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?
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.
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?
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).
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.
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!
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.
One of the trickiest parts about launching anything new, also true for PLOS ONE too back in the day (hard to believe now!), is that the best way to explain what you do is to show it in action. Since we only officially launched in May, we’ve been watching some interesting use-cases develop, by which we mean ScienceOpen articles with Non-Anonymous Post-Publication Peer Review (PPPR). Even though we publish with DOI in about a week, it’s taken a little longer for the reviewers to have their say (reviews also receive a DOI), but we’re finding that what they say is well worth reading.
These articles and their associated reviews reassure us that PPPR, which some feel is still pretty radical, is a nascent but potentially healthy way to improve the way we review research. They also start to show that PPPR can benefit all sorts of research. If it can work for less spectacular, negative or contradictory research, then perhaps it will shine for once in a lifetime findings (which are of course far more rare).
What do these use-cases tell us? Mostly that its early days, so meaningful observations are perhaps premature! However, here are some thoughts:
The reviewers that are being invited to the scientific conversation are participating and broadening the debate
The reviews are respectfully delivered with a straightforward tone, even when critical (probably because they are Non-Anon)
It’s good to see papers from the medical community, arguably the quintessential OA use-case for researchers, patients, their families and friends
The reviewers are appropriately matched to the content, authors can suggest up to 10 and anyone with 5 or more publications on their ORCID iD can review any content on the platform
The authors are largely, but not exclusively, from our Editorial Boards (no surprises here since they are usually the first to support a new publishing venture and are more senior so are freer to experiment)
Reading Non-Anon PPPR is a new skill requiring balancing a scholars background with their reviews and comparing/contrasting them with those of the others
None of these authors have yet used Versioning to revise their original articles in the light of reviewer feedback received (although this article is now on version 2)
Anyways, we hope you enjoy watching how PPPR at ScienceOpen evolves as much as we do! Feel free to leave a comment on this post to continue the conversation.
It’s true that it’s been a while since I was climbing the scientific career ladder! My path was somewhat different to many but diversifying is more common now than it was then, for many different reasons that I shall briefly explore below.
By most standards, I’ve had a good run and I am not done yet – these days I also enjoy my role as President of ScienceOpen working with a terrific team of enthusiastic colleagues in Berlin, Boston, and San Francisco. However, I remain mindful and respectful of my research roots and spend as much time as possible talking with young faculty, promoting their thinking and doing everything I can to support them because it seems to me that a scientific career got a lot harder than it was when I did it, and it wasn’t easy then.
To demonstrate my support of “Generation Open” and in honor of Open Access Week 2014, today I am personally announcing that we are waiving publication fees for Earlier Career Researchers until November 30th 2014 on ScienceOpen, the research + open access publishing network.
Far from being “riff-raff”, per Steven McKnight the President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, who asserted that “the average scientist today is not of the quality of our predecessors” in this unfortunate essay, I believe, in contrast, that today’s scientists battle harder than ever to conduct quality science.
That young researchers continue to make progress with their hands tied is remarkable – reduced funding; cut throat commpetition for what money remains; intense pressure to reach tenureship; more pressure to publish; a glut of talent (good for science but makes it harder to stand out) and not enough job openings.
To take advantage of my free publishing offer, all you have to do is be able to demonstrate that you are an ECR, typically defined as graduate student or Post-Doc. As long as one of the corresponding authors on an article or poster is an ECR, then all authors qualify for free publication. You must submit before 12am CET on November 30th 2014 to be eligible.
For those of you who are unfamilar with ScienceOpen here’s a quick run down, with short videos, of our services:
When it comes to preparing a poster for presentation, there are some amazing poster resources on the web for researchers at all levels of poster proficiency.
For those starting out, I like How to create a research poster from the Bern Dibner Library (simple and basic). For a comprehensive primer, I like Designing Conference Posters from Colin Purrington (comprehensive advice delivered with a sharp wit). Finally, if you are artistic and proficient (see Benjamin Gorman’s “draft” poster pictured below, looks great already!), then Dr Zen’s Better Posters and his constructive critiques can help to make your posters even more powerful.
To quote Dr Zen, “academic conference posters are often ugly, with tiny text, confusing layouts and dubious color schemes”. They may be so bad they elicit this reaction (animated GIF), courtesy of #whatshouldwecallgradschool. If we step back and think about the reasons why, it is because posters fuse two skill sets, research communication and graphic design, and both are slightly removed from the primary competence of “doing science”.
