Month: November 2014

In:  Guest Blog  

What has ruffled the Open Access feathers of Brazilian Science Editors?

Latin American Birds by Deni Williams, Flickr, CC BY
Latin American Birds by Deni Williams, Flickr, CC BY

We are delighted to welcome Germana Barata, a science communicator at State University of Campinas (Unicamp), editor of Ciência e Cultura magazine – a publication of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science – to our guest blog. We’ve covered a few other stories about Brazilian Scientists on our blog so we’re delighted to carry another one.

The Brazilian science editors’ community was surprised on Oct. 29 when the Coordination of Improvement of Personnel in Higher Education (CAPES) announced that it will launch two tenders to “internationalize” 100 Brazilian journals through an agreement with a Non Brazilian publisher. The proposal was announced during a meeting attended by few invited Brazilian editors and five huge global for profit publishers (Elsevier, Emerald, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley). Neither members of the Brazilian Association of Science Editors (ABEC) nor SciELO – the largest Open Access repository of science publications in the country and one of the largest in the world – were informed about the meeting.

Last week, the community of science editors met up at the VIII Workshop on Scientific Publishing in Campos do Jordão, São Paulo State, and decided to publish an open letter directed to CAPES. Although the Brazilian community of science editors view the CAPES proposal as a positive effort to internationalize, provide visibility and professionalize Brazilian journals, they want the process to be transparent and to be heard during it.

The open letter (published on Nov. 20), signed by Sigmar Rode de Melo, the president of ABEC, and Abel Packer, the coordinator of SciELO/Fapesp coordinator, requests that the tenders are suspended and reformulated.

Among the priority items listed in the letter is the matter of why international publishers were consulted before those in Brazil. The letter states that any tender must be done in a transparent and competitive context that considers – in a fair way – “the interest and priority of research and advances of science communication in Brazil, as it has been happening”. The letter concludes thus:

Based on these considerations, we propose that the resources announced by CAPES become available to pay article processing charge of papers by authors who are members of Brazilian institutions and that are published in high quality journals published in the country.  This way, the resources will be applied in a transparent way by researchers that will give priority to use the funding in the communication of their research in Brazilian journals with better performance. These resources from CAPES can be implemented  by contributions from other agencies and research institutions in Brazil in a move to establish a national fund to ensure rational, effective and sustainable funding for Open Access publication of quality journals from Brazil. ABEC Brazil and SciELO have an interest in contributing to this movement and the development of the national fund. Thus, Brazil will hold a groundbreaking and innovative breakthrough in science communication through Open Access.

Improved research communication

Importantly, ABEC and SciELO are not convinced that simply handing over their national publications to one of these international and traditional for-profit publisher’s will bring the twin desired results of increased visibility for Brazilian science on the world stage and the publication of more work. They believe that a better way forward would be to support Brazilian journals so that Brazil can strengthen, adopt and develop national capacities and infrastructure through greater understanding of the international policies and practices of publishing. They also wish to ensure that Brazilian editors keep autonomy over editing and publication process under an international publisher; and if these Brazilian journals will be able to be financially sustainable after meeting the new standards set by the international publisher, since the editing costs will increase. And of course, they wish to ensure that access to the articles contained in Brazilian publications remains as open as possible.

Investment estimated at $10mm

CAPES has not officially announced the investment amount. Yet, members of Brazilian publishers and science editors at the Workshop have estimated investments around US$ 10 million (25 million Brazilian Reais) directed to just one publisher. For comparative purposes, the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation – through the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) – made a public call last November 7 (CNPq n.25 / 2014) of R$6 million (US$2,4 million) to support the domestic editing and publication of science journals.

Scientific publishing in Brazil

Brazil publishes around 2,7% of the world’s scientific papers and around 97% of all Brazilian journals are Open Access. Last January, SciELO made all its journals available at Web of Science in a move to improve international visibility. Government funding agencies cover the editing costs for Brazilian journals. The sustainability of this model, however, has been questioned due to rising costs of Brazilian journals, particularly with new criteria established by SciELO, such as converting files to XML (Extensible Markup Language Generic), which becomes mandatory from January 2015. Other criteria are planned to start in 2016, such as the need to include a greater percentage of papers in English (the majority is still published in Portuguese) and foreign peer-review referees.

Around 10% of Brazilian journals offer Gold Open Access which makes content freely and immediately available. Publication fees are levied to generate revenue to the journal. The Revista de Saúde Pública (Journal of Public Health) of São Paulo University (USP), indexed in SciELO, charges from R$1,500 (US$600) for original paper, review and comments to R$1,000 (US$400) for brief communications, while the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, also in SciELO, charges R$2,200 (US$880).

