In:  Guest Blog  

Drowning in information? Throw me a recommendation life ring!

Image credit: Peace by OC Always, Flickr. CC BY
Image credit: Peace by OC Always, Flickr. CC BY

Here at ScienceOpen, we like to showcase new technologies that may improve the efficiency of research, especially those that focus on speeding up access to information, preferably of the open kind!

We were alerted to the scientific recommendation engine called Sparrho, by a tweet from John Wilbanks (great admiration for this chap). We invited Qingzhi Fan, who has a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge and has worked in finance and as a consultant, to explain what Sparrho does and why it of benefit to researchers. Now over to Qingzhi…

Scientists, this is good news and bad news. Whether we like it or not, scientific information has been transformed by the digital age – this means quicker traffic to a greater volume of content than ever before. The challenge of sharing ideas with a broader audience used to be its dissemination; but today, it’s how to grab the right attention, in the right way.

From a scientist’s perspective and as a scientist myself, staying up-to-date with the latest research in my field is as important as working hard in the lab. The wealth of information available today helps speed up breakthroughs, but at the same time confuses, distracts and overwhelms us. There are two issues here: where to find the relevant information and how to do it quickly.

As Richard Van Noorden pointed out in Nature, scientists may be reaching a peak in reading habits. We are adapting: moving away from library and traditional paper prints to read online, moving away from verbose articles to prefer short succinct ones, moving away from reading articles in full and in detail to power-browsing. Yet, reading time itself is often not the real frustration, but the time wasted before finding any relevant information.

The recent emergence of various recommendation services that help researchers stem the rising tide of literature is well described by Elizabeth Gibney in Nature.  The idea of using these tools is to be presented with the relevant information without having to look for it, then our job becomes to read and interpret it, even to share it with others.

For example, our scientific discovery platform aggregates and distills information based on user preferences and makes personalised suggestions. The algorithms are designed to learn user needs and go beyond linear keyword search in what can be described as a three-pronged approach:

1) Data-data analysis: using techniques like natural language processing to pull the most relevant research based on the data users provide (keywords, subject area analysis, etc).

2) User-data analysis: every time users interact with the site by indicating what information is ‘relevant’ or ‘irrelevant’ to them, the engine can build up an article-to-field level of understanding in terms of users’ interests.

3) User-user interactions: users act as the intelligent curators of the recommendations; technology is merely the enabler. Individual user interactions not only improve their own recommendation profile, but also help the whole user community with similar interests.

A good recommendation tool can go beyond scientific articles and act as a one-stop shop for researchers. It will recommend relevant talks, seminars, conferences, posters, patents, grants etc and aggregate all categories of the latest news with filtering functionality. Users can set up automatic newsfeed and not worry about searching and missing the latest information; at the same time, these services often provides opportunity for serendipitous discoveries hidden in places users never normally look.

To every problem there is a solution. For content recommendation, the solution may not be initially perfect since it only gets better with more user interaction, but it may be the life ring you need to stay afloat.



Interview with Editorial Board Member Professor Guido Guidotti.

guidoIt’s true to say that all our Board Members have a first-rate academic pedigree and this is the case for Guido Guidotti (ORCID/0000-0002-0499-3412). He obtained an MD at Washington University School of Medicine and was a resident in internal medicine at Barnes Hospital. He received a PhD in Biochemistry from The Rockefeller Institute. He then joined the Committee on Higher Degrees in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University, where he is now the Higgins Professor of Biochemistry.

Together with author Sari Paavilainen, they published their first article entitled “Interactions between the transmembrane domains of CD39: identification of interacting residues by yeast selection” in October and we’re delighted to share some background information on this review article and the reasons why Guido and Sari choose to publish with us.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your current research and the article that you published with ScienceOpen?