However, curiously, in an article entitled Poster Perfect in The Scientist, Colin Purrington observed that “Although occasionally there would be visually pleasing posters that promoted less-than-stellar science”, he usually found that “the attractiveness of a poster was highly correlated with the quality of the science”. Graphic design and scientific inquiry require different skills, but oddly enough, it appeared that “the people who understood the beauty of fonts had a sense of pitching their science” he said.
One reason to invest effort in preparing and printing a poster, is to communicate the essence of your research in a relatively compact space with the opportunity to interact with your audience if your content catches their eye. This may be particularly appealing for earlier career researchers who aren’t ready to publish or those who would rather avoid public speaking.
Previously, the other slightly frustrating part of poster preparation was their relatively short conference shelf life, possibly followed by a (by then dog eared) display of the poster in the lab. However, as is the case with so much of life, the internet has transformed this space such that digital poster publishing is the new normal. Posters can now happily live online and attract attention to your work in perpetuity.
Here at ScienceOpen, publishing posters is simple and pretty much like publishing an article but cheaper. Posters are published as a PDF in in ScienceOpen Posters (eISSN: 2199-8442). There are two routes to get involved, either your conference organizer has an arrangement with ScienceOpen and they pay a reduced fee and you can publish for free, nice! Or you fly solo and pay $120. Naturally, your poster is available for Non-Anonymous Post-Publication Peer Review just like our articles. To submit a poster, simply email our Editorial Office.
Postdocs must make Science more open to have their voice – and get it heard.
Gary McDowell, Tufts University and Future of Research Symposium
We’re delighted to welcome Gary McDowell, a post-doc working on left-right development in frogs (his Twitter handle is appropriately named @biophysicalfrog) and involved in the Future of Research Symposium starting on Thursday of this week (check out the speakers) as our second guest blogger. That we have decided to cover issues of importance to junior faculty in this post is a deliberate choice because we want to encourage their participation in the scientific conversation and Open Access. For a flavor of our activities with this group, including our first ever students awards at the European Students Conference in September, check out the Earlier Career channel on our blog.
Now over to Gary…
Recently, Liz Allen from ScienceOpen and I discussed her blog post entitled “How to make science more open, 7 ideas for early career researchers“. Our conversation gave me some pause for thought about the role of postdocs in facilitating the scientific endeavor. I also am a firm advocate of “post-docs doing it for themselves”. I’ve been involved in the organization of The Future of Research Symposium, a two-day event for graduate students and postdocs in the Boston area to come together and discuss the issues facing young researchers at present, under the groupings of training, structure of the workforce, funding, and metrics of assessment. One measure of the success of a scientist is through the science they produce, reflected in the papers that they publish. At present, we are at a point in scientific publishing where there is a strong movement towards “open access”: science available to all. This means freely available to read and re-use: no paywalls, no subscriptions, simply science that is freely available to the public.
There are many good reasons for publishing open access which even its detractors can itemize as pointed out in a recent tweet by Joseph McArthur (@Mcarthur_Joe) who highlighted this section of an assessment by analysts from Bernstein Research which was shared by the independent journalist Richard Poynder (@RickyPo)
“Stepping back to take in the big picture, we would be hard pressed, having spent six years networking extensively in the academic publishing and OA communities, even to articulate what problem is OA trying to accomplish. Ask a librarian, and you will be told that OA is meant to address the serial cost crisis (the rising cost of journal subscriptions and the impact this has on their capacity to fulfil the other missions of academic libraries). Ask a researcher, and you will be told that OA will allow more researchers to read their articles, leading to more citations and – ultimately – to better dissemination of knowledge. Ask an economist, and you will be told that OA will allow small and medium sized companies which do not have access to the latest research to do so, furthering the growth of the economy and job creation. Ask some activists, and you will be told that OA is meant to deflate the margins of capitalist exploitation of public spending. Ask an activist from emerging countries: you will be told that OA is meant to allow researchers and doctors in poor countries to have access to leading research. This lack of clarity on which problem OA is trying to solve, in turn, means that it is difficult to achieve any of these goals.”
There are clearly many noble goals to the endeavor of publishing Open Access. However there are concerns, particularly amongst young researchers, about publishing outside of the “high impact factor” set of journals that are traditionally viewed as grant- and job-winners. These issues were recently highlighted in a blog by Alexander Grossman, a co-founder of ScienceOpen. Major difficulties that postdocs face in Open Access include not having the final say on where their papers are published, or even when. Many of us have smaller sets of work; or negative data; or data that aims to reproduce other’s work, which are all good pieces of science but are often not viewed as being worthy of publication. In my own experience, I have been very fortunate to always work with principal investigators who are (reasonably) happy to publish smaller datasets or less exciting (but still novel) stories.