Recent experience

According to Antonio Martins Figueiredo Neto, editor of the Brazilian Journal of Physics (BJP) – who left SciELO in 2011 went it transferred to Springer – the process of submission, review and professional production has completely changed since then. The result, he says, “has increased the journal’ visibility, and increased the number of paper submissions”. On the other hand, today BJP can be read either by payment of US$39,95 per paper or a subscription fee. Figueiredo Neto informed me that the cost of R$20,000 (US$8,000) per issue is funded by CNPq. “There is, however, an expectation that after the journal gets royalties from Springer, from the sale of subscriptions, that it will be self-sustainable in a few years”.

Climb down

Following pressure from the science editors, the Ministry of Education (that hosts CAPES) announced (Nov. 21) that there is no budget definition nor a tender model under development. And that the Brazilian editors will choose if they want an international publisher and that the publisher chosen will only host and provide visibility, full editorial responsibility will remain national.

What we can take from this experience is that CAPES’ move to internationalize the top 100 Brazilian journal has already guaranteed an increase in the visibility and impact of the community of national editors and publishers and issues pertaining to Brazilian Science Communication and Open Access.

Source: This post is based on the news originally published at ComCiência Magazine, news, 17th November 2014.


The times they are a changing – improving the postdoc experience

We are delighted to welcome Benjamin Cain (@BenCainPhD), a Postdoctoral Researcher in Astrophysics at UC Davis, CA, USA and member of the UC Postdoc Union, UAW 5810, to our guest blog. We’ve covered a few other stories about Earlier Career Reseachers and some from Post Docs on our blog, so we’re delighted to carry another one. And, just as a reminder, co-founder Alexander Grossmann, waived fees for Earlier Career Researchers for Open Access Week 2014, offer expires end of Nov 2014. Now, over to Ben.

I have a job proposition for you.

You’ll be making less than $4000 per month, time off and sick leave aren’t guaranteed, you’ll probably have to pay for your own healthcare, and, let’s be honest, you’ll probably be working well over 40 hours a week (meaning you’ll probably be earning less than $20/hour).  You need to be innovative, at the cutting edge of scientific research, be a leader in your field, train your junior co-workers, and you’ll probably have to do this for at least 5 years before you can even think about moving up the ladder, which may or may not be an option.  And did we mention that you’ll need a PhD?

Image credit: walking out the door. woodley wonder works, Flickr, CC BY
Image credit: walking out the door. woodley wonder works, Flickr, CC BY

Sorry, where did you go, are you still interested?

If this sounds like your life, you’re probably one of the 60,000 or so postdoctoral researchers at numerous institutions across the US.  And if it sounds like a bad deal, you’re not alone. The right to stable benefits, well-defined minimum salaries, guaranteed annual pay raises, discrimination protections, sick leave and paid time off, a fair and transparent system for resolving grievances, were among the many reasons that postdocs at the University of California began building a union in 2005. And while scientists probably aren’t the first thing people think of when they think of union workers, UC postdocs join a long tradition in the labor movement of academics coming together collectively to improve their working conditions.

Since ratifying their first contract in 2010, myself and other members of the UC postdocs union, UAW 5810, have made significant improvements to the postdoc experience at UC.  Not only has the average salary for a UC postdoc risen by 14% to ~$47,800 over the past four years, postdocs are guaranteed health insurance for themselves and their partners/dependents, are guaranteed access to career development resources, have increased paid time off and better job security than ever before.  In addition to these direct gains, having a union has increased UC postdocs’ ability to advocate for the interests of postdocs and scientists in California and across the country.  We’ve met with legislators at both the federal and state levels to advocate on issues like increased science funding, comprehensive immigration reform, and gender equity in the workplace, among others.  We’ve also communicated directly with funding agencies like the NIH to make sure that the postdoc voice is heard.  With our union we’ve been able to marshall a much stronger collective voice than would have been possible otherwise.

It’s clear that we’ve made significant progress for UC postdocs through our union. But taking a step back, it’s clear that there is a lot more work to be done. Though salaries have increased, the fact is that postdocs are still significantly underpaid relative to similarly qualified workers in a variety of industries. The University of California takes in over five billion dollars (yes, that’s a “B”) in federal research funds every year, and postdocs are involved in the majority of the research work that represents. Postdocs do research, train undergraduate and graduate students, maintain lab equipment, help apply for funding, and keep the science enterprise rolling. Postdocs are an essential component of the scientific research workforce, but are not compensated to match.

