Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, January 2018

Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, January 2018

The first month of 2018 started on a very busy note and there was a lot of activity in the scholarly publishing. If you’ve been too busy to catch up on the buzzing discussions, we’ve curated the most noteworthy articles to help you stay on top of things. Among all the topics, end-to-end accessibility, an interesting survey on research misconduct, and a controversial dispute between Elsevier and a consortium of German institutions will definitely pique your interest. So happy reading!      

1. Academic moonlighting and discipline-hopping: This article is about academics who have come to be known as "Academic Moonlighters." This interesting term has been assigned to professionals within academia who cross the boundaries of their own disciplines and attempt to enter either a neighbouring discipline or a completely new discipline. For instance, the author speaks of a clinical pyshcologist whose latest work is the biography of a poet, in addition to her account on mental illness. Deeming it as "taking scholarly holidays in completely different academic hemispheres," the author interviewed a couple of researchers involved in more than one academic field. He found that such academic moonlighting is viewed as unusual and the researchers involved have even been eyed with suspicion. Some of these researchers even shared some of the challenges they faced while "discipline-hopping" such as culture clashes, having to change their academic writing styles, etc. Despite such challenges, all of them agreed that straying away from their fields carries significant benefits. 

2. A publishing giant and 200 protesting institutions: In August 2017, we reported how a consortium of German institutions entered a dispute with the publishing giant Elsevier about the high subscription costs of paywalled research articles. Since 2016, the consortium known as Project Deal has been trying to push the publisher to agree to its terms which included lower subscription costs and open access to research authored by researchers in the country. It has been speculated that if Elsevier agrees to the consortium’s demands, it would lead to a 50% reduction in the amount that institutions pay to the publisher. Although, the deadline set for concluding the discussions was January 2018, the consortium and the publishing giant have still not reached an agreement. Incidentally, following a breakdown in talks, academic institutions in Germany cancelled their subscriptions to Elsevier; despite this they continue to have access to paywalled publications. Read this post to know more about this debate. 

3. Reporting of misconduct by academia and industry: A group of researchers at University of Leuven led by Simon Godecharle conducted a survey to understand the perspectives of the biomedical researchers and research managers in Belgium on research misconduct. They sent the survey to 2000 researchers from industry and academia in Belgium and published their findings in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics. The authors reported that as many as 71% of academic researchers and 61% of researchers in industry admitted to indulging in one of the 22 forms of misconduct the survey enlisted. It was observed that the researchers in industry were less likely to report such incidents. While the paper does not throw light on the reasons behind this, Godecharle believes that, "It is possible that research misconduct might actually be less common in industry." One of the limitations of the study is the subjective nature of the survey questions. It is likely that the respondents may have interpreted the forms of misconduct as questionable practices, Godecharle concedes, but he believes the results offer insights into the behavior and inclination of researchers towards committing misconduct. He also adds that supervisors play an important role in motivating researchers to conduct and report research ethically. 

4. Responding to scientific criticism: In an interesting blog post, Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University, discusses why researchers can become stubborn and defensive when faced with legitimate scientific criticism. Gelman says that the nature of research is such that researchers have to be open to new possibilities and ideas. However, they typically respond to valid criticism negatively. He puts forth the idea that the roots of this issue lie in the peer review process. Peer reviewers' remarks raise questions about the authors' work in which they put in significant time and effort. Many authors tend to view reviewers as obstacles in the path to publication. Gelman states, "As scientists, we see serious criticism on a regular basis, and we’re trained to deal with it in a certain way: to respond while making minimal, ideally zero, changes to our scientific claims." This attitude usually manifests itself into responding negatively to criticism by people other than the reviewers too, he says. "My problem is not with peer review but rather with our default way of responding to peer review, which is to figure out how to handle the review comments in whatever way is necessary to get the paper published. I fear that this trains us to respond to post-publication criticism in that same way." he concludes.

5. Roadblocks to accessibility: This thought-provoking article about accessibility starts by acknowledging the contrasting opinions in the publishing industry. Written by Lettie Conrad, this piece brings to the forefront the most obvious and burning question about accessibility—why are top publishers still unconvinced about accessibility despite it being better for them. With tech advancements, end-to-end accessibility is a very achievable dream. Perhaps there is an assumption that accessible publishing will create losses and that there will be no real revenue opportunities. A compelling argument is that the roadblock for accessibility is primarily a psychological barrier. Although accessibility is not a quick fix or a one-time effort, the writer urges that it’s important to treat it as an ongoing initiative. Despite the challenges, accessible publishing is possible now more than it ever was. The article recommends that all publishing models should include a budget for accessibility while asserting that the scholarly publishing community should make accessible publishing a standard practice.

Did you enjoy reading these updates? 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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