However my own experience with Open Access has been somewhat limited. Changes to requirements for funding from Research Councils in the UK, and NIH funding in the US, have led to my research becoming gradually more open, most recently graduating from being behind a paywall for one year to being immediately open to the public. As part of the preparations for the Future of Research Symposium, we have published an open letter to Science in the Winnower and an article in the Journal of Postdoctoral Research. Both publications have then been rapidly disseminated on social media, for example through our @FORsymp handle to our target audience, for free and open discussion. The experiences I have had with these publications, plus investigating other avenues for publishing open access, reinforce my own view that in the modern era, when people search less in particular journals and more on particular topics, that a paper being available rapidly and openly is more important than the competitiveness of getting into the journal. Good work is good work, and recent controversies over paper retractions how that the Impact Factor of a journal is not necessarily a direct correlation with the rigor of the peer review of the science. In fact, many of the controversies that arose from the STAP saga may have been avoided in formats with Open Peer Review, with people able to directly comment and review on the paper, rather than the initial concerns having to be raised indirectly on other media.
Postdocs need to make themselves heard and Open Access publishing provides a medium to do this. A free exchange of ideas is encouraged not only by postdocs publishing in places where their papers are accessible to all; but by postdocs participating in the review process. Whenever possible, I sign my reviews to make it clear that I am not hiding behind anonymity in the comments that I make, and so I am therefore careful to make sure they are fair and critical in a constructive manner. ScienceOpen is one example of a progression from the typical reviewing process, using Post-Publication Peer Review to facilitate open and fair discussion and criticism of scientific work. Not only is embarking upon peer review a great contribution to the scientific community, this is an excellent opportunity for postdocs to get experience in reviewing papers and also in providing reflection on how to write their own papers.
In her post, Liz advocates getting involved in journal clubs and conferences. I would agree with this, and in particular we are keen for people to get involved with the Future of Research Symposium not only this week, when the symposium will be held, but carrying our findings forwards: we view this not as a one-off event, but a continuing endeavor. I would extend Liz’s call-to-arms and suggest that postdocs get involved in scientific societies: many societies are now actively soliciting postdoctoral involvement at the very highest levels. For example, the Genetics Society of America has posts on all committees – and its executive board – for trainees. The American Society for Cell Biology has an extensive network of postdoctoral volunteers, COMPASS. Many learned societies are engaging upon connecting with younger researchers who are, after all, aspiring to be their future members as established academics.
“The voices that are missing so far, [are] the young voices and we need to get them into the mix.”
Shirley Tilghman, PCAST, September 19th 2014
That is the aim of the Future of Research Symposium, to try to initiate a unified voice on how graduate students and postdocs feel about the issues important to science and how it is carried out. Our aim is then the continuation of these meetings, both locally and hopefully to inspire others nationally, to produce a voice which is ever louder. The voices of young researchers are not, in the main, being heard. Recently, an open letter was sent to the AAAS journal Science regarding concerns over its new widely-advertised open access journal, Science Advances, written mostly (but not exclusively) by young researchers. The response of AAAS so far has been to send the authors some Frequently Asked Questions. Likewise, a similar group has sent a similar open letter to the Society for Neuroscience over its new open access journal eNeuro. The response was another email that did not address or attempt to answer any of our queries (but was a step up from the AAAS response). In one particular case the term “riff-raff” has been used by Steven McKnight in his capacity as President of the ASBMB, to describe those “who never would have survived as scientists in the 1960s and 1970s”. There is a lot of support at the highest levels of academia, but clearly a lot of work needs to be done by our community to have our concerns taken seriously.
Postdocs have a lot of support in academia and beyond from those willing to speak out in our favor. However, without the postdoc community engaging, raising their voice and making clear that they are present and essential to the scientific endeavor, there is only so much that can be done to change the system. So I join with the call-to-arms to postdocs to engage in making science more open, and raising aloud their voices.
In a 2002 survey performed by the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP1), 45% of the respondents expected to see some Peer Review change in the next five years – for example, journals moving to Open Post-Publication Peer Review. Although the timing of their prediction was off, it is true that there is now growing interest in this field and a few practitioners.