These economic issues have important implications for academia more broadly. The low level of postdoc salaries relative to other opportunities can have the effect of pushing postdocs with families, and women in particular, out of science research careers. As the amount of time to get a PhD has risen, this is affecting a larger and larger portion of the postdoc pool. For international postdocs, which is well over half of postdocs at UC, this is a particular concern since some visas do not allow spouses to work and therefore require many postdoc families to survive on a single income.  The lack of childcare benefits puts additional pressure on postdocs, and again especially women, to drop out of research careers because of the strain of balancing work alongside parenting responsibilities. This is exacerbated by the fact that most of the UC campuses are located in the most expensive cities in California, where housing and childcare are increasingly unaffordable on postdoc salaries.

In the context of the open access publishing movement that has exploded in the past few years, these economic issues highlight an important misalignment of priorities. Consider what might be achieved if the funds spent on for-profit publishing were instead invested in the labor that goes into producing scientific results. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars inflating the profit margins of a few publishing companies, we could be funding new areas of research, making sure that the researchers who did the work were better paid, and overall improving the diversity and vibrancy of our academic community.

So where do we go from here? We’ve made important gains but postdoc working conditions need further progress that reflects our contributions to UC’s research. At the end of September, 2015 the first contract for the postdoc union, UAW 5810, will expire, so next year we will going back to the bargaining table with UC.  What we’ll be fighting for goes beyond just what is good for postdocs at UC.  We don’t accept the status quo in academia as good enough for postdocs at any institution, and we’ll be standing up for a change in how postdocs are viewed across the US.  We’re an essential part of the research workforce, and by standing together we will make sure that our voice is heard and improve the lives of postdocs at UC and across the country.

Want to know more about the UAW 5810 story and how postdocs have benefitted from building a union?  Check out our Point of View piece in eLife. Also, Plant Scientist Benjamin Schwessinger (@schwessinger) has posted a blog at the ASPB entitled How UC postdocs benefit from building their own union! (Who’s next?)

In:  Announcements  

The next wave of Open Access? If you never try, you will never know!

Image credit: Umbrella movement, Alex, K.M. Yau, Flickr, CC BY
Image credit: Umbrella movement, Alex, K.M. Yau, Flickr, CC BY

One question that has always intrigued me is “what new activities are enabled when Open Access content from different publishers is available on the same platform and the community is given the tools to curate it”?

Now, thanks to the growth in Open Access content, our latest feature release which includes refined search and community tools for content curation (thanks Ed, Dave, Raj and Jeff from the Dev team), it could just be that I am one step closer to finding out.

To get back to basics, ScienceOpen offers three main services to researchers:


1. We aggregate OA content from other sources

2. We offer rapid publishing services

3. We facilitate expert peer review after publication

The new features that we just released on Friday last week, were built to help researchers find and curate content from nearly 1.4mm articles on our site (per 1. above). All the major OA providers have content here, PLOS, BMC, F1000Research, PeerJ etc. While we were working on this release, we also added new drill down search options including the ability to filter by content source: ScienceOpen, ArXiv and PubMed Central. This is an important add because the community said they wanted greater delineation between our own and mirrored content. The first step for us in response to this feedback was to offer visual markers and now we’ve added filtering to make this abundantly clear.

In terms of what to do with the articles once they have been located, we’ve developed a rather nifty Collection tool to help draw content together and customize it’s appearance, you can see two initial examples here using our own content: ScienceOpen Research and ScienceOpen Posters.  We’ve also developed a new role called “Community Editor” and our Editorial team will offer these positions to researchers (the role carries a modest stipend). These indiviudals can choose which existing content they want to feature in their Collection and if they wish, decide which articles need to be written in order to fill content gaps and call for more. Editors are also empowered to invite others at all career levels to assist them. It also seems likely that societies, disease organizations and other groups will be interested in customized channels and they are equally welcome to get involved.

So what’s motivating us to do this?

Image credit: justinc, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
Image credit: justinc, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

It’s about democratizing publishing in the broadest possible sense of the phrase.