A. Nearly all the research done in my laboratory is concerned with the properties of protein molecules. During the past 20 years, we have studied enzymes that are attached to the lipid membrane by transmembrane domains and have the active site on the extracellular domain, so-called ecto-enzymes. The central question for the ecto-ATPase of interest, CD39 or E-NTPDase 1, is why is the enzyme attached to the membrane by two transmembrane domains rather than by one, as most other ecto-enzymes are. A possible answer is presented in this article, which describes a mutational analysis of the residues in the transmembrane domains, suggesting that the domain movements of the extracellular part of the protein during catalysis are coupled to rotational movement of the transmembrane domains.

Q. What are your thoughts on Open Access scientific publishing and the likely changes to the future publishing landscape?

A. Since the results of investigations financed by public money should be open to all interested parties, the evolution towards Open Access is inevitable. The only consideration is whether the fee for publication paid by the investigators is sufficient to pay for the cost of publication

Q. In particular, what do you think about the possibility of changing or replacing the traditional model of pre-publication anonymous peer review?

A. In my opinion, reviews should not be anonymous because a reviewer should be prepared to support the remarks made about the paper in a straightforward and candid fashion, and not hide behind the shield of anonymity. However, there is the view that a paper should be vetted for accuracy before publication and it will take time to convince authors that transparent discussion after publication is preferable to anonymous pre-publication review. The experiment being done by ScienceOpen is essential in this endeavor

Q. What about evaluation systems for the work of younger scientists? Is Impact Factor adequate, in your opinion, to evaluate the importance of scientific results?

A. Evaluation of the work of scientists, young and old, should be based on direct knowledge of the work. Abdicating personal judgment of the science in favor of using the opinion of journal editors, i.e. Impact Factor, to find out the quality and originality of a paper is not a good practice. Furthermore, assigning importance to a result is a dubious enterprise, as the definition of important is personal and variable

Q. Why did you choose ScienceOpen as a venue for your recent publication?

A. I am in favor of post-publication review by identified scientists as a more transparent way to achieve dissemination of information and support the effort of ScienceOpen in this regard.  Disclaimer : approximately 220 articles describing work done in my laboratory have been published, 110 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and 30 in Biochemistry which are publications of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the American Chemical Society, respectively. The process of publication in these journals has been straightforward and in general problems were resolved rationally. I have a high opinion of these journals.



In:  Announcements  

Partnering in Global Health to expand Open Access to research

GHNGN_LogoThe Global Health Next Generation Network (Global Health NGN) and ScienceOpen, are delighted to announce their partnership. This is the second such relationship for ScienceOpen, which earlier this year came together with the World Health Summit to encourage Open Access to knowledge in this field.

As the future leaders of tomorrow’s global health world, the 700 students and young professionals from various disciplines in the Global Health NGN, present a unified voice to improve knowledge exchange, strengthen training programs and promote career development in global health. You can find out more about them by reading their 2014 Barcelona conference report here. Supporting Earlier Career Researchers has been a focus for ScienceOpen since its launch in May 2014 and this announcement gives further momentum to that effort.

In the coming months, this partnership will manifest itself in publishing the scholarly output of this group where appropriate, for a discounted price and specifically conference posters that ScienceOpen will publish free of charge.

Additionally, The Global Health NGN will also be able to make use of free ScienceOpen tools such as: Groups to run Journal Clubs, Discussions and Workshops and Collections to unite Global Health content from over 1.4 million articles from leading Open Access publishers currently aggregated on the ScienceOpen platform.

ScienceOpen Editor, Nana Bit-Avragim, an MD and translational scientist with a focus on molecular and developmental Cardiology with a passion for extending the reach of Open Access in Global Health said “all of us at ScienceOpen enjoy supporting “Generation Open” in their quest to express their opinions and share research knowledge as broadly as possible, especially in a field such as this which is of such critical global importance. We look forward to a productive partnership”.

Ragna Boerma (Global Health NGN) is an MD with an MSc in Global Health, currently pursuing her PhD in Neurogenetics said, “Global Health strives for better health care for all, worldwide. Better health care starts with knowledge, which should be freely available for everyone in an equitable way. This is why Global Health NGN supports Open Access and ScienceOpen.”

