than that on U.S. based scientific papers (0.43). The authors also observed that scientists were prone to network more with fellow scientists from their field and most of the tweets were not related to science but were rather personal or news based. Another interesting trend they reported was that, “Scientists link to news stories about research studies to bypass the paywall that many scientific articles hide behind […] it’s a way to communicate results to everyone.”    

Did you enjoy reading the posts we recommended for you this month? Have you read any of these already? Do you have an opinion to share? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. You can also follow our Industry News segment, where we share regular updates on what the academic publishing industry is talking about.

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