  • We believe that siloeing OA content on Publisher’s websites isn’t in the true spirit of Open Access and we’re proud to be first to break the mold in this regard. Which publisher brands research is irrelevant as long as the content is sound.
  • We believe that “journals”, whether “mega”, highly specialized or super selective are becoming outmoded. What we need are channels where OA content can be digitally spliced, diced or amassed in anyway the community prefers.
  • We believe in giving the power for content creation, curation and review fully back to the research community who have the discipline specific expertise to do the best possible job in these roles. Researchers, at all career levels, gain valuable roles (as Reviewers and Community Editors) and experience which raise their professional profile and give them some (DOI’s, modest stipends) recognition (more is required).
  • We believe that whether content is “worthy” is a matter for the community, which is why we only offer Expert Post-Publication Peer Review (Non Anonymous).
  • We believe that the conversation about research is never over, that’s why we don’t put a hard line under content and call it “approved” and why we offer versioining.

We recently hired Richard Gallagher, an esteemed alum of Nature, Science and The Scientist, to the ScienceOpen team in the role of Consulting Editor, to help us develop this vision.

We may be a tiny minnow, swimming with some big fish in an even larger pond, but we are relishing our role of moving with (and sometimes against) the tide to transform research communnication.

In:  Announcements  

A warm OA welcome to Richard Gallagher – Consulting Editor

Richard Gallagher
Richard Gallagher

It gives us great pleasure to announce the addition of Richard Gallagher, an esteemed alum of Nature, Science and The Scientist, to the ScienceOpen team in the role of Consulting Editor. Richard is based in the Bay Area so his appointment expands our Californian footprint, our other locations being Berlin (Editorial HQ) and Boston (Software and Development HQ). Richard is a convert to the Open Access cause and is an enthusiastic supporter so we’re delighted to have him join at this time of great change!

Richard’s research background includes a BSc in Immunology and a PhD in Cell Biology (cell adhesion and immune response) from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. After this, Richard became a Post-Doctoral Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland where he studied Immunological aspects of Sarcoidosis and his final post in academia was as a Wellcome Trust Lecturer in Immunology at Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland.

He made the transfer to publishing in 1989 and never looked back! He was the Chief Biology Editor, Nature, and then its Publisher; he established the Science office in Europe where he was Office Head and Senior Editor and he was Editor and Publisher at The Scientist.

Despite this illustrious background, Richard is an eminently approachable individual, always up for a new challenge and well known and liked in the Scientific Publishing Industry. On a personal note, I worked for Richard at Nature and am simply delighted to have this opportunity to work with him again.

Richard’s role at ScienceOpen is pivotal in terms of empowering the research community to take leadership roles on the site and curate discipline specific Open Access content from a range of top Publishers (including PLOS, BMC, Faculty 1000 Research, PeerJ etc) into Collections or mini-journals that they can create using tools specifically built for the task. “Community Editor” Roles, with a modest stipend, will be available for those who want to participate, so watch this blog and our Twitter and Facebook page for further announcements.

Image credit: Scotland Grunge Flag by Nicolas Raymond, Flickr, CC BY
Image credit: Scotland Grunge Flag by Nicolas Raymond, Flickr, CC BY

And just in case you are curious, Richard is a Scotsman born and bred, he would have voted YES on independence and owns a kilt!

If you want to contact Richard directly, please email him at


A warm OA welcome to new Editorial Board Member Professor Thoralf Niendorf

Image credit: Professor Thoralf Niendorf, MDC (with permission).

ScienceOpen Editor, Nana Bit-Avragim, interviewed new Editorial Board Member Professor Thoralf Niendorf, a physicist who holds the chair of Experimental Ultrahigh Field Magnetic Resonance (MR) at Charité, University Hospital in Berlin, Germany and who is head of the Berlin Ultrahigh Field Facility at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC).

The research interests of Prof. Niendorf include the development of novel magnetic resonance methodology and technology to advance the diagnostic capabilities of (bio)medical imaging. The technology developed in his laboratory is dedicated to shedding light on the underlying (patho)physiological processes and biophysical mechanisms of cardio- and neurovascular diseases. This demonstrates a fully translational approach to personalized medicine capable of fostering innovation and knowledge transfer between basic research and (pre)clinical applications.

Q1. Tell us a little bit about your interest in Open Access science and your opinion about the current state of affairs in science publishing. What has been your experience?

TN: Due to many different commitments, I can read just a few publications per week. That means that I do carefully select what papers and in which journals I read. I prefer to basically work with the journal that appears to be “working” with me. I think there is massive information waste happening in traditional scientific publishing. You know, during scientific conferences every participant can openly and actively ask or comment on data presented in talks or posters. The presenter and his/her co-workers are looking for an inspiring discussion in order to advance their research. This is a beneficial process for everyone, including the general audience, the presenter and the project collaborators. Yet, the process of open information exchange has mainly disappeared from the traditional peer review system. The readers cannot recognize or follow any changes to a manuscript in the scientific discourse. However, I believe that transparent discussion of scientific results while peer review is in process, as practiced by ScienceOpen and other journals, should be offered to readers. This system highlights the very important role of scientific discourse. The vast majority of peer review recommendations and critical comments are quite helpful. In my opinion, making the information exchange between the authors of the manuscript and referees open to the public – even retrospectively – enormously improves the quality of research work, and furthermore helps to streamline the review process.

