Tag Archives: peer review

‘No free labor’ – we agree.

[NOTE: The introductory sentence to this blog was changed on 27 June to provide clarification]

Last week members of the University of California* released a Call to Action to ‘Champion change in journal negotiations’ which references the April 2018 Declaration of Rights and Principles to Transform Scholarly Communication.  This states as one of the 18 principles:

No free labor. Publishers shall provide our Institution with data on peer review and editorial contributions by our authors in support of journals, and such contributions shall be taken into account when determining the cost of our subscriptions or OA fees for our authors.”

Well, this is interesting. At Cambridge we have been trying to look at this specific issue since late last year.

The project

Our goal was to have a better understanding of the interaction between publisher and researcher. The (not very imaginatively named) Data Gathering Project is a project to support the decision making of the Journal Coordination Scheme in relation to subscription to, and use of, academic journal literature across Cambridge.

What we have initially found is that the data is remarkably difficult to put together. Cambridge University does not use bibliometrics as a means of measuring our researchers, so we do not subscribe to SciVal, but we have access to Scopus. But Scopus does not pick up Arts and Humanities publications particularly well, so it will always be a subset of the whole.

Some information that we thought would be helpful simply isn’t. We do have an institutional Altmetric account, so we were able to pull a report from Altmetric of every paper with a Cambridge author held in that database.  But Altmetric does not give a publisher view – we would have to extract this using doi prefixes or some other system. 

Cambridge uses Symplectic Elements to record publications from which, for very complicated reasons, we are unable to obtain a list of publishers with whom we publish. As part of the subscription we have access to the new analysing product, Dimensions. However, as far as we have managed to see, Dimensions does not break down by publisher (it works at the more granular level of journal), and seems to consider anything that is in the open domain (regardless of licence) to be ‘open access’. So figures generated here come with a heavy caveat.

We are also able to access the COUNTER usage statistics for our journals with the help of  the Library eresources team. However these include downloads for backfiles and for open access articles, so the numbers are slightly inflated, making a ‘cost per download’ analysis of value against subscription cost inaccurate.

We know how much we spend on subscriptions (spoiler alert: a lot). We need to take into consideration our offsetting arrangements with some publishers – something we are taking an active look at currently anyway.

Reaching out to the publishing community

So to supplement the aggregated information we have to hand, we have reached out to those publishers our researchers publish with in significant quantities to ask them for the following data on Cambridge authors: Peer Reviewing, Publishing, Citing, Editing, and Downloading.

This is exactly what the University of California is demanding. One of the reasons we need to ask publishers for peer review information is because it is basically hidden work. Aggregating systems like Publons do help a bit, although the Cambridge count of reviewers in the system is only 492 which is only a small percentage of the whole. Publons was bought out by Clarivate Analytics (which was Thompson Reuters before this and ISI before that) a year ago. We did approach Clarivate Analytics for some data about our peer reviewing, but declined to pay the eye watering quoted fee.

What have we received?

Contrary to our assumptions, many of the publishers responded saying that this information is difficult to compile because it is held on different systems and that multiple people would need to be contacted. Sometimes this is because publishers are responsible for the publication of learned society journals so information is not stored centrally.  They also fed back that much of the data is not readily available in a digestible format. 

Some publishers have responded with data on Cambridge peer reviewers and editors, usage statistics, and citation information. A big thank you to Emerald, SAGE, Wiley, the Royal Society and eLife. We are in active correspondence with Hindawi and PLOS. [STOP PRESS: SpringerNature provided their data 30 minutes after this blog went live, so thanks to them as well].

However, a number of publishers have not responded to our requests and one in particular would like to have a meeting with us before releasing any information.

Findings so far

The brief for the project was to ‘understand how our researchers interact with the literature’.  While we wrote the brief ourselves, we have come to realise it is actually very vague. We have tried to gather any data we can to start answering this question.

