Academic publishing and scholarly communications: Good reads, October 2016

Some of you would agree that staying on top of the happenings in the scholarly world this month was no mean feat! After all, October was one of the most titillating months of this year with the celebration of the International Open Access Week, the announcement of the 2016 Nobel Prizes, and many interesting discussions on topics such as the lack of freedom for researchers to explore their potential, how Brexit government’s intentions are worrying UK researchers, and more. To ensure that you didn’t miss out on any of the whirr, our team of editors has curated the most titillating and thought-provoking deliberations they came across. Glad reading!

1. Is the academic culture stifling researchers’ freedom? Four influential researchers – Tolu Oni, Fabio Sciarrino, Gerardo Adesso, and Rob Knight – argue that the policies of research funders and institutions hinder researchers from exploring their potential. These researchers, who are part of the World Economic Forum’s group of scientists under the age of 40 and play a pivotal role in “integrating scientific skill into society for the public good,” are of the opinion that the presently followed practices in academia are withholding researchers’ freedom, which in the long run, can hamper innovation. They point out that the emphasis on track records of researchers while assessing grant applications and the lack of programs that permit early career and mid-career researchers to switch trajectories are the two main factors that need alteration. According to them, the solution to these issues lies in training researchers to understand the importance of interdisciplinary research and grant reviewers to take into consideration researchers’ interest in making a shift in field or research area.

Two. How editors tackle the revise and resubmit cycles: The numerous rounds of revision and resubmission are often frustrating for authors since they have to keep dedicating their time and effort to make their paper publication worthy. However, this process is not effortless for the editors either, according to Angela Cochran who is the Director of Journals for the American Society of Civil Engineers. She explains that editors and editorial boards are under tremendous pressure to shorten the timelines inbetween manuscript conformity and publication. Going through several rounds of revision means the editor has to ensure that the reviewers review manuscripts on time and authors are given adequate time to make switches. If a journal is too quick or takes too long to go through this process, it faces criticism. This sometimes compels them to reject a paper that would require major revisions or accept a paper that has passable standards.  Angela also states other problems such as authors failing to notify that they do not intend to send a revised version. To counter this problem, she encourages authors to communicate openly with editors about their problems or opinions on the review.

Three. The challenges of being a researcher: SciDev.Net, an information portal for the academic community, conducted a survey involving 80 researchers from all over the world to understand the challenges they face, the pitfalls that they thought every researcher should avoid, and the advice they dreamed to share with their peers based on their own practices. Based on their survey results, the top five challenges researchers face include getting funding, becoming isolated from others, the lack of skill-based training, the lack of relevant data or literature to support them during their research, and the difficulty in maintaining a focused topic of investigate. Based on these responses, SciDev.Net has also collective some tips to help researchers overcome each of these challenges such as sharing ideas with trustworthy people outside of research group, improving communication abilities, and being active on social media.

Four. Brexit government’s intentions have UK scientists worried: Scientists are rattled by the Brexit government’s stance of restricting movement of scientists inbetween the UK and the EU. The Theresa May government has given the very first indications of its anti-immigration inclination at the annual Conservative party conference held in Birmingham in early October. Scientists in the UK are worried because this means that they may be excluded from EU funding programs. UK home secretary Amber Rudd said in her conference speech that the government would consider making it stiffer to recruit from overseas, having companies to disclose the proportion of foreign staff they are employing, and cutting down on universities’ capability to recruit foreign students. Many scientists have voiced their concern at this because they feel that the government’s priority in reducing the number of people coming to the UK could be hurting to the economy.

Five. Libraries under pressure due to gold OA publishing: The gold open access model of publishing, which involves article processing charges (APCs), is growing steadily. Katie Shamash, a scholarly communications analyst at Jisc, analyzed the available APC data to find out the influence of APCs on libraries. The data for this analysis came from UK universities, the Reseach Councils UK (RCUK), and the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF) about how much they spend on APCs throughout the year. Here are the key insights that she presents in this article: 1. Libraries are facing enlargened pressure from both subscriptions and APCs, and APCs are now an increasingly significant portion of institutions’ overall spend. Two. The quickly narrowing gap inbetween gold open access APCs and those of hybrid journals present an extra concern. Trio. The administrative difficulties that can lead to underreporting of APC expenditure demonstrate the importance of opening up the data and promoting a fully semi-transparent marketplace.

6. Is bad science a result of bad incentives? In this interesting post Bethany Brookshire talks about how the ‘publish or perish’ culture proceeds to harm science as well as the careers of researchers. As a result of the constant pressure to publish, most researchers spend their time attempting to meet or exceed expectations. But this could have dangerous implications for scientific development, as it could lead to messy science getting selected in the competitive game. The definition of success in science seems to be misplaced – instead of referring to a groundbreaking discovery, for researchers, success means finding employment, and unluckily, this idea of success has become finely ingrained in their minds. It’s time for a culture and mindset shift in academia.

7. Researchers have little time for research: In response to a post on Facebook by Nature asking youthful scientists to share their challenges, scientists kicking off labs said that they were under immense pressure to publish, secure funding, and earn permanent positions, leaving them very little time for actual research, reports Kendall Powell. According to Powell, some data and anecdotal evidence suggests that the present generation of scientists does face more hurdles in kicking off research groups than their counterparts did a few decades ago. They are weighed down by a growing bureaucratic cargo, with little administrative support. Moreover, they are largely judged on their record of publishing and of winning grants. This increasingly competitive environment is not only taking a toll on the scientists’ private and professional lives, but also stifling their creativity and pushing them “to do mediocre science.” Such a situation is making research an unwelcoming career for many.

This is it for this month! We’ll be back with another list in November. Go after our monthly reading lists for more such interesting updates. And if you would like to stay tuned to significant happenings in the journal publishing industry, visit our Industry News section. 

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