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Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, November 2016

Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, November 2016

November was an eventful month for researchers and non-researchers alike as Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections was the hottest topic of discussion globally. Some other issues in academic publishing that received much attention include the proposal of a novel technique that prohibits people from copying the content on a web page, a review of the scalability of the peer review system, and a poll on the challenges faced by researchers. As always, we make sure that you stay updated with all the action and happenings that are related to science and scientific publishing. That is why we’ve curated this reading list for you. Happy reading!

1. Reactions of academics on Donald Trump’s victory: Perhaps, the news that shook the global academic community was the result of the presidential elections in the U.S. Soon as Donald Trump was declared the next President of the U.S., countless discussions ensued about how this would affect science and research. According to this article, many immigrant and minority researchers are feeling insecure. A few researchers have reportedly faced harassment and racism. Some researchers are reconsidering their decision of moving to the U.S. in search of better opportunities, while others are skeptical of even attending conferences in the U.S. due to the volatile post-election atmosphere. A survey of biologists and physicists in the country revealed that about 2% of researchers in the U.S. are Muslim immigrants and 64% of them have been discriminated on the basis of their religion. However, a small section of these researchers continues to feel safe and is hopeful of a better and safe atmosphere to continue their work in. It is probably too soon to predict how science will fare under Trump's governance.

2. Is the peer review system sustainable? As per a study published in PLOS ONE by Michail Kovanis and his colleagues, the peer review system is sustainable in terms of volume; however, there is a gross imbalance in the distribution of peer review effort. Analyzing the papers published in biomedicine from various sources in the domain, they found that in 2015, the supply of reviewers exceeded the demand for reviewers and reviews by 15% to 249%. However, highlighting the imbalance in the number of reviewers who actually reviewed the papers, they found that 20% of the researchers performed 69% to 94% of the reviews. Moreover, researchers from the U.S. have the highest share of reviews, while those from China review the least. In 2015, 63.4 million hours were spent on reviews, of which 18.9 million hours were dedicated by a mere 5% of reviewers. Thus, it is clear that while peer review is sustainable, editors should expand their pool of reviewers and persuade more researchers to take on reviewing. This would ensure a fairer distribution of peer review work.

3. What are researchers most stressed about? Nature conducted an online poll to know more about the pressures and challenges researchers experience at the start of their academic career and received 12,000 responses. A whopping 65% of the respondents said that they had contemplated quitting research, while 16% stated that they actually quit. The biggest challenges that researchers said they faced were getting funding (44%), maintaining a work-life balance (19%), and being judged based on their publication record (19%). Additionally, most participants said that they worked for long hours. Around 30% worked for 50-60 hours while around 20% put in 60-70 hours. This emphasizes the need for the major stakeholders of science to refocus on the quality of research as against the quantity as well as ensure better working conditions for researchers.    

4. Problems in scientific research in Argentina: Science in Argentina is facing financial woes as President Mauricio Macri’s government is contemplating a cut on science spending in 2017 to help the nation’s economy recover from debt. The government has indicated a cut of 6%, which amounts to nearly 32 billion pesos (US$2 billion). The National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology, which funds both basic and applied research, was set for a 60% real-terms budget drop. Argentinean academics are worried that this could lead to brain drain and stall many important research projects. Concerned researchers staged protests on the streets against this move, and around 33,000 researchers and university teachers signed a petition in an attempt to change the government’s proposal. This prompted the government to revise the budget and declare an addition of 1.3 billion pesos. However, researchers have expressed disappointment over the marginally revised figures and are hopeful that the government would increase the budget further before finalizing the numbers.

5. A way to prevent users from copying online content: Often during their online research/surfing, researchers/students copy parts they find interesting onto their computers with the intention of using it as reference material in their research papers. However, the problem arises when they fail to credit the original source. A group of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences has reported “a new light-based technique” (they refer to it as single-shot ptychography encoding or SPE) which makes it "more practical to create secure, invisible watermarks that can be used to detect and prosecute counterfeiting.” According to Yishi Shi, one of the authors of the paper, “The successful implementation of SPE will be a big breakthrough for optical security and could bring SPE-based optical watermarking and encryption closer to commercial application.” This would also make it difficult for people to directly copy content from a website, thus encouraging them to cite the original source and paraphrase.

6. Fraudulent supervisors can harm young researchers’ careers: In this interesting post, Ivan Oransky (Vice President and Global Editorial Director, MedPage Today) and Adam Marcus (Managing Editor, Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News and Anesthesiology News) talk about how a supervisor’s act of academic and research misconduct could damage a young researcher’s career. Due to the hierarchical structure of academia, graduate students and post docs are frequently the scapegoats in cases of fraud by unscrupulous supervisors, and there is very little in the way of protection or recourse for them in the current system. Apart from proposing organized labor unions and anonymous evaluation of supervisors as possible solutions, they also call for a more transparent and prompt retraction system that would prevent senior faculty who have committed misconduct from using vague misleading language in retraction notices to shift or spread blame.

7. Institutional repositories in Latin America have poor visibility: This post talks about institutional repositories in the context of Latin American countries. While comparing the visibility of research published by South American countries with that in the North American region on Google Scholar, Enrique Orduña-Malea and Emilio Delgado-López-Cózar found that the low discoverability of Latin American institutional repositories could affect their use. They argue that the scholarly output of regions like Latin America needs greater visibility because it is not written in English, the language that has maximum global outreach. Institutional repositories could play an important role in increasing the visibility of research that is published in languages other than English. They say that Latin American universities need to remember that an institutional repository is after all a website, and therefore, the focus should be on factors such as usability, website structure, ease of navigation, and search engine optimization. Essentially, the duo argues for better systemic changes to the manner in which institutional repositories are set up and managed so as to allow maximum global visibility.

That was a varied reading list indeed! What do you think of some of these issues? For example, do you have a view on how Donald Trump’s presidency might affect scientific research in the U.S.? Or, are you a researcher from Argentina and have something to say about the current situation in the country? Tell us what you think. We love hearing your views!

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