What the data we have so far is helping us understand is how much is being spent on APCs outside the central management of the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC). The OSC manages the block grants from the RCUK (now UKRI) and the Charities Open Access Fund, but does not look after payments for open access for research funded by, say the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the NIH. This means that there is a not insignificant amount of extra expenditure on top of that  coordinated by the OSC. These amounts are extremely difficult to ascertain as observed in 2014.

We already collect and report on how much the Office of Scholarly Communication has spent on APCs since 2013. However some prepayment deals makes the data difficult to analyse because of the way the information is presented to us. For example, Cambridge began using the Wiley Dashboard in the middle of the year with the first claim against it on 6 July 2016, so information after that date is fuzzy.

The other issue with comparing how much a publisher has received in APCs and how much the OSC has paid (to determine the difference) is dates. We have already talked at length about date problems in this space. But here the issue is publisher provided numbers are based on calendar years. Our reporting years differ – RCUK reports from April to March and COAF from October to September, so pulling this information together is difficult.

Our current approach to understanding the complete expenditure on APCs, apart from analysing the data being provided by (some) publishers, is to establish all of the suppliers to whom the OSC has paid an APC and obtain the supplier number. This list of supplier numbers can then be run against the whole University to identify payments outside the OSC.

This project is far from straightforward. Every dataset we have will require some enhancement. We have published a short sister post on what we have learned so far about organising data for analysis. But we are hoping over the next couple of months to start getting a much clearer idea of what Cambridge is contributing into the system – in terms of papers, peer review and editorial work in addition to our subscriptions and APCs. We need more evidence based decision making for negotiation.

Footnote

* There has been some discussion in listservs about who is behind the Call to Action and the Declaration. Thanks to Jeff MacKie-Mason, University Librarian and Professor, School of Information and Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, we are happy to clarify:

  • The Declaration is by the faculty senate’s library committee – University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication (UCOLASC)
  • The Call to Action is by the University of California’s Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Advisory Committee, UCOLASC, and the UC Council of University Librarians, who: “seek to engage the entire UC academic community, and indeed all stakeholders in the scholarly communication enterprise, in this journey of transformation”.

Published 26 June 2018 (amended 27 June 2018)
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley & Katie Hughes
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Reflections on Open Research – a PI’s perspective

As part of the Open Research Pilot Project, Marta Teperek met with Dr David Savage and asked him several questions about his own views and motivations for Open Research. This led to a very inspiring conversation and great reflections on Open Research from the Principal Investigator’s perspective. The main points that came out of the discussion were:

  • Lack of reproducibility raises questions about scientific rigour, integrity and relevance of work in general
  • Being open is to work in a team and be collaborative
  • Open Research will benefit science as a whole, and not the careers of individuals
  • Peer review remains a critical aspect of the scientific process
  • Nowadays, global collaboration and information exchange is possible, making the data really robust
  • Funders should emphasise the importance of research integrity and scientific rigour

This conversation is reported below in the original interview format.

Motivations for doing Open Research

Marta: To start, could you tell me why you are keen on Open Research and why did you decide to get involved in the Open Research Pilot Project?

David: Sure, but before we start I wanted to stress that when I make comments about science, these are very general comments and they don’t apply to anyone in particular.

So my general feeling is that I am very concerned and disappointed about the lack of research reproducibility in science. Lack of reproducibility raises questions about scientific rigour, integrity and relevance of work in general. Therefore, I am really keen on exploring ways of addressing these failings of science and I want to make a contribution to solving these problems. Additionally, I am aware that I am not perfect either and I want to learn how I can improve my own practice.

Were there any particular experiences which made you realise the importance of Open Research?

This is just the general experience of reading and also reviewing far too many papers where I thought that the quality of underlying data was poor, or authors were exaggerating their claims without supporting evidence. There is too much hype around, and the general awareness about the number of papers published in high impact journals which cannot be reproduced makes the move to more transparent and open approaches necessary.