Driven by the fact that more and more scholarly publications are launched every year, the concept of Peer Review has been criticized for consuming too much valuable time. Moreover, Pre-Publication Peer Review and selection does not protect against fraud or misconduct. Other questions that have been raised about Peer Review include:
What does it do for Science?
What does the scientific community want it to do?
Does it illuminate good ideas or shut them down?
Should reviewers remain anonymous?
In this post, I want to explore in more detail what motivates researchers to evaluate the previously submitted work of their peers. If we can better understand the reasons why researchers review, we can also discuss scenarios which may improve both the transparency and quality of that process.
Let’s first consider what could boost the motivation of a researcher to review an article. At present there are a myriad of excuses that most of us use to put off this extra work, which usually claims several hours of an already tight time budget. The scientific community does not know or record how many hours scientists spend on Peer Review. Their institutions do not acknowledge this huge time commitment when assigning new funding. This effort is not acknowledged in a closed Peer Review system because scientists do not receive any credit for their work, as they would for a citable publication and it carries no weight when applying for a new position. This is completely different from the rewards which flow from publishing new research, in particular if that research has been published in a high-branded traditional journal.
Therefore we should ask ourselves:
Is peer review broken as a system? Yes, but many believe it is required to maintain a certain level of quality control in academia. At the very least, Pre-Publication Peer Review is a concept recognized by the scientific community as supporting rigorous communication. More coverage of the flaws within the Peer Review system is provided in this post by The Scientist.
Why do we review? A systematic survey by Sense About Science on Peer Review in 2009 represented the views of more than 4,000 researchers in all disciplines. It found that the majority of researchers agreed that reviewing meant playing their part within academic community. Review requests were hard to decline given their sense of commitment to their peers, despite the fact that they didn’t believe they would gain personal recognition for their work. The second most common motivation was to enjoy helping others to improve their article. And finally, more than two thirds of all the participating researchers like seeing new work from their peers ahead of publication. I will keep this latter point in mind for discussion later.
What sort of reward would researchers like? Having understood the main reasons why researchers agree to review, the survey asked what would further incent them to undertake this task, possibly in a timelier manner! Interestingly, almost half of the researchers said that they would be more likely to review for a journal if they received a payment (41%) or a complimentary subscription (51%, in the the days before the spread of Open Access). Despite this result, only a vanishingly small minority of journals provides any kind of payment to its reviewers. This seems even more amazing in terms of the 35-40% profit margins which are common place in for-profit scholarly journal publishing.
Given that these publishers can afford to pay, why don’t they? One acceptable answer could be that they do not want to introduce new bias into the process. Another answer is that given the number of about 1.5-2 million articles being published every year in STM disciplines as reported by Bjork et al and an average rejection rate of 50% (a factor of 2 for total number of submitted manuscripts to be reviewed) and at least two reviewers involved per paper, it would cost publishers a tidy sum to pay each reviewer a reasonable amount of money to compensate them for their considerable time.
Are there other ways to provide reviewers with credit? Acknowledgement in the journal or a formal accreditation as for example CME/CPD points could improve their motivation said a still significant percentage of researchers. However only a minority would feel motivated by the idea that their report would be published with the paper.
Half of all scientists felt that they would be rather discouraged if their identity was disclosed to all readers of the article. The other half did not feel discouraged and expected higher quality from a more open evaluation process. These findings have been reported in a study by Van Rooyen et al. who found that 55% of the responding scientists were in favor of reviewers being identified, only 25% were against it. More importantly, the authors concluded that Open Peer Review leads to better quality reviews. One reason for this conclusion is quite obvious: if both the name and the comments are disclosed to the public, it appears to be only natural that a reviewer will spend at least as much, if not more, effort to make sure that the report is as good as a scientific paper. Another reason is that the reviewer is aware that a useful report could contribute to scientific discourse much more efficiently than a short statement with a few ticks in a standard reviewers’ form which only two people can access: the journal’s editor and most likely the author. These reviewers’ comments in an open report can be read in principal by all researchers in that field and may help them to improve their own work.
In another study, which analyzed the effects of blinding on the quality of peer review, McNutt et al2 reported that reviewers who chose to sign their reviews were more constructive in their comments. In principle all new concepts which motivate reviewers to submit a review on a paper and which are not simply based on a cash-value incentive will require a disclosure of both the identity of the reviewer and the report.
