Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, December 2016
We’re reaching the end of December and it’s time for us again to tell you about the most trending discussions in the scholarly publishing industry this month. The issues that received attention in the scholarly community this month were related to authorship, high subscription costs of journals, launch of Elsevier’s new metric CiteScore, privacy protection for scientists facing allegations of misconduct, participation of Swiss scientists in EU-funded research, and more. Here are some snippets from the most interesting goings-on in academia this month:
1. The changing nature of authorship: In this interesting post, Robert Harington talks about the changing nature of authorship and what the future holds. The definition of authorship is changing as is the scope of what an author is supposed to do. In today's digital age, everything is about innovation, engagement, and community building. This applies to academic publishing too. Authors cannot stop at publishing their research. They need to get out there and talk about it in the digital space. Similarly, publishers can also not afford to sit back and wait for authors to come to them. Today, publishers need to take active measures to entice authors, keep them engaged, and involve them in the whole publishing process, and social media and alternative content formats are a great way to do all of this.
2. High subscription costs make it to the headlines again: Access to published research is important for science to progress. However, the increasing subscription costs to have access to paywalled articles is making it difficult for governments and institutions of many countries to continue providing the researchers with access to all published research. Recently, thousands of researchers from three countries - Peru, Taiwan, and Germany - lost access to journals owned by the publishing giant Elsevier. Elsevier has been at the heart of most discussions related to research accessibility and subscription costs. According to the article published in Nature, "contract negotiations in both Germany and Taiwan broke down in December, while Peru’s government has cut off funding for a license." Germany has formed a consortium, DEAL, which aimed to have a nationwide license agreement from 2017 and includes several research institutions. Similarly, Taiwan has a consortium, CONCERT, which represents more than 140 institutions. Both the consortiums decided not to sign a contract with Elsevier as their demands were not met. As a result, many researchers from these countries have turned to Sci-Hub, the controversial web site that offers pirated papers for download free of cost. It remains to be seen if negotiations resume and Elsevier offers a better deal to these countries.
3. Is academia as responsible as the media for fake academic news?: Kalev Reetaru, a Senior Fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, outlines how academia is as responsible for the fake news that keep appearing in the media as the journalists who do not verify their stories. He says that most early career researchers and students cite papers using Google Scholar rather than more traditional bibliographic search engines, and they do so without reading the cited articles completely. Moreover, the publication practices in academia are changing. Some reputed journals accept "non-peer-reviewed content from personal web pages and blogs to be cited as primary evidence supporting a claim in a paper published in that journal," he states. Such practices may lead flawed research to be the base of further research. To top this problem, there are predatory journals that are willing to publish any paper in exchange for article processing charges. This lack of verification at each stage of research and publication process is responsible for the spread of misinformation.
4. The launch of Elsevier’s new metric CiteScore: At a time when Journal Impact Factor (JIF) is losing its importance, Elsevier announced the launch of its new metric CiteScore. What differentiates this new metric from JIF is that it covers the journals indexed in Scopus rather than Web of Science, calculates a journal’s impact by the average number of citations per item receives over a three-year period (unlike JIF's two-year period), and most importantly, it bases its analyses on all potentially citable documents, including news items, editorials, letters to the editor, etc. As a result, CiteScore has sparked many debates and discussions in academic circles. Interestingly, many reputed journals with high JIF, such as Nature and The Lancet, score poorly on CiteScore. Some academics have expressed skepticism about the new metric because Elsevier has a strong holding in academia, therefore, its owning of a metric is potentially a conflict of interest.
5. What scientists think of scientists: A new study by Dutch researchers Coosje Veldkamp et al. titled Who Believes in the Storybook Image of the Scientist? indicates that there is strong belief among both lay people and scientists in the storybook image of the scientist as someone who is relatively objective, rational, open-minded, intelligent, honest, and communal. However, while the stereotypical image predicts that older, male scientists would be believed to fit the storybook image the best, scientists believe that older, female scientists fit the image the best. Both male and female scientists felt that female scientists were more objective, intelligent, etc. than their male counterparts. Regarding the respondents’ opinions of scientists at different career stages, senior or “established” scientists were generally seen as having the most integrity and rationality.
6. Privacy protection in investigation proceedings of academic misconduct: In this engaging opinion piece, Paul S. Thaler discusses the issues of managing privacy protections and expectations in misconduct proceedings. According to Thaler, allegations of misconduct against a scientist, if made public, can be extremely damaging for his/her career. Sometimes, even if the accused is exonerated at the end of the proceedings, the damage may be permanent and irreversible. Although the federal regulations provide that the institutional misconduct investigation process should remain confidential, the administrators within an institution who are conducting the investigation may not provide adequate protection of the accused scientist’s right to privacy. Therefore, the accused scientist must zealously defend the rights to privacy afforded to him or her by the federal regulations and the institution.
7. Swiss scientists to regain full access to EU research programmes: A row over immigration that threatened to exclude Swiss-based scientists from European Union (EU) research programmes has been resolved. Though Switzerland is not an EU member, it has signed bilateral agreements as a result of which it has been participating in EU research programmes since 1988 and become a full associate partner in 2004. However, in 2014, the Swiss public voted to limit immigration in a legally binding referendum. As a result, the government could not sign an agreement with the European Commission to allow free movement of people from Croatia, at the time a new EU member state. Since the free movement of EU citizens is a non-negotiable tenet of membership of EU programmes, Switzerland’s participation in EU-funded research was in limbo. Recently, the Swiss government Has decided that it will not put limits on immigration, but employers in professions or regions where unemployment is above the national average must, in the future, interview Swiss job seekers for any vacancy — although they will not be obliged to select them. The European Commission says this law is compatible with its principle of free movement, and it has therefore agreed that Switzerland could resume its status as associate member on 1 January, 2017.
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