Building Blogs of Science

Predatoromics of science communication

Posted in Science, Science and Society by kubke on October 4, 2013

CC-BY mjtmail (tiggy) on Flickr

The week ends with a series of articles in Science that make you roll your eyes. These articles explore different aspects of the landscape of science communication exposing how broken the system can be at times. The increased pressure to publish scientific results to satisfy some assessors’ need to count beans has not come without a heavy demand on the scientific community that inevitably becomes involved through free editorial and peer review services. For every paper that is published, there are a number of other scientists that take time off their daily work to contribute to the decision of whether the article should be published or not, in principle by assessing the scientific rigor and quality. In many cases, and unless the article is accepted by the first journal it is submitted to, this cycle is repeated. Over. And over. Again. The manuscript is submitted to a new journal, handled by a new editor and most probably reviewed by a new set of peers, this iterated as many times as needed until a journals takes the paper in. And then comes the back and forth of the revision process, modifications to the original article suggested or required through the peer review, until eventually the manuscript is published. Somewhere. Number of beans = n+1. Good on’ya!

But what is the cost?

CC-BY Jessica M Cross on Flickr

There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to go this process with the level of rigor it promises to deliver. The rise in multidisciplinary research means that it will be unlikely that a single reviewer can assess the entirety of a manuscript. The feedback we get as editors (or we provide as reviewers) can often be incomplete and miss fundamental scientific flaws. There are pressures to publish and to publish a lot and to do that (and still have something to publish about) we are tempted to minimise the amount of time that we spend in the publication cycle. Marcia McNutt says it in a nutshell [1]:

For science professionals, time is a very precious commodity.

It is then not surprising that the exhaustion of the scientific community would be exploited with the ‘fast food’ equivalent of scientific communication.

The vitality of the scientific meeting has given rise to a troubling cottage industry: meetings held more for profit than enlightenment  [2]

The same applies to some so-called scientific journals. These “predatory” practices as they have come to be known are exhausting.

Science published today the description of a carefully planned sting. Jon Bohannon created a spoof paper that he sent to a long list of Open Access journals [3]. The paper should have been rejected had anyone cared enough to assess the quality of the science and base their decision on that. Instead, the manuscript made it through and got accepted in a number of journals (98 journals rejected it, 157 accepted it). That the paper got accepted in more than one journal did not come as a surprise, but what where it got interesting to me was when he compared those accepting journals against Beall’s predatory journal list. Jeff Beall helps collate a list of predatory Open Access journals, which at least saves us from having to do even more research when trying to decide where to publish our results or what conferences we might want to attend.

 Like Batman, Beall is mistrusted by many of those he aims to protect. “What he’s doing is extremely valuable,” says Paul Ginsparg, a physicist at Cornell University who founded arXiv, the preprint server that has become a key publishing platform for many areas of physics. “But he’s a little bit too trigger-happy. [3]

What Bohannon’s experiment showed was that 82% of the publishers from Beall’s list that received the spoof paper accepted it for publication. There is no excuse to falling prey to these journals and conferences. “I didn’t know” just won’t cut it for much longer.

As Michael Eisen discusses, even though Bohannon used open access journals for his experiment, this lack of rigour seems to ignore paywalls, impact factors and journal prestige. Which raises the following question:

If the system is so broke, it costs so much money in subscriptions and publication fees and sucks so much out of our productive time – then why on earth should we bother?

Don’t get me wrong – sharing our findings is important. But does it all really have to be peer reviewed from the start? Take Mat Todd’s approach, for example, from the Open Source Malaria project. All the science is out there as soon as it comes out of the pipette tip. When I asked him how this changed the way his research cycle worked this is what he said:

We have been focusing on the data and getting the project going, so we have not rushed to get the paper out. The paper is crucial but it is not the all and all. The process has been reversed, we first share the data and all the details of the project as it’s going, then when we have finished the project we move to publishing.

Right. Isn’t this what we should all be doing? I didn’t see Mat Todd’s world collapse. There is plenty of opportunity to provide peer review on the project as it is moving forward. There is no incentive to write the paper immediately, because the information is out there. There is no need to take up time from journal editors and reviewers because the format of the project offers itself to peer review from anyone who is interested in helping get this right.