If you would like to contact the Global Health NGN then please email Camila González Beiras, VP External Affairs.

Here at ScienceOpen, we’re delighted to get the New Year off to such a great start!


In:  Other  

ArXiv successfully racing toward the one million mark – what happens now?

  • About 24 years after its launch the arXiv preprint server hits 1 million articles on 29 December. The site reached that terrific target after administrators returned from holidays and updated the server with manuscripts submitted after business hours on Christmas Eve, Richard van Norden said in his report in Nature. Impressively more and more papers were posted as preprints from year to year, starting from a few hundred in the early nineties, when Paul Ginsparg initiated the arXiv site, to about 10,000 per months meanwhile.

    “Kudos to Paul Ginsparg and the arXiv team for this achievement.” (Peter Suber, 2014)

    Since more than two decades particularly physicists, mathematicians, and computer scientists were used to upload their manuscripts to arXiv to share their results with peers as a preprint prior to the submission to a standard scholarly journal. When I was working as a physicists myself, I also regularly used as a resource to browse and access the most recent findings of my colleagues. And I definitely know that I had been not the only guy who started his work in the morning in this way. The advantage of the arXiv to publicly share recent results of scholarly research has been quite obvious: only a few hours or days after a competing group had finished their draft to summarize their findings, researchers were able to read them without any delay and without any restrictions for access. Possibly this has been also one aspect which contributed to that story of success which now results in one million posts on arXiv. As an another result, most publishers meanwhile accept submissions from arXiv.
    Preprint-posts on the arXiv are not peer-reviewed because managing and controlling of that filtering process had been the monopoly of scholarly journals for decades. Nevertheless one may ask if we do need something outside the ArXiv? I discussed this question in a blog almost a year ago, based on the perspective of physicists and their attitude to foster Open Access. This question, or more generally the basic idea to combine a well-established preprint server, as the ArXiv, with something to enable and moderate the scientific discourse as a substitute of the classical peer-review process was raised some years ago by Field’s medalist Timothy Gowers. In 2011 Gowers asked in one of his blog posts how we might get to a new model of (scientific) publishing, however focused, but principally not limited, to mathematics. His visionary thoughts had been motivated by an earlier post by Michael Nielsen. Gowers suggested “something like a cross between the arXiv, a social networking site, Amazon book reviews, and Mathoverflow”. In a very systematic way, he further developed his smart idea, or his gedankenexperiment as a physicist would call it, as an “ideal world” towards future scholarly communication. The proposed (non-existing) website should be an extension of the arXiv, or simply a separate website with links to articles which were hosted at arXiv.

    “If we didn’t have journals, then what might we have instead?” (Timothy Gowers, 2011)

    Here we are: The scientific community which had been used to regularly post and access recent findings on the arXiv would then be invited to comment, rate, and discuss new posts. I personally like that concept which is straightforward and based on the experiences and the behavior of researchers over two decades. Despite the fact that the latter oberservation is true mostly for researchers from physics, mathematics and computational sciences it could be adopted in principal to all disciplines of scholarly research. Amazingly, I read Timothy Gowers’s excellent blog some time after it had been published when I had already developed the concept for ScienceOpen in 2013. Nevertheless, his visionary considerations to develop a new model for scholarly publishing and the following, very intensive discussion of these ideas within the community strongly supported me to continue developing a new website which fosters not only Open Access, but also consists of a community-based concept to evaluate scientific results in an open and transparent manner. I am confident that future workflows for publishing and quality assessment in science will be based on these principles.

    Let’s see if ScienceOpen can further contribute to this vision in 2015! Have a great start into the new year!

  • In:  Announcements  

    Max Planck Authors publish free in ScienceOpen

    The Max Planck Society (MPG), an independent, non-profit German research organization and ScienceOpen, the research + Open Access publishing network based in Germany and the USA, have signed an agreement (official PR) that will allow authors affiliated to MPG as members of one of its 82 institutes and research facilities, unlimited free publication of posters and research articles in 2015.

