Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, January 2017

Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, January 2017

Happy New Year! We hope that the first month of 2017 has been exciting and productive for you. A lot has been happening in the academic world - from Donald Trump’s immigration ban creating anxiety among scholars to the disappearance of Jeffrey Beall’s list of questionable journals and publishers. We want you to be tuned in to all the interesting happenings in academia. So here’s a list of snippets of some noteworthy news and publications from this month. Happy reading!

  1. Academics protest Donald Trump’s immigration ban: The Donald Trump administration has already started creating waves of anxiety among scientists in the US. On January 27, the White House announced an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. This ban applies to people who have valid US visas or green cards, even scientists and researchers, which has sent shockwaves among several sections of immigrants in the US. Thousands of researchers are living in the US as students, visiting scholars, or immigrants, and this decision would have a crippling effect on their future. Scientific research in the US is threatened, according to many academics. In an attempt to protest against this decision, about 3,000 academics, including Nobel Laureates, have signed a petition denouncing the discriminatory ban. What the Trump administration plans to do with visiting researchers from the blacklisted countries is unclear.  
  2. Why researchers do not admit their mistakes openly: Mistakes happen in science, as they do in all professions. However, confessing to errors in research can be particularly difficult for scientists. In an interesting article, Holly Else explores the emotional, reputational, and practical barriers to correcting scientific mistakes. Some mistakes can be resolved with a correction, but if a mistake undermines the conclusions of the research, the journal or authors are typically expected to retract the paper. The same process is used to remove papers involving research misconduct, so there is often a significant stigma attached to retracting a paper even if the mistake is an honest one. The increasing complexity of research also makes mistakes more likely. The huge datasets that many researchers work with and the different statistical techniques available to analyze them can leave more room for error. What is more, it is often impossible to know whether a researcher’s error was deliberate or accidental. The possible repercussions of having stigma attached to their names can stop researchers from admitting their mistakes.
  3. Jeffrey Beall’s list of predatory publishers unavailable: The news of the sudden disappearance of Jeffrey Beall's list created ripples in the academic world. Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Colorado in Denver, had a popular blog called Scholarly Open Access where he maintained a list of more than 1000 “potential, possible or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers.” The blog, however, disappeared suddenly without any explanation. Some believe that Beall was threatened to take the list down. While Beall's efforts at exposing fraudulent publishers were applauded by many academics and his list was considered a valuable resource, he was also criticized by some publishers and journals for harboring an overly negative perspective toward the open access publishing model. There were some discussions around the fact that Cabell's International had announced that they were working with Beall to create a list of questionable publishers. However, Cabell's International denied having any involvement in the incident. It is not known whether the list has been taken down permanently.
  4. Uncertain future of EU academics in the post-Brexit UK: Some EU citizens living in Britain who decided to seek permanent residency after the Brexit vote are being told to leave the country. A number of these people are among the 31,000 EU academics currently working in UK universities. While the very process of applying for permanent residency is daunting and complex process resulting in many failed applications, what is causing more concern is the form of rejection. People whose applications are rejected are apparently receiving a letter from the Home Office asking them to make arrangements to leave, reports Colin Talbot. The letter states that if the applicant fails to make a voluntary departure, removal may be enforced. According to Talbot, many academics are alarmed and some have already decided to leave, putting the expertise of Britain’s universities in serious jeopardy. Some scientists consider this step to be damaging to the reputation of UK as a global higher education destination. As Prof Brian Cox, the University of Manchester academic and TV presenter, puts it: “The current rhetoric is the absolute opposite of what is required. The UK appears, from outside, to be increasingly unwelcoming and backward looking."
  5. Do reviewers have a right to share their review publicly? As the concept of open peer review is gaining popularity, journals need to reconsider their copyright policies of review sharing. This issue has grabbed attention due to the recent disagreement between a reviewer and publishing giant Elsevier. Jonathan Tennant, a scientist who works as Communications Director at ScienceOpen, hoped to publish his review for an article submitted to the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology on Publons, which is a site that for researchers to share, discuss and receive credit for peer review. When he attempted to publish his review with the permission from the paper's authors, his post was rejected on the grounds that this would breach the journal's policy. As it turned out, Elsevier's peer review policy disallows reviewers from sharing their review with anyone without permission from the journal editors. Tennant, however, maintained that he was never made aware of this policy and did not sign any agreement to the effect and should therefore have a right to share his review freely, a stance that validates consideration. The incident brings to light the need for transparent journal policies and the fact that journals should think of ways to give credit to reviewers for their work.
  6. Does failure to replicate results indicate unreliable science? Replication is a powerful tool to validate science. However, there is an emerging consensus among scientists that if a replication effort fails, it doesn’t necessarily mean the original was wrong. In fact, it shows that replicating scientific research can be extremely difficult. The latest findings from the large-scale Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology echoed this sentiment. In this project, researchers focused on reproducing experiments from the highest-impact papers about cancer biology published from 2010 to 2012. They shared their results of their effort to reproduce the first set of five papers in the journal ELife — and not one of their replications definitively confirmed the original results. While some researchers feel that this indicates the lack of methodology details in published literature, others feel that this highlights the complexity of reproducing biological studies. 
  7. The chasm between scientists and society: In a thought-provoking opinion piece, Helen Czerski talks about how scientists need to change the way they debate issues in science. She says that on the outside, scientific research and communication system looks sophisticated and ideal. The general assumption is that science is for the betterment of society, and this is known to and accepted by scientists and the general public. Also, the boost in open access publication makes it easier for lay people to access science. In reality, this is not the case. Despite the technological and process-related advancements, science remains inaccessible to the common man because it is not simplified, i.e., the manner in which it is communicated continues to be complex. The increased accessibility to information about everything makes it more difficult for science to connect with society and vice versa. Helen says that it is up to academia to bridge this gap and talk to members of society in a language they will understand, even if this means popularizing science or using social media to talk about scientific concepts in really simple terms. 

We hope you enjoyed reading these curated updates. Have you come across something you’d like to share with other researchers or publishing professionals? We’d love to read it too! Simply 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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