PeerJ offers a preprint publication service:

“By using this service, authors establish precedent; they can solicit feedback, and they can work on revisions of their manuscript. Once they are ready, they can submit their PrePrint manuscript into the peer reviewed PeerJ journal (although it is not a requirement to do so)”

F1000 Research does something similar:

“F1000Research publishes all submitted research articles rapidly […] making the new research findings open for scrutiny by all who want to read them. This publication then triggers a structured process of post-publication peer review […]”

So yes, you can put your manuscript out there, let peers review it at their leisure, when they actually care and when they have time and focus to actually do a good job. There is really no hurry to move the manuscript to the peer-reviewed journal (PeerJ or any other) because you have already communicated your results, so you might as well go get an experiment done.  And if, as a reviewer, you want any credit for your contribution, then you can go to Publons where you can write your review, and if the community thinks you are providing valuable feedback you will be properly rewarded in the form of a DOI. Try to get that kind of recognition from most journals.

But let’s say you are so busy actually getting science done, then you always have FigShare.

“…a repository where users can make all of their research outputs available in a citable, shareable and discoverable manner.”

Because, let’s be honest, other than the bean counters who else is really caring enough about what we publish to justify the amount of nonsense that goes with it?

According to ImpactStory, 20% of the items that were indexed by Web of Science in 2010 received 4 or less PubMed Central citations. So, 4 citations in almost 3 years puts yo at the top 20%.

So my question is: Is this nonsense really worth our time?

CC-BY aussiegall on Flickr

[1] McNutt, M. (2013). Improving Scientific Communication. Science, 342(6154), 13–13. doi:10.1126/science.1246449

[2] Stone, R., & Jasny, B. (2013). Scientific Discourse: Buckling at the Seams. Science, 342(6154), 56–57. doi:10.1126/science.342.6154.56

[3] Bohannon, J. (2013). Who’s Afraid of Peer Review? Science, 342(6154), 60–65. doi:10.1126/science.342.6154.60

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ASAP Awards Finalists announced

Posted in Environment and Ecology, Health and Medicine, Science, Science and Society by kubke on October 2, 2013

(Cross-posted from Mind the Brain)

Earlier this year, nominations opened for the Accelerating Science Awards Program (ASAP). Backed by major sponsors like Google, PLOS and the Wellcome Trust, and a number of other organisations, this award seeks to “build awareness and encourage the use of scientific research — published through Open Access — in transformative ways.” From their website:ASAP Finalist Announcement 300x250

The Accelerating Science Award Program (ASAP) recognizes individuals who have applied scientific research – published through Open Access – to innovate in any field and benefit society.

The list of finalists is impressive, as is the work they have been doing taking advantage of Open Access research results. I am sure the judges did not have an easy job. How does one choose the winners?

In the end, this has been the promise of Open Access: that once the information is put out there it will be used beyond its original purpose, in innovative ways. From the use of cell phone apps to help diagnose HIV in low income communities, to using mobile phones as microscopes in education, to helping cure malaria, the finalists are a group of people that the Open Access movement should feel proud of. They represent everything we believed that could be achieved when the barriers to access to scientific information were lowered to just access to the internet.

The finalists have exploited Open Access in a variety of ways, and I was pleased to see a few familiar names in the finalists list. I spoke to three of the finalists, and you can read what Mat Todd, Daniel Mietchen and Mark Costello had to say elsewhere.

One of the finalist is Mat Todd from University of Sydney, whose work I have stalked for a while now. Mat has been working on an open source approach to drug discovery for malaria. His approach goes against everything we are always told: that unless one patents one’s discovery there are no chances that the findings will be commercialised to market a pharmaceutical product. For those naysayers out there, take a second look here.

A different approach to fighting disease was led by Nikita Pant Pai, Caroline Vadnais, Roni Deli-Houssein and Sushmita Shivkumar tackling HIV. They developed a smartphone app to help circumvent the need to go to a clinic to get an HIV test avoiding the possible discrimination that may come with it. But with the ability to test for HIV with home testing, then what was needed was a way to provide people with the information and support that would normally be provided face to face. Smartphones are increasingly becoming a tool that healthcare is exploring and exploiting. The hope is that HIV infection rates could be reduced by diminishing the number of infected people that are unaware of their condition.