    The Max Planck Society is a co-founder of the international Open Access movement and has negotiated favorable publishing terms for its researchers at all career levels with a range of OA titles that now include ScienceOpen, which offers three main services to researchers:

    1. Aggregates nearly 1.4 million OA articles (PubMed Central & ArXiv)
    2. Immediate publication
    3. Facilitates transparent & network based peer review after publication

    Following the Max Planck Digital Library OA Ambassadors Conference, ScienceOpen fielded a short survey to some MPG researchers (143 completions) to gauge their likely support for this partnership. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive – 95% of respondents said that they would welcome a collaboration between MPG and ScienceOpen.


    Other encouraging signs from the survey included nearly 90% of participants who were willing to publish in a journal that offers Non-Anonymous Peer Review after publication and 86% who don’t believe that Impact Factors are a good method to evaluate the quality of individual articles and authors.

    We also want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank those working at the MPG from our Editorial Board for their support. They include the following researchers, feel free to reach out to them directly for more information about the publishing process at ScienceOpen.

    Board Member MPI City
    Andreas Bartels Biological Cybernetics Tubingen
    Peter Fratzl Colloids and Interfaces Potsdam
    Pascal Fries Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience Frankfurt
    Elisa Izaurralde Developmental Biology and Biochemistry Tübingen
    Rüdiger Kniep Chemical Physics of Solids Dresden
    Stefan Offermanns Heart and Lung Research Bad Nauheim
    Ulrich Pöschl Chemistry Mainz
    Jurgen Renn History of Science Berlin
    Didier Stainier Heart and Lung Research Bad Nauheim
    Josef Zihl Psychiatry Munich

    Frank Sander, General Manager of the Max Planck Digital Library said “since we have received many positive acknowledgements from senior Max Planck researchers, we are happy to now provide this one year pilot which allows unlimited publications with ScienceOpen free of charge for all Max Planck affiliates.”

    ScienceOpen CEO, Stephanie Dawson, said “all of us at ScienceOpen are delighted to end our year on such a positive note by establishing this important relationship. We look forward to a productive 2015”.

    If your society or organization wishes to make a similar arrangement with us, please email Liz.

    In:  Announcements  

    Academic Publishing in Europe Conference 10 – looking forward to participating in 2015

    Image credit: Happy New Year (without stress), by Miquel Angel Pintanel Bassets, Flickr, CC BY-SA
    Image credit: Happy New Year (without stress), by Miquel Angel Pintanel Bassets, Flickr, CC BY-SA

    It may be the beginning of the Holiday season, but here at ScienceOpen we’re already looking forward to our speaking engagements in 2015!

    First up, co-founder Alexander Grossmann, Physicist, Publisher and Professor, is going to be participating in a session on “new publishing developments” (venue, NH Hotel Berlin Mitte) on Monday 19th January between 3.30 and 5pm.

    The agenda for this “pre-conference day” is particularly relevant to us. Here’s an excerpt taken from the conference program so that you can see why: “Open Access has changed a lot within scholarly publishing. One thing that is often overlooked is the fact, that it required academia to become much more actively involved in the publishing process. This has created both a new way of thinking around publishing as well as a number of very interesting start-ups. The APE 2015 Pre-Conference Day will look at the “What is Next” for our industry”.

    As many of you know, we’re on a mission to “democratize publishing” and have Community Editor roles available for researchers, appointed by our Editorial Team, which give them the ability to curate, commission and manage content in their own article Collection or Mini Journal. In return for their expert knowledge and effort, we offer a modest stipend ($1500) that can be put towards travel to attend conferences that are particularly relevant to their field. We welcome applications for these roles.

