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Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, December 2017

Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, December 2017

Although this is the last month of the year, there was no dearth of excitement for those in academia and scholarly publishing! From discussions around collaborations between academia and industry to the need for measuring the impact of research qualitatively, several critical issues surfaced over the month. If, owing to the holiday cheer, you have missed out on staying on top some of the interesting goings-on in the industry, our team of editors has you covered. Hope you enjoy reading these snippets. We wish you a very happy and successful new year!

1. Collaborations between industry and academia are on the rise: There is a significant increase in the outsourcing of scientific research to academia, according to a new supplement Nature Index 2017 Science Inc. The number of papers that are a result of collaboration between corporations and institutions (both academic and federal) has increased from 12,672 in 2012 to 25,962 in 2016. This partnership is beneficial for both parties since cash-strapped universities gain funding for research, while the industry gains since high-quality research can be conducted at a low cost. The main reason behind these collaborations is the pressure on institutions and researchers to produce research that has significant and immediate impact. However one of the major concerns around this issue is that institutions cannot conduct research on the scale that corporations can. Moreover, the scope of innovation is likely to suffer. The article mentions that the corporations that conduct the most research in conjunction with institutions are from the U.S., Japan, the U.K., China, and Germany.  

2. The cost of accessing published literature: In this post, Mark Wilson, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Computer Science, Auckland, talks about his three-year long project to understand how much universities in New Zealand were spending on access to published literature. Explaining why he took three years to get this data, Wilson says that universities were initially hesitant to share this information with him. Eventually after being able to access this information, Wilson found that universities across News Zealand spend nearly US$15 million in 2017 to purchase journal subscriptions so that their students and researchers can access the latest and most relevant developments. He includes in the post a detailed break-up of how much some large universities are spending with a view to making us think about the real impact of paywalled research and to determine the real cost of knowledge. Wilson also mentions open access as a potential solution, but clarifies that this will work only if we choose the right kind of open access route to ensure free access to research.

3. Measuring research impact qualitatively rather than quantitatively: This interesting article highlights a move on the part of Denmark that’s been lauded by academics globally. A new strategy to assess the impact of research based on quality and not quantity is now the focus in Denmark due to the conflicts created by the current system. Another reason for the reforms is the pressure faced by academics to churn out a certain number of papers to meet the requirements to receive grants from the government. As of now, university grants are based on quantitative factors such as how many papers are published in certain journals or the number of PhD students trained. However, the Denmark government’s expectation that the reforms will help the country win more Nobel prizes has met with skepticism. There is also growing concern about how the quality will be measured. However, overall the move has been welcomed because it eases the pressure on the research community whilst promoting quality research. 

4. How can research evaluation be improved? While there is no doubt that peer review is the cornerstone of scientific publishing, there is a general consensus among the scholarly community that the system is broken. Perhaps this is what led three national scientific academies — the French Academy of Sciences, the German Leopoldina, and the UK Royal Society — to issue a joint statement on the best practices for research evaluation. Put together by Richard Catlow, foreign secretary of the Royal Society at the behest of Carlos Moedas, the European Union commissioner for research, science and innovation, the statement makes the following recommendations: 1) peer review should remain the cornerstone of assessment and must be carried out by people who are recognized as competent peers; 2) over-assessment should be avoided: less time should be spent in reviewing and re-reviewing; 3) journals should approach more people for review to ensure that reviewers are not stretched too thin. Also, the selection of reviewers should be based solely on excellence, without any consideration regarding gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, age, etc.; and 4) societies and institutions should take measures to build reviewing expertise: reviewers should be trained on how to assess manuscripts objectively and without any bias.

5. Need for new funding approaches to support early career researchers: This post offers an interesting angle on the growing disconnect between academia and non-academia sectors, specifically industry and government. This eroding link between the two was discussed at a conference organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in November. Some speakers pointed to the existing state of university training as a "worn-out model" that fails to equip students with skills required in a competitive job market as well as a wide variety of careers. Another concern that emerged was that the federal and state governments need to consider new models for financing research. A third concern seemed to be that the professional development of students and postdocs gets neglected when they exclusively work on their professors' grant-funded research projects. The collective discourse seemed to lean towards the need for new funding approaches which would accommodate young scientists’ career needs.

Have you come across something you’d like to share with other researchers or publishing professionals? We’d love to read it too! Please share your recommendations in the comments section below. And if you’d like to stay tuned to important happenings in the journal publishing industry, visit our Industry News section.

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