What happens when different researchers from different parts of the world use different names for the same species? This is an issue that Mark Costello came across – and decided to do something about it. What he did was become part of the WoRMS project – a database that collects the knowledge of individual species. The site receives about 90,000 visitors per month. The data in the WoRMS database is curated and available under CC-BY. You can read more about Mark Costello here.

We’ve all heard about ecotourism. For it to work, it needs to go hand in hand with conservation. But how do you calculate the value (in terms of revenue) that you can put on a species based on ecotourism? This is what Ralf Buckley, Guy Castley, Clare Morrison, Alexa Mossaz, Fernanda de Vasconcellos Pegas, Clay Alan Simpkins and Rochelle Steven decided to calculate. Using data that was freely available they were able to calculate to what extent the populations of threatened species were dependent on money that came from ecotourism. This provides local organisations the information they need to meet their conservation targets within a viable revenue model.

Many research papers are rich in multimedia – but many times these multimedia files are published in the “supplementary” section of the article (yes – that part that we don’t tend to pay much attention to!). These multimedia files, when published under open access, offer the opportunity to exploit them in broader contexts, such as to illustrate Wikipedia pages. That is what Daniel Mietchen, Raphael Wimmer and Nils Dagsson Moskopp set out to do. They created a bot called Open Access Media Importer (OAMI) that harvests the multimedia files from articles in PubMed Central. The bot also uploaded these files to Wikimedia Commons, where they now illustrate more than 135 Wikipedia pages. You can read more about it here.

Saber Iftekhar Khan, Eva Schmid and Oliver Hoeller were nominated for developing a low weight microscope that uses the camera of a smartphone. The microscope is relatively small, and many of its parts are printed on a 3D printer. For teaching purposes it has two advantages. Firstly, it is mobile, which means that you can go hiking with your class and discover the world that lives beyond your eyesight. Secondly, because the image of the specimen is seen through the camera function on your phone or ipod, several students can look at an image at the same time, which, as anyone who teaches knows, is a major plus. To do this with standard microscopes would cost a lot of money in specialised cameras and monitors. Being able to do this at a relative low cost can provide students with a way of engaging with science that may be completely different from what they were offered before.

Three top awards will be announced at the beginning of Open Access Week on October 21st. Good luck to all!

[Open Science Sunday] Lincoln University’s Open Access Policy is out

Posted in Science, Science and Society by kubke on July 28, 2013

New Zealand has its first Open Access Policy thanks to Lincoln University. We have been lagging behind in the OA landscape when it comes to tertiary institutions, and Lincoln’s position is a great step.

From their website:

Lincoln University takes the position that if public funding has supported the creation of research or other content then it’s reasonable to make it publicly accessible. So our new Open Access Policy endorses making this content openly and freely available as the preferred option.

That the public should have access to the outputs of the work they fund through their taxes has been a compelling argument around other international policies. A similar position statement was made in the  Tasman Declaration. New Zealand’s NZGOAL, released in 2010 provides a similar framework for State Service Agencies, but tertiary institutions are not included in the framework despite receiving substantial public funding in several forms. It has been then up to the individual universities to decide whether the principles of NZGOAL are adopted. Lincoln University has taken a leadership role for the tertiary sector, and I am hopeful that other  NZ institutions will follow their lead.

CC-BY-NC-SA by biblioteekje on Flickr

I have been often asked where the funds to pay for Open Access publishing will come from, at least in relation to the publication of research articles. What we sometimes seem to forget is that we are already paying for these costs through the portion of the overheads of our grants that go towards library costs for access and re-use of copyrighted material.  In many instances, too,  the charges for publication of, say a colour figure, can be equal or more than what it would cost to publish the same article in an Open Access journal. The maths just don’t work for me.

What we also seem to sometimes forget is that most publishers will allow the posting of the peer reviewed version of the author’s manuscript in their institutional repository. Why aren’t researchers not doing this more widely is not very clear.

And here is where Lincoln strikes a nice balance: posting in the institutional repository (aka Green Open Access) comes at no extra financial cost to the individual researcher.  IT will be interesting to see how the policy is implemented at Lincoln.

But is it enough?

It is a great start.