    The agenda for the next two days (venue, Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences) looks equally inspiring and features many top rate speakers. If we don’t know them personally, we feel like we do through our Twitter connections! Here are just a few of the luminaries that are presenting and moderating but check out the full line up:

    • Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services & Acting Head of Library, Wellcome Library, London
    • Dr. Ralf Schimmer, Head, Max Planck Digital Library, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Munich
    • Alex D. Wade, Director, Scholarly Communication, Internet Services Research Group, Microsoft Research,Redmond, WA
    • Drs. Jan Velterop, Advocate and Advisor, Open Access and Open Science, Guildford
    • Dr. Matt Cockerill,Co-Founder of Riffyn, Riffyn, Oakland

    Reviewing the program in detail did make us smile however. There’s a session on Wednesday, at 8.30am, entitled: Wake-up Session: how to make money with Semantics, moderated by Richard Padley, CEO, Semantico, Brighton. All we can say is that we hope someone remembers to have the coffee pot on for Richard and that the topic of “making money” makes his audience suitably jazzed!


    In:  Peer Review  

    The recipe for our (not so) secret Post-Publication Peer Review sauce!

    Image credit:  Shrimp, Pork Chops, Bar. B. Q. by Steve Snodgrass, Flickr, CC BY
    Image credit: Shrimp, Pork Chops, Bar. B. Q. by Steve Snodgrass, Flickr, CC BY

    It seems that nearly every day there’s a new online conversation about Post-Publication Peer Review (PPPR). We participate in nearly every single one because PPPR is a hallmark of what we do at ScienceOpen.

    Co-founder Alexander Grossmann (Physicist, Publisher, and Professor of Publishing Management), has posted on this topic many times, including this popular piece which traces the roots and flaws of the current system entitled “where did our Peer Review Mojo go?“.

    It’s probably true to say that over the course of my career (PLOS & Nature), I’ve experienced many permutations of research communication but the one that I like the best is the one we offer at ScienceOpen. Before I joined in May, the team here had quietly developed a unique and smart way to make PPPR work.

    It seems that now is the right time to clearly explain ScienceOpen’s unique approach to “publish then filter”. As the debate about PPPR intensifies it’s important to understand that “not all PPPR is equal”. Here’s our recipe:

    1. We publish articles with DOI within about a week after an initial editorial check – we don’t publish everything that we receive.
    2. We provide proofs, basic copy-editing and language help during the production cycle – if you think all OA publishers offer this, you’d be wrong!
    3. We facilitate Non Anonymous Post-Publication Peer Review (PPPR) from experts with at least five peer-reviewed publications per their ORCID to maintain the level of scientific discourse on the platform. We believe that those who have experienced Peer Review themselves should be more likely to understand the pitfalls of the process and offer constructive feedback to others.
    4. We give all reviews a DOI so they can be found and cited.
    5. We have methods for our editors to alert readers to any content problems – thankfully, we’ve not had cause to use them.
    6. We have versioning for authors who wish to respond to review feedback and revise their article.

    You might think that running a publishing platform built around PPPR would keep us awake at night worrying about fake reviews and identities but oddly it doesn’t. We agree with Anurag Acharya, the co-founder of Google Scholar who stated in a recent Nature interview that when everything is visible, under your name, you can be called on it at anytime, so why risk ruining your reputation? Additionally, ORCID also has protections built into their system.

    We think the ScienceOpen approach might just be the next wave of OA and there are some who agree with us. These include the experts on our Editorial and Advisory Boards such as Peter Suber, Stephen Curry, Anthony Atala, Bjorn Brembs, Raphael Levy, Philip Stark, Nick Jewell and many others.

    But, what really convinces me that PPPR is the way forwards and that our method is going to give the community enough confidence to make the switch are the experiences of our authors. It’s easy to ignore yet another innovative organization telling you why their approach is the best but the voices of the community are always the most compelling.

    PS If you have an article that you’d like to publish before the end of the year, there’s still time to do so with us.




    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 or term life insurance quotes without a medical exam, 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.