Should we continue to Review? 15,000 researchers have asked this question and subsequently withdrew their services in this regard. One reason not to participate in the review process is to protest the monopoly power within the international publishing industry which led to the Elsevier boycott. Coverage of this issue can be found in the New York Times and the Cost of Knowledge.
Having asked a range of different questions above, I’d like to move on and describe the different types of Peer Review.
Disclosure of a reviewer’s identity to the public is called Open Peer-Review. This simply means that either the names or the full report for a paper will be published with the paper itself, after the peer-review process has been completed. Open non-mandatory peer review has been established for example by PLOS Medicine and the PeerJ.
Let us now imagine a more open evaluation system for research which has been introduced as Post-Publication Peer Review (PPPR). I have previously discussed the ethics of this topic on my blog Science Publishing Laboratory. Like the current system of Pre-Publication evaluation, the new system relies on reviews and ratings. However, Post-Publication Peer Review differs in two crucial respects:
Journal editors and reviewers do not decide whether or not a work will be published – as the articles are already published
Reviews take the form of public communications to the community at large, not secret missives to editors and authors. Post-Publication Peer Review is, for example, used by F1000Research. In addition, Public Post-Publication Peer Review:
Invites the scientific community to comment, review and rate a paper. The journal editor does not select the reviewers but it is instead it becomes a voluntary activity for those who feel interested and qualified to do so.
Has no limitation as to the number of reviewers, unlike other Peer Review methodologies.
Imposes no artificial time limit when the reviewing is “over”. Even years have gone by, researchers can evaluate the paper and write a review
New publishing platforms which have adopted Public Post-Publication Peer Review have been recently established by ScienceOpen and The Winnower (on the same day!).
Public Post-Publication Peer Review makes peer review more similar to getting up to comment on a talk presented at a conference. Because the reviews are transparent and do not decide the fate of a publication, they are less affected by politics. Because they are communications to the community, their power depends on how compelling their arguments are to the community. This is in contrast to secret peer review, where weak arguments can prevent publication because editors largely rely on reviewers’ judgments and the reviewers are not acting publicly before the eyes of the community. 4PR is a real discourse in science and the general research community benefit from it.
What incentives does an individual reviewer have when submitting a comment or review in a new open evaluation system?
Reviewers could be credited for their work, for example, how frequently they participated and to what extent they felt committed to playing their part as a member of the academic community. As we mentioned above, this has been a key motivation for the vast majority of researchers in terms of writing a review
Authors and Peers could comment on reviews to emphasize those which have been more useful for them than others. This establishes a rating not only for the paper itself but also for the comments and reviews which is a completely new concept in science. As a result reviewers get credited simply by the fact that peers acknowledge their work through (positive) feedback
Reviewers who contribute more frequent and constructive reviews than their colleagues within a certain area of expertise could be highlighted by a ranking. This ranking is a direct measure of the individual performance of a researcher which would be much more useful for evaluations of researchers compared to the Impact Factors of the journals in which they have published.
If a reviewer received direct feedback about the review, an open discussion could ensue which may lead to a more concentrated level of discourse, as, for example, during a conversation during a conference or a poster presentation.
And finally, if a reviewer decided to write a review, they are willing to read the paper because they are interested in the new research of one of their peers. And more importantly, they are free to decide when to submit the review. This straightforward situation is completely different to the present Pre-Publication Peer Review when a researcher is asked by an editor to 1) read and 2) review a new submission which they have never seen before.
Despite reports such as The Peer Review Process by the JISC Scholarly Communication Group that have indicated that the Peer Review process would evolve, new concepts have been introduced only rarely so far. Open Access and a transparent Open Peer-to-Peer evaluation are the prerequisites for a new peer review concept which provides more benefits for reviewers than the present review system in scholarly publishing.
With growing awareness of the dammage to the public perception of research caused by high profile retractions such as this reported in Nature, and an interesting recently observed correlation between a higher level of retraction and prestigious journals, it seems only logical that the momentum towards more transparency in research communication will grow.
Therefore we should support new ventures and publishing initiatives which have introduced principles of open evaluation and transparent reviewing. These new projects could help open our eyes to “an ideal world” as Timothy Gowers, Royal Society Mathematician and Fields Medalist summarized in his terrific vision to revolutionize scholarly communication and publishing. It will be interesting to find out how this will also improve the motivation of reviewers to do their important work of quality maintenance in academic publishing.
A note about the author:
Dr. Alexander Grossmann is a Physicist and Professor of Publishing Management at HTWK University of Applied Sciences, Leipzig (Germany). He has been working for more than 12 years in the management of publishing industry at major international companies before he co-founded ScienceOpen.