One of the issues with the Open Access discussion is that it sometimes the issue of copyright (and the resulting license to reuse) does not always feature prominently in the conversation. I (personally) consider that fronting the fee with a journal to make a paper open access when I still need to transfer the copyright to the journal is a waste of money. There is not much added value to the version of the manuscript that I can place in the repository and the final journal version (other than perhaps aesthetics). I am happy, however, to pay an OA fee when this comes attached with a Creative Commons licence that allows reuse, including commercial re-use, because that is where the true value of Open Access is. Lincoln University takes a good step by encouraging the use of Creative Commons licences – but In their absence the articles should still be made free to view through the institutional repository.

How is NZ doing in OA?

The articles that are deposited in Institutional repositories in New Zealand can be found through nzresarch.org.nz.  Today’s search returned 14,273  journal articles. It is unfortunate that the great majority of them (13,986) are “all rights reserved” and only 232 allow commercial reuse. If we really want to benefit from our research to drive innovation, then we should be doing better.

So where to next?

Lincoln University has taken a great first step, and hopefully the other NZ research institutions will follow. I am also hoping we will start to see a similar move from NZ funding agencies encouraging researchers to adopt the principles of NZGOAL or to place Open Access mandates on their funded research.

Perhaps next time a funding body or organisation asks you to donate money for their research to help cure a condition, you might ask them if they have an Open Access policy

[Open] Science Sunday – 19-5-13

Posted in Science, Science and Society by kubke on May 19, 2013

2012 was a really interesting year for Open Research.

The year started with a boycott to Elsevier (The Cost of Knowledge) , soon followed  in May by a petition at We The People in the US,  asking the US government to “Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.”. By June we had The Royal Society publishing  a paper on “science as an open enterprise” [pdf]  saying:

The opportunities of intelligently open research data are exemplified in a number of areas of science.With these experiences as a guide, this report argues that it is timely to accelerate and coordinate change, but in ways that are adapted to the diversity of the scientific enterprise and the interests of: scientists, their institutions, those that fund, publish and use their work and the public.

The Finch report had a large share of media coverage [pdf]   –

Our key conclusion, therefore, is that a clear policy direction should be set to support the publication of research results in open access or hybrid journals funded by APCs. A clear policy direction of that kind from Government, the Funding Councils and the Research Councils would have a major effect in stimulating, guiding and accelerating the shift to open access.

By July the UK government announced the support for the Open Access recommendations from the Finch Report to ensure:

Walk-in rights for the general public, so they can have free access to global research publications owned by members of the UK Publishers’ Association, via public libraries. [and] Extending the licensing of access enjoyed by universities to high technology businesses for a modest charge.

The Research Councils OK joined by publishing a policy on OA (recently updated) that required [pdf] :

Where the RCUK OA block  grant is used to pay Article Processing Charges for a paper, the paper must  be made Open Accesess immediately at  the time of on line publication, using the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence.

Open Access Definition Cards and Buttons

CC-BY-NC-SA Jen Waller on Flickr

By the time that Open Access Week came around, there was plenty to discuss. The discussion of Open Access emphasised more strongly the re-use licences under which the work was published. The discussion also included some previous analysis showing that there are benefits from publishing in Open Access that affect economies:

adopting this model could lead to annual savings of around EUR 70 million in Denmark, EUR 133 in The Netherlands and EUR 480 million in the UK.

And in November, the New Zealand Open Source Awards recognised Open Science fro the first time too.

2013 promises not to fall behind

This year offers good opportunities to celebrate local and international advocates of Open Science.

The Obama administration not only responded to last year’s petition by issuing a memorandum geared towards making Federally funded research adopt open access policies, but is now also seeking “Outstanding Open Science Champions of Change” . Nominations for this close on May 14, 2013.  Simultaneously, The Public Library of Science, Google and the Wellcome Trust , together with a number of allies are sponsoring the “Accelerating Science Award Program” which seeks to recognise and reward individuals, groups or projects that have used Open Access scientific works in innovative manners. The deadline for this award is June 15.

Last year Peter Griffin  wrote:

The policy shift in the UK will open up access to the work of New Zealand scientists by default as New Zealanders are regularly co-authors on papers paid for by UK Research Councils funds. But hopefully it will also lead to some introspection about our own open access policies here.

There was some reflection at the NZAU Open Research Conference which led to the Tasman Declaration – (which I encourage you to sign) and those of us who were involved in it are hoping good things will come out of it. While that work continues, I will be revisiting the nominations of last years Open Science category for the NZ Open Source Awards to make my nominations for the two awards mentioned above.

