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Open Science stars: Iara Vidal

We’re running a series to showcase some of the different perspectives in the scholarly publishing and communication world, and in particular regarding the theme of ‘Open Science’. We’ve already heard from Joanne Kamens about her work in making open data repositories and campaigning for greater diversity in STEM; Dan Shanahan discussed issues with the impact factor and assessment in academia; Gal Schkolnik let us know about her research into Shewanella and experiences with Open Access publishing; and Israel Bimpe described his story as a student from Rwanda and global health champion. So quite a mix, and it’s been great to get such a variety of thoughts, perspectives, and experiences.

But we’re not stopping there! We spoke to Iara Vidal who is working on her PhD in Information Science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and has plenty of experience with altmetrics and also in working as a librarian. Here’s her story!

Hi Iara! So can you tell us a bit about your background to get things rolling?

Sure! I had my first experience with scientific research in high school. I was in what we call a “technical school” here in Brazil, studying to be a meteorological technician. In 1998 me and some other students did a study correlating rain levels with the incidence of certain diseases whose transmission is somehow related to water. It was great fun to go looking for all the data we needed, and we actually got a poster accepted at the 10th Brazillian Meteorology Conference (pdf is available here, if you’re curious and can read Portuguese – there’s a short English abstract but that’s it). That was my first scientific event – and honestly, conferences are probably my favourite aspect of academia to this day. For college, I changed from Meteorology into Library Science. I joined a research group in my university and kept presenting papers in small scientific events and student meetings. It was an amazing experience, but when I graduated in early 2005 I decided to go work in libraries instead of staying in academia. I *love* being a librarian, but things became difficult when, through reasons that are too complicated to explain here, I ended up as the sole librarian in a federal agency. Much as I tried, I could not improve my situation. So, in 2012, I decided to leave and pursue an academic career. I got my master’s degree in Information Science in 2014, and have been working on my PhD since 2015.

When did you first hear about open access and open science? What was your initial reaction?

I think I first heard about open access in the early 2000s, maybe in one of the Library and Information Science student meetings I used to go to. But it was only in the past few years that I got more involved in the issue. In 2013 I attended a conference celebrating the 15th anniversary of the SciELO Network (http://www.scielo15.org/en/about/), which got me really excited not only about open access, but also about the role of Latin America and other peripheral regions in all this. As I researched more about open access I got to know about open science as well. My reaction to all this was of excitement (hell yeah let’s free knowledge!), but also questioning: how do we get people to change their behaviour? I think the answer lies in incentives, which increased my interest in research evaluation. I studied altmetrics in my master’s and am now moving to article-level metrics, but the end goal is improving evaluation.

How do we get people to change their behaviour? I think the answer lies in incentives, which increased my interest in research evaluation.

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Moving beyond a journal-based filtering system

The amount of published scientific research is simply enormous. Current estimates are over 70 million individual research articles, with around 2 million more being published every year. We are in the midst of an information revolution, with the World Wide Web offering rapid, structured and practical distribution of knowledge. But for researchers, this creates the monolith task of manually finding relevant content to fuel their work, and begs the question, are we doing the best we can to leverage this knowledge?

There are already several well-established searchable archives, scientific databases representing warehouses for all of our knowledge and data. The most well-known include the Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed, and Google Scholar, which together are the de facto mode for current methods of information retrieval. The first two of these are paid services, and attempts to replicate searches between all platforms produce inconsistent results (e.g., Bakkalbasi et al., Kulkarni et al.), raising questions about each of their methods of procurement. The search algorithms for each are also fairly opaque, and the relative reliability of each is quite uncertain. Each of them, though, have their own benefits and pitfalls, which are far better discussed elsewhere (e.g. Falagas et al.).

So where does this leave discoverability for researchers in a world that is becoming more and more ‘open’?

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