Do we need additional rewards for working openly?

How do you think Open Research could benefit academic careers?

I am not sure if Open Research could or should benefit academic careers – this should not be the goal of Open Research. The goal is to improve the quality of science and therefore the benefit of science to the public. Open Research will benefit science as a whole, and not the careers of individuals. Science has become very egotistical and badge –accumulating. We should be investigating things which we find interesting. We should not be motivated by the prize. We should be motivated by the questions.

In science we have far too many people who behave like bankers. Publishing seems to be the currency for them and thus they are sloppy and lack the necessary rigour just because they want to publish as fast as they can.

In my opinion it is the responsibility of every researcher to the profession to try to produce data which is robust. It is fine to make honest mistakes. But it is not acceptable to be sloppy or fraudulent, or not to read enough literature. These are simply not good enough excuses. I’m not claiming to be perfect. But I want to constantly improve myself and my research practice.

Barriers to greater openness in research

What obstacles may be preventing researchers from making their research openly available?

The obvious one is competition for funding, which creates the need to publish in high impact factor journals and consequently leads to the fear of being scooped. And that’s a difficult one to work around. That’s the reason why I do not make everything we do in my research group openly available. However, looking at this from society’s perspective, everything should be made openly available, and as soon as possible for the sake of greater benefit to mankind. So balance needs to be found.

Do you think that some researchers might want to make their research open, but might not know how to do it, or might not have the appropriate skills to do it?

Definitely. Researchers need to know about the best ways of making their research open. I am currently trying to work out how to make my own project’s website more open and accessible to others and what are the best ways of achieving this. So yes, awareness of tools and awareness of resources available is necessary, as well as training about working reproducibly and openly. In my opinion, Cambridge has a responsibility to be transparent and open about its processes.

Role of peer-review in improving the quality of research

What frustrates you most about the current scholarly communication systems?

Some people get frustrated with the business model of some of the major publishers. I do not have a problem with it, although I do support the idea of pre-print services, such as bioRxiv. Some researchers get frustrated about long peer-review process. I am used to the fact that peer-review is long, and I accept it because I do not want fraudulent papers to be published. However, flawed peer review, such as biased peer-review or lack of rigorous peer review, is not acceptable and it is a problem.

So how to improve the peer-review process?

I think that peer-reviewers need to have greater awareness of the need for greater rigour. I was recently asked to peer review an article. The journal had dedicated guidance for peer reviewers. However, the guidance did not contain any information about suitability to undertake the peer-reviewing work. Peer-reviewer guidance documents need to address questions like: Do you really know what the paper is about? Do you know the discipline well enough? Are there any conflicts of interest? Would you have the time to properly peer-review the work? Peer-review needs to be done properly.

What do you think about the idea of journals employing professional peer-reviewers, who could be experts in their respective fields and could perform unbiased, high quality peer-review?

This sounds very reasonable, as long as professional peer-reviewers stay up to date with science. Though this would of course cost money!

I suppose publishers have enough money to pay for this. Have you heard of open peer-review and what do you think about it?

I think it is fine, but it might be subject to cronyism. I suspect that most people will be more likely to agree for their reviews to be made open as long as they make a recommendation for the paper to be accepted.

I recently reviewed a paper of a senior person and I rejected it. But if I made my review open, it would pose a risk to me – what if the author of the paper I rejected was the reviewer of my future grant application? Would they still assess my grant application objectively? What if people start reviewing each other’s papers and start treating peer-review as a mechanism to exchange favours?

The future of Open Research is in your hands

Who or what inspires you and makes you optimistic about the future of Open Research?

In Cambridge and at the Wellcome Trust there are many researchers who care about the quality of science. These researchers inspire me. These are very clever people, who work hard and make important discoveries.

