This month, the hottest topic of discussion in both academic and non-academic circles was of course U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal. If you too were too absorbed in reading up about the budget to keep track of other developments in academia, don’t worry! Our editors have handpicked some of the most interesting and important updates especially for you! The NIH considering preprints in funding applications, open and portable peer review models, a sting operation exposing predatory publishers, women’s underrepresentation in science, and unethical activities by third parties were among the topics of discussion in the scholarly circles. Read on to find out more:
1. Trump’s first budget proposal causes a stir in academia: If there's one thing that captured the world's attention this month, it is U.S. President Donald Trump's first budget proposal titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” In his federal budget blueprint, he proposed to downsize major science agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by 18% and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by close to 31%. While the funding cut for the NIH might lead to the closure of the Fogarty International Center, which is the smallest institute of the research agency, the EPA is set to lose a fifth of its employees. Researchers from the climate research field speculate that overall there is at least 20% cut in the budgeting of their fields. This can be a huge setback for the scientific progress of the country that has been dominating the research scene for years. While the proposal is still incomplete in that it doesn't mention other major agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), President Trump will release a more detailed proposal in the coming months. Though academics across the globe have expressed shock and disbelief at the way science is being sidelined by the President, there is still hope because the proposal will undergo the scrutiny of the Congress before it gets an approval.
2. NIH allows preprints to be included in grant proposals: Whether preprints (documents that have not yet been published or undergone peer review) should be considered a part of a researcher’s output has been discussed for some time. On March 24, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the biggest science agencies of the U.S., announced that from May 25 onwards, researchers can include pre-prints as part of their funding application package. In this notice, the NIH also encourages researchers to deposit their work in repositories. This development has been welcomed by biomedical researchers who have been insisting on the need to share research findings early on, instead of waiting for the long peer review and journal publication process. The NIH notice also indicates that grant reviewers will be reminded that pre-prints are not peer-reviewed. The agency also intends to monitor the impact of this decision on the review of funding proposals.
3. Axios Review’s closure exposes challenges in independent peer review: On March 1st, Axios Review, a company offering independent or portable peer review service, closed down as the submission volumes were insufficient to continue business. Tim Vines, founder and Managing Editor of the non-profit organization, says that growth stopped once they started charging authors a fee of $250 for their services. Additionally, many editors would conduct their own peer review as well, which did not go down well with the authors, who expected that once the Axios peer review was done, editors would directly make a final decision on their manuscript. According to Vines, academic workflows are deeply entrenched and hence it is difficult for new innovative models like portable per review to sustain. While the other two competing portable peer review companies, Peerage of Science and Rubriq are not equating the close-down of Axios Review with a failure of independent peer review, it is true that these services are at present attracting at best, a few hundred manuscripts a year. The success of independent peer review is based on the belief that the traditional journal-centered model of external review using voluntary labor is failing and can be rebuilt (at least in part) with a new commercial model that requires authors, editors, and publishers to change their workflow. The closing of Axios Review coupled with unremarkable growth in independent peer review however, seems to indicate that achieving success in this model can be quite challenging.
4. Sting operation exposes predatory publishers: Predatory publishing has several aspects to it and one of the elements that could be manipulated is the role of an editor. Four researchers studying human behavior at the University of Wroclaw in Poland - Piotr Sorokowski, Emanuel Kulczycki, Agnieszka Sorokowska& Katarzyna Pisanski - conducted an investigation of editorial manipulation in predatory publishing by creating a fictitious editor persona - Anna O. Szust (in Polish, "Oszust" means "a fraud'). This fake scientist was given fake degrees, publications, and even a website! They then submitted her application for an editor position to 360 academic journals (some of which were suspected predatory publishers). 48 titles accepted the fake scientist's application and some of the predatory ones actually proposed some kind of monetary contribution from her and encouraged her to invite other authors to submit their papers to their publication for a cost; some even proposed splitting the profits with O. Szust. None of the legitimate journals accepted the application. The idea behind the study was to increase awareness about predatory publishing. According to the four researchers, making publishing in predatory journals less attractive could be a possible solution.
5. Do women continue to be underrepresented in academia? According to a recently published study titled "Research: Gender bias in scholarly peer review," women are not as frequently selected for peer review as men are. An international team of researchers from Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Germany; Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Germany; Yale University, United States; Aix-Marseille University, France, conducted a study to look at gender bias in peer review. After analyzing 142 journals under Frontiers publications across science, health, engineering and social sciences, they found that male editors were more inclined to select male reviewers, whereas female editors were more inclined to pick female reviewers. Since women are in minority in academia, they are often less preferred for reviews than men. The researchers who conducted the study think that this gender preference could be attributed to the ways in which men and women build their social networks and even the subconscious tendency to associate with people belonging to the same gender. Another factor that might play a role in this behavior is that women might select other women in an attempt to include them in the academic circles. The study highlights the need to make academia more inclusive so that women are represented as much as the men are.
6. Open peer review model gives authors control over peer review: The academic publication process is often extremely time consuming and frustrating for authors as it includes a lot of hurdles over which authors have no control. The F1000 Research author-led post publication invited peer review model is giving control of the peer review process back to authors. This model ensures that authors can decide who has the most appropriate level of expertise to review their work, when to revise the manuscript (they can choose to address a reviewer’s concerns before the other reports are received), and if and how the data and figures should be updated. What is remarkable is that in spite of giving control of the review process to authors, the publication platform has not lost sight of quality control. Thus, while authors suggest reviewers, the F1000 Research team checks their suitability. Most importantly, readers are able to see who has reviewed any given article. Additionally, as a member of COPE, F1000 Research conducts numerous editorial checks on all submissions prior to publication to ensure that high publishing and ethical standards are maintained. In this model of open peer review, reviewers are also given due credit for their work by having their review report count as a citable piece of scientific discourse. This seems a great step towards giving academic publishing the momentum and transparency that it needs.
7. Third parties find new ways to scam authors: In a few recently reported developments, journal representatives have been concerned over the unethical activities of some third parties such as manuscript editing and other publishing services companies. In one instance, a manuscript editing company offered to pay an editor to help its papers get published in his journal; in another, a research ethics company threatened to investigate all the papers written by a research team if the authors didn’t donate thousands to support the company’s efforts; while in a third instance, a top-tier publishing house received an inquiry from an “article broker" offering payment for publishing 500-1500 articles selected by the broker. These incidents seem to indicate that third parties continue to attempt to inappropriately influence peer review and journal publishing. Authors and editors should make sure before agreeing to work with third parties that that they meet their expected ethical standards. The article suggests that editors should also consider reporting such instances to COPE if they come across them and to alert the research community through blogging, social media, and other public forums.
Did you enjoy reading these updates? Do you have any thoughts or views about them? Or have you come across some other interesting development that you would like to share? We’d love to hear from you! Simply share your thoughts and 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.