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Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, July 2016

Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, July 2016

Did your busy schedule keep you from following the hottest topics of discussion in the scholarly circles? Worry not! Our team of editors has been on top of the goings-on in academia and has curated a list of the most interesting discussions in the month of July. With exchanges buzzing around impact factor and its efficacy, open access mandates, Research Exchange Framework, and such other topics, the month of July was certainly exciting. Here is a list of the most interesting deliberations. Happy reading!

1. A fight against the inappropriate use of impact factor: While it is widely acknowledged that the Journal Impact Factor is not an accurate measure of the quality of articles, the metric has continued to rule the academic publishing industry. Often, it is considered by researchers as the guiding factor to judge the quality of individual articles or even authors. In a move towards transparency, the senior staff of Nature, Science, and other elite journals have authored an article (posted as a preprint on bioRxiv) that calls on journals to downplay the impact factor in favor of a metric that captures the range of citations received by articles published in a journal.

2. The EU attempts to tackle Greece’s brain drain: In a move to halt Greece's brain drain, which has been plaguing the country since the 2015 economic crisis, the European Union's investment bank has approved a €180-million loan to support the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (HFRI). The Greek government will top this amount up with €60 million. The European Investment Bank (EIB) rarely loans more than 50% of the cost of a project, but it agreed to raise its limit to 75% in this case as the 28 EU member states voted unanimously to make an exception, keeping in mind the need to develop fundamental research in Greece. This gives Greek researchers their first ray of hope since the debt crisis. They are hopeful that with EIB demonstrating confidence in Greek science with this loan, they will be able to attract other sources of financing as well.

3. Why international research collaborations deserve focus: The Royal Society collaborated with European Academies to release a joint statement upholding the value of scientific research. The statement emphasizes that many problems the world is facing today are of a global nature and that we need international research collaborations to solve them. This, in turn, means researchers should enjoy greater mobility and receive equal opportunities for collaboration. Thus, imposing barriers to researcher mobility will not serve the larger cause of science and might be detrimental to all nations. The idea behind this statement was to alleviate some of the anxieties caused following the UK's exit from the European Union earlier in June. Taking the concept further, the Society launched a social media campaign, #ScienceIsGlobal, and invited researchers from across the globe to post pictures of lab members who are from different nations.

4. The role of authors in shaping open access mandates: The Society for Scholarly Publishing recently hosted a session titled “Open Access Mandates and Open Access ‘Mandates’: How Much Control Should Authors Have over Their Work?”, where Micah Vandegrift, Scholarly Communication Librarian at Florida State University, spoke about the need to streamline discussions regarding scholarly publishing. Often, it seems as though there is a constant war being waged between two parties, e.g., between open and closed access publishers or between publishers and librarians. Micah argues that the reality is much deeper than a superficial conflict and that the publishing scenario needs "greater transparency (honesty), more active/productive author voice in the discussion, and clearer straight-forward human readable contracts with options." Micah's persuasive argument urges all stakeholders in academic publishing to consider how “miseducation” about scholarly communication is doing more harm than good.

5. A leading funding agency weighs its impact: In an unconventional move, the European Research Council (ERC) revealed that it has conducted a pilot investigation of some of the studies it has funded. The agency funds basic research and gets applications from many prestigious researchers. While the ERC has funded thousands of studies till date, it wished to understand whether these studies have had an impact as was promised by the researchers. After analyzing 199 completed studies, the ERC concluded that 70% of the projects it funded have made scientific breakthroughs, while a mere 4% had no appreciable scientific output. Funding agencies usually depend on pre-assessment processes to gauge the impact of the studies they find, but the ERC’s initiative has received a positive response from the science community.

6. The latest REF report suggests changes to the current assessment system: The latest Research Excellence Framework (REF) report, worked on by economist Nicholas Stern (the chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment), states that while the current research and scientific assessment system in the UK is fairly strong, it does need a few changes. These include cost reduction measures and gaming of the system. While the proposed changes might be considered from the long-term benefits perspective, they may cause some trouble for universities claiming credit for research papers written by staff before they joined and the highly mobile group of early-career researchers who are not allowed to carry forward credit for their papers. The REF report also states that universities must submit all their staff for audits instead of a select few, and that the audit should focus on the university's activities for increasing research impact and public engagement as well as for teaching. Further, the report points out the need for increased recognition of interdisciplinary work.

7. The importance of funding the right research projects: Simon Gandevia, Deputy Director, Neuroscience Research Australia, discusses in an article the importance of funding research that can generate new knowledge instead of low-powered studies that lead to either low impact or inaccurate results. Despite the reproducibility crisis in science, governments and funding bodies continue to provide funds to research projects without carefully assessing their potential impact. Discussing the unethical practices rampant in research today, that is, “hoaxing, forging, trimming and cooking the data,” Gandevia explains how the extreme competition in the academic world is forcing researchers to overpromise the potential impact of their studies or indulge in unethical practices. He emphasizes the fact that “Good science loses out when bad science gets the funding.” Therefore, he calls out to researchers, institutions, and governments to impose stringent selection processes for awarding funds.

This is it for July! Follow our monthly reading lists for more such interesting updates. And if you would like to stay tuned to important happenings in the journal publishing industry, visit our Industry News section. 

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