What actions can we take to push for publishing reform and incentivise open publishing practices?

Early career researchers bear the brunt of negative effects created by closed research practices in a complex system of authority and assessment. In this guest post, Corina Logan, Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, shares news of a new campaign aimed at mobilizing early career researchers to push back against outdated publishing practices to improve rigorous science and the wider mechanisms of academic assessment. Early career researchers, senior academics, institutions, and publishers can all get involved in addressing these issues and improving scientific rigour.

In June 2017, I launched the Bullied Into Bad Science campaign with other early career researchers (ECRs) at Cambridge where we urge individuals and institutions to take eight actions to better support us in increasing research rigour through open practices. Since then, we have gotten exposure from the UK press, and ECRs from around the world are signing our petition (ECRs can sign here), showing that these are widespread issues. This campaign is for all researchers, regardless of their field.

When our story was featured in The Times, senior researchers immediately started asking how they can help the campaign. We started a list of supporters where people can publicly list the actions they take to help us achieve our mission of valuing open research practices, especially when making decisions about hiring, promotion, and grants (you can add your name here). Amongst our supporters are established researchers, librarians, a journal/publisher, a non-profit organisation, and a for-profit organisation.

In the petition, we identify problems that are important to address by taking eight actions. Many people are wondering how they can implement these eight actions, so I provide some examples here.

What actions can ECRs and senior researchers take?

I have recently found myself in a position of having more power in academia because I’m about to hire people and I’m serving on university committees (that have to do with purchasing journal subscriptions). It turns out it is really easy to change things when you are in a power position.

Here are some of the actions I take as an ECR…

  1. I signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment and committed to evaluating researchers based on directly assessing their research quality rather than using metrics (action 1 in the petition)
  2. I advertise my commitment to increasing scientific rigour through open practices on my website (action 1 in the petition about issuing a public statement)
  3. I include in the Essential Criteria of job announcements that candidates must have experience with open practices “Knowledge of, and experience applying, open research practices (e.g., publishing datasets and code, posting preprints, preregistering experiments, conducting peer reviews that are published, advocacy).” (action 2 in the petition)
  4. I include in the General Description of job announcements “contribute to publications that will be published in 100% open access journals at ethical publishers.” (action 2 in the petition)
  5. I only publish in 100% OA journals (see www.corinalogan.com for a more nuanced version) at ethical publishers. My staff and collaborators know this will be the case (new collaborators know this in advance before they sign up; previous collaborators and I discuss this as things change) (action 3 in the petition)
  6. I write to my scientific societies asking them to change their journals to 100% open access and to ethical publishers, and I tell them how they can do this for free (plus volunteer time) by making good use of technology including free, open source software (see a template letter) (action 3 in the petition)
  7. I post preprints at bioRxiv and PeerJ Preprints (action 4 in the petition)
  8. I publish my data and R code at the Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity data repository (action 5 in the petition)
  9. I educate researchers through talks, publications, and via the Bullied into Bad Science campaign (action 6 in the petition)
  10. I am on the journal subscription committees at Cambridge where I urge them to increase transparency and to negotiate for researcher’s rights in publishing contracts (action 7 in the petition)
  11. I ask university administrators to make postdocs voting members of the university verbally and in writing, via impromptu communications and during official feedback sessions (action 8 in the petition)

What actions can institutions and departments take?

  • Sign DORA as an individual and as an institution (following the examples of Imperial College London and University College London). Walk the talk by implementing evaluation and hiring practices that are aligned with assessing research quality directly rather than by proxies. To see whether your institution has already committed to the DORA standards, see: http://www.ascb.org/dora/
  • Human Resources departments can make points 3 and 4 above standard in all announcements for positions, promotions, and fellowships, which means that selection committees must rank candidates by their commitment to open practices. This incorporates a positive valuing of open practices into the very fabric of the university/organisation. For an example, see job advertisements in the Department of Psychology at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich
  • Make all postdocs voting members of the university. Lobby to change the university’s charter or whatever document needs to be changed to make this happen.
  • Make public statements about all of the actions you take to support ECRs so ECRs can cite these statements in job and grant applications, thereby making a statement to selection committees that their publishing choices are on purpose and encouraged. Harvard and the University of California have made public open access statements.

What actions can publishers take?

  • Publish reproducible manuscripts because this will greatly increase research reproducibility by decreasing researcher and copy editor errors. This where one document contains all of the text and code and everything that went into making the manuscript such that, with the push of a button, the manuscript can be completely recreated from scratch (read more about what this is in Chris Hartgerink’s blog)
  • Publish peer review histories alongside the articles (some journals already do this, including PeerJ and Royal Society Open Science) by default, and conduct peer reviewer and editor quality control using this data.
  • Don’t buy products or services from for-profit corporations that drain money from academia.
  • Try to drive the cost of academic publishing down to zero through the efficient use of technology, and subsidize leftover costs with non-academic business ventures (this is a great idea I got during a conversation with Jason Hoyt, CEO of PeerJ). There is a strong argument for not exchanging money in academic publishing because when money is involved, the system can be gamed (e.g., by giant publishers). There are already successful journals that do not charge fees to publish or read, including Discrete Analysis and Royal Society Open Science.

It’s time to stop waiting for others to change the system. We ARE the system so if we change ourselves, we change the system.

Corina Logan investigates cognition and behaviour in birds and mammals as a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. She is particularly interested in how behavioural flexibility works and what brain size means.

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  • Thanx for this helpful contribution.

    Universities could also expand their university presses and have them publish open access, as many do already.

    • JanAdrianusVeenstra

      I don’t think we need a “press”, just a website should do.