SO: That is why we decided to implement a completely open peer review process. Due to the transparence of this model, it is possible to judge whether the comments and critiques are correct, and whether or not the data presented in the manuscript is understandable.

TN: I invite my PhD students to be patient in writing peer reviews and to try to deeply understand the author’s ideas. Unfortunately, not every early career scientist always recognizes the process required for writing a good peer review. By contrast, an experienced researcher should be able to appreciate the presented data and the author’s work. It’s very important to support authors in their efforts to propel discovery as early as possible. I can give you an example. We were the first to propose a novel MRI technology and had to wait for a year to receive peer reviewer comments. In the end, the referees of our manuscript were simply asking why we used a scanner made by General Electrics and not by Siemens to test our technology, which is now used in thousands of hospitals around the world to save lives on a daily basis. If the peer review process had been transparent, our referees would have behaved differently. This shows of course that there is a cultural aspect, as well. If my manuscript goes through an excessively long or delayed peer review process, then I would be less motivated to review any articles for this journal in the future. Strategically speaking, as a referee I do not have to prove that I have been working in this particular area of research over 20 years. But I would like to support authors and emphasize the novelty, originality and applicability of their work (to clinical diagnostics, for example).

Q2: Do you think an Open Access platform like ScienceOpen has a particular usefulness for translational research?

TN: Well, let me give you an example. Recently, we designed a study on MRI induced localized hyperthermia. This was an innovative physical approach, which would require additional biochemical analysis for the proof-of-principle studies. Unfortunately, we were not able to apply that particular chemical expertise on our own. So, we decided to present our preliminary results via Open Access. And it was a big win-win situation, as we surprisingly received a lot of interest and professional support from chemists working in Australia and in the United States. This helped us tremendously to advance our initial study. Without the opportunity to publish our data Open Access, we would never have had the chance to prove and empower our novel research approach and build up new collaborations. In recent years, we have actually published about a quarter to a third of all our research results in high impact Open Access journals.

Q3: Do you think more transparency and free exchange of data could support academic freedom and foster a new scientific culture?

TN: This is a question about how we define academic freedom. As a scientist by heart, I am attracted by any research that pushes the envelope of technology and advances science. Here is a little example. In 2002-2004, I was working in Boston at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center as a senior scientist of GE’s applied science lab. There was a DAAD-organized research network composed mostly of medical doctors from Germany. One of participants in that network was a first class ophthalmologist curious about the possibility of performing MRI of the eye and orbit. We discussed this topic over and over again. Unfortunately, at that time I was not able to implement the idea because of other pressing commitments. Back in Germany I used the inspiring environment at Max Delbrück Center in Berlin to establish a collaboration with ophthalmologists and radiologists from the Universities of Rostock and Greifswald. Eventually, I did create an early diagnostic imaging tool for the assessment of subtle ocular masses and other diseases of the eye and orbit. At the moment, one of my PhD students is successfully completing her thesis on high resolution MR imaging of the eye and I am very much delighted to be part of a multi-faceted team that eventually turned an idea developed in Boston in 2002 into clinical reality.

As a principal investigator, I can choose any research area that lives up to the strategic mission of the center where I am currently working. I would say, Open Access offers academic freedom, but it also supports publicly-funded science. I appreciate that my research is supported by both internal and public funding. Obviously, more transparency in publicly-funded research will lead to higher standards in science.

Q4: Lastly, as an established researcher, what would be your advice for young scientists trying to navigate the science publishing landscape?

TN: In my research group, I normally ask my students to prepare and manage their manuscripts. Initially, to demonstrate and teach the communication culture of publishing, I monitor peer review as a corresponding author in their first publications. In their following publications, I prefer to observe how the junior scientists manage the publishing process. I believe that it helps them to learn responsibility and to develop their leadership skills. Once the work has been published, for example, in PLOS ONE, you can’t imagine how excited my students are about the publication metrics. They follow the statistics very frequently to understand the resonance of their work within the research community and to foster open exchange.

Thank you so much for the interview. You are an inspiring advocate for Open Access publishing. We wish you great success in your future research and thank you again for your support in helping to make science open.