I certainly look forward to this year – I will continue to work closely with Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand and with NZ AU Open Research to make things happen, and continue to put my 2 cents as an Academic Editor for PLOS ONE and PeerJ.

There is no question that the voice of Open Access is now loud and clear – and over the last year it has also become a voice that is not only being heard, but that it also generating the kinds of responses that will lead to real change.

PeerJ pulls off a hat trick

Posted in Science by kubke on December 3, 2012

It is December 3.

It is the birthday* of John Backus, Richard Kuhn, Anna Freud, Carlos Juan Finlay, and, why not, Ozzy Osbourne.

It is also the day that PeerJ starts receiving manuscript submissions. I talked about PeerJ before and why I was so enthusiastic about its launch. Over the last while I have been experiencing PeerJ as a user.

Some of us academic editors were able to do some website testing for the article submission site, and I have to say I am impressed. Truth be told, the most painful part of submitting a paper has been, in my experience, being confronted with those horrid manuscript submission sites. When I started working in science there were no computers. We typed (yes, remember the typewriter?) our manuscripts, printed our pictures in the dark room, drew our graphs by hand with rotring pens and letraset and put the lot in an envelope. With a stamp. And walked the envelope to the Post Office.

Then came the electronic submission, and it seems that those who designed those sites knew that our high motivation level to submit would make us be able to endure their site’s, well, unfriendliness (oh and those dreadful pop-up windows!). They were right. Our motivation to submit a paper is high enough that we overlook the nuisance of the submission system – it is not a factor in the decision of where to submit. I find myself sometimes putting an entire afternoon aside just to upload the files on their system, and I have become accustomed to this, I have been doing it for years. And I know that any submission or editorial task will have to wait until I am at my desktop computer because navigating those sites on my netbook or my tablet is, well, not worth the effort

So needless to say, opening up the PeerJ system was nothing more than a yay moment. Finally someone thought about me, me, me.

The first thing I loved was that I just need to login to my account at PeerJ.com and from there I have the links to whatever I need: my profile, my manuscripts, my reviewer dashboard and my editor dashboard. None of that looking for the email that has the web address for the editorial manager system; even my tired old brain can remember that url. Even better, I can do that from my netbook, my tablet, my mobile phone, because the site loads really nicely in all my devices. The plus side of this is that when I think about checking something I can just go ahead and do it. Easily

peerj1

Submitting the manuscript was a completely new experience. In my opinion they have done a few things right: a good visual (and intuitive) toolbar (text comes up on mouse over) and a hint box at the right of the screen.

peerj2

As I moved from one page to another, the hintbox was always there to answer most of my questions, or send me to the instructions to authors – again, with a really nice and intuitive layout.

peerj3

I never found myself second guessing what it is what I needed to do, or how to do it. And for that PeerJ deserves a hat tip.

But one of the things that impressed me the most, were the requirements under the “Declarations” section. There are a lot of things there that impressed me. Firstly, the detailed description of the Animal Ethics (not just that your University Committee approved it), the request for agreement for people to be acknowledged, the declaration of conflict of interest and any type of funding, etc. I think this is a good thing. I found it tedious at first. But when I started thinking about it more, I think this is a great step for better scientific standards. And I hope they keep on having those requirements, and hope more journals follow suit. And a second hat tip for contacting all of the listed authors to inform them someone has submitted a manuscript with their name on it. I am still shocked some journals still do not do this!

peerj4

I am now acting as an academic editor for another manuscript, and the experience from that end is no different. The system is simple and intuitive which makes my job easier. From an editor’s point of view what I liked the most was the page where I had to choose/load reviewers. I had on that page a list of suggested reviewers by the authors and those that authors opposed, so there was no need of navigating different windows to get that information. Made a mistake and want to get rid of a reviewer? Just click on the trash can. On that page, also nicely visible are the links to tools to help me find reviewers (JANE, PubMed and Google Scholar). Now what was a really nice touch (lke the links weren’t enough!) was that clicking on any of those links automatically ran a query for me based on title and keywords of the article – one less thing for me to do (unless I need to for some reason). So another hat tip for that – and I think that rounds up the hat trick.

Now, what a bright idea – make the system user friendly! You’d think those in the Science Publishing system would have already figured that out, eh?

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*http://todayinsci.com/12/12_03.htm

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