I am also inspired by teamwork and collaboration. In Big Data and in human genetics in particular, people are working collectively. Human genetics and epidemiology are excellent examples of disciplines where 10-20 years ago studies were too small to allow researchers to make significant and reproducible conclusions. Nowadays, global collaboration and information exchange is possible, making the data really robust. As a result, human genetics is delivering really important observations.

To me, part of being open is to work in a team and be collaborative.

If you had a magic wand and if you could get one thing changed to get more people share and open up their research, what would it be?

Not sure… I suppose I am still looking for it! Maybe I will find one during the Open Research Pilot Project. Seriously speaking, I do not believe that a single thing could make a difference. It is the little things that matter. For example, on my side I am trying to make my own lab and institute more aware of reproducibility issues and ensure that I can make a difference in my own environment.

So as a Group Leader, how do you ensure that researchers in your own group are rigorous in their approach?

First, I really make them aware of the importance of reproducible research and of scientific rigour. I am also making a lot of effort to ensure that my colleagues are up to date with literature. I ask them if they read important literature and if they are unable to answer I ask them to do their homework. I am also imposing rigorous standards for experiments. In my lab people repeat the key experiments, or those which are particularly surprising, in a blind fashion. It takes a lot of time and extra resources, but it is important not to be too quick and to validate findings before making claims.

I am also ensuring that my people are motivated. For example, even though everyone helps each other in my group, all PhD students have direct access to me and we have regular discussions about their work. It is important that your group is of a manageable size; otherwise, as a group leader, you will not know all your people and you will not be able to have regular discussions about their work.

How do you identify people who care about reproducible research when making hiring decisions?

I ask all prospective applicants to make a short presentation about their previous work. During their presentation I ask them to tell me exactly what their research question was and how confident they were about their discovery. I am looking for evidence of rigorous methodology, but also for honesty and for people who are not overselling their findings.

In addition, I ask about their career goals. If they tell me that their career goal is to publish in Nature, or have two papers in Science, I count this against them. Instead, I favour applicants who are question-driven, who want to make progress in understanding how things work.

Role of funding bodies in promoting Open Research

Do you think that funders could play a role in promoting Open Research?

Funders could definitely contribute to this. The Wellcome Trust is a particularly notable example of a funding body keen on Open Research. The Trust is currently looking into the best ways to make Open Research the norm. Through various projects such as the Open Research Pilot, the Trust helps researchers like myself to learn best practice on reproducible research,and also to understand the benefits of sharing expertise to improve skills across the research community.

Do you think funder policies to mandate more openness could help?

Potentially. However, policies on Open Access to publications are easy to mandate and relatively easy to interpret and implement. It is much more difficult for Open Research. What does Open Research mean exactly? The right scope and definitions would be key. What should be made open? How? The Wellcome Trust is already doing a lot of work on making important research results available, and human genomic data in particular. But making your proteomic and genomic data publicly available is slightly different from ensuring that your experiments are rigorous and your results honest. So in my opinion, funders should emphasise the importance of research integrity and scientific rigour.

To close our discussion, what do you hope to achieve through your participation in the Open Research Pilot Project?

I want to improve my own lab’s transparency. I want to make sure that we are rigorous and that our research is reproducible. So I want to learn. At the same time I wish to contribute to increased research integrity in science overall.

Acknowledgements

Marta Teperek would like to thank SPARC EUROPE and Dr Joyce Heckman for interviewing her for the Open Data Champions programme – many of the questions asked by Marta in the interview with Dr David Savage originate from inspiring, open questions prepared by SPARC EUROPE.

Published 22 June 2017
Written by Dr Marta Teperek

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How to get the most out of modern peer-review

On 30th March the Office of Scholarly Communication hosted an event How to get the most out of modern peer-review, bringing together researchers, publishers and library staff to discuss how peer review is changing. Dr Laurent Gatto was both a presenter and a participant, and with permission we have re-posted his blog about the event here.

Publisher presentations

There were presentations from eLife (Dr Wei Mun Chan) and F1000Research (Dr Sabina Alam, @Sab_Ra) in the Innovations in peer-review session. PeerJ was mentioned several times, for publishing their peer reviews, for example.

I general, I think the presenters did a good job in demonstrating modern peer review on how it can benefit authors and research in general: eLife with its consultative peer review, where editors and reviewers discuss their views and opinions before a decision is made, and F1000Research with their open post-publication peer review system. My personal experience with PeerJ (as a reviewer) and F1000Research (as a reviewer and author) have been excellent. All these journals are great venues for a modern open scholar.

Dr Jen Wright (@JennWrights) from Cambridge University Press presented a nice and detailed overview of how peer review works. I was well structured, following a FAQ model. She also very entertainingly illustrated her talk with references to PHDcomis, Lego Grad Student and Shit Academics Say.

.@JennWrights uses @legogradstudent to illustrate her peer review faq at  (View image in Twitter).

Open peer review

The highlight of the day was Corina’s (@LoganCorina) brilliant Open peer review – what is it and what does it achieve? talk. She made a strong point in favour of open peer review and reviewing ethics. Read her lab code of conduct about reviewing ethics, as well as publishing ethics, her commitment to conducting rigorous science, lab interpersonal interactions.

I was nice to hear how her efforts in ethical publishing and reviewing proved to have been very positive for her academic career, which contrasts to the fear that some early career researcher sometimes express that practising open science and ethical publishing could hinder their careers.

The role of peer-reviewers in promoting open science

I was also very happy to have the opportunity to give a talk about the role of peer review in promoting open science. My slides are available here. I plan to write it up and expand on it in a blog post.

In brief, my main message was that, it we want to promote rigorous science, we have an obligation to make sure that the data, software and methods are adequately shared and described, and that it was not too difficult or time consuming to check this as a peer reviewer.

Currently, as far as data is concerned, my ideal review system would be a 2-stage process, where

  1. Submit your data and meta-data to a repository, where it get’s checked (by specialists, data scientists, data curators) for quality, annotation, meta-data.
  2. Submit your research with a link to the peer reviewed data.

My talk earned me a lot of feed back and encouragements, both off and online.

View image on Twitter

The effect on my twitter activity today – the 12 – 2pm bar is 1689 impressions 🙂 (View image on Twitter)

Publons

I had heard about Publons before, but never took the time to learn more about it. Tom Culley made a great job at presenting it as a means to Getting formal recognition for your peer review work. I will definitely give it a go in the near future.

Show me the data

I went to Dr Varsha Khodiyar’s (@varsha_khodiyar) workshop Show me the data : tips and tricks with peer-reviewing research data. Varsha is the data curation editor at Scientific Data. I am not necessarily a big fan of data journals (see here for some background), but it is clear that she is doing great work making sure that the data that she checks and curated (in addition to the peer review) is available under an open license and of good quality.

When it comes to data/software submissions, I believe that often, many shortcomings are more a result of lack of adequate skills or experience in the process of good practice in sharing and documenting, rather that poor quality of the output. The review process should ideally serve as a way to support and education researchers, and the Bioconductor and rOpenSci projects are great examples of how the package review process is a way to genuinely help the authors to improve on their output, rather than a binary accept/reject outcome.

A closed 2-stage peer review, like is typically in place in journals is a horrible system for than. An open review, with more interactions between reviewers and authors would be a more efficient approach.

More about the event

To hear more about the event, have a look at the #oscpeereview hashtag on twitter. The event was live streamed and will be made available on YouTube in the coming day – I will add a link later.

All in all, I think it was a great event. Kudos to the Office of Scholarly Communication for their efforts and continuous dedication. As emphasised by many participants, events like this constitute a unique and important channel highlighting important innovations in digital and open science that are redesigning scholarship. They are also a unique venue where open researcher can express and discuss challenges and opportunities with the wider academic community.

Published 4 April 2017
Written by Dr Laurent Gatto
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