A note about future posts:
I wish to cover new services such as Academic Karma, Publons, Pub Peer and others in my next post, this one is already lengthy and I want to give their work due consideration.
(ALPSP) The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (2002): Authors and Electronic Publishing. The ALPSP research study on authors’ and readers’ views on electronic research communication (ISBN 978-0-907341-23-9)
(McNutt) McNutt RA et al: The effects of blinding on the quality of peer review. A randomized trial. JAMA. 1990 Mar 9;263 (10):1371-6
Over the last few months I’ve had the privilege of chatting to many young researchers from different areas of science. Last week, I was delighted to attend the 25th European Students’ Conference 2014 in Berlin where I had been invited to organize an afternoon workshop entitled Perspectives on Scientific Publishing with about 100 participants. It was terrific to spend almost three hours with so many students which were keen to find out more about the future of scholarly communication.
My interest in this topic was sparked by a previous panel discussion on scholarly publishing when I observed that a significant part of the audience were Ph.D. students or post-docs. When one of the speakers talked about new opportunities in Open Access publishing, a very intensive discussion began. Almost all the young scientists in the audience were excited and motivated by the principles and vision behind Open Access. They said they would like to change the current publishing system and participate in a more open conversation about their research with peers. I was thrilled because that is what we are trying to develop at ScienceOpen.
However, “If I publish my work Open Access, I will have difficulties in my future career, I am afraid, because I need the highest Impact Factor (IF) possible” said one of the young scholars, dampening the enthusiasm, and in the end most of his colleagues agreed.
“If I publish my work Open Access, I will have difficulties in my future career, I am afraid, because I need the highest Impact Factor (IF) possible.”
But how real is this risk for junior faculty who will have the most important impact on the future of academia? To find out more about the perspectives of grad students and junior researchers at institutions or universities, I tried to find arguments against active participation in Open Access publishing. Although younger researchers would like to have a public discussion about their science with their peers, almost everyone I talked to stressed that they have been instructed by their academic senior advisor to aim for a high-IF journal to publish their work. And most young scientists had the impression that there are relatively few quality Open Access journals and even many of these have a low IF, if any. Therefore I next asked some of their supervisors and professors for their thoughts. Amazingly, many of them emphasized that their graduate students and junior researchers themselves insisted on publishing in a “Champions League” journal, or at least, in a “Premiere League” journal with a high IF.
Who was right? I believe that we don’t need to answer this question in order to understand why young researchers are wary of Open Access publishing opportunities.
Let’s summarize the major reasons that motivate a researcher to publish her/his work:
(A) To record and archive results.
(B) To share new findings with colleagues.
(C) To receive feedback from experts / peers.
(D) To get recognition by the scientific community.
(E) To report results to the public, funding bodies, and others.
Next, let us analyze which reasons for publishing are more relevant to young researchers in comparison with others. Reporting results (E) is a more formal reason which is required when one has received a financial contribution by funding organizations. As for archiving (A), it is not a particular motivation for junior scientists. By contrast, sharing with colleagues (B) may have more significance for those groups that have just started to build up their academic network. We all agree that younger scientists must not only actively promote themselves by sharing new results of their work, but also to intensify dialogue with their peers. They therefore also depend on feedback from experts and peers (C) much more than a senior researcher who has established his or her expertise across decades. Both (B) and (C) will hopefully result in recognition from the scientific community and (D) has long been considered the conditio sine qua non in academia for all junior researchers if they want a successful academic career. Everyone I talked to agreed and most of my scholarly colleagues confirmed that this list appeared to be consistent and complete in describing the relevance of publishing for young researchers.
But where are the Impact Factors in my list? Where are big journal brands?
“But where are the Impact Factors in my list? Where are big journal brands?”
Until relatively recently, recognition has been largely measured by citations. Today, with more frequent usage of social networks, we should broaden our view and associate credit for scientific work also with mentions, likes, or retweets. The latter attributes of modern communication in social networks is an immediate and uniquely fast way to provide and earn credit in scholarly publishing. There are an ever increasing number of examples where an excellent paper was recognized within minutes after it had been published Open Access. Citations are important, but it is the article and the individuals who authored that work which should get credited. And there is growing evidence that papers published Open Access are read and ultimately cited more often. Impact factor is a “toxic influence” on science, as Randy Shekman, Nobel laureate and founder of eLife recently stated,.
“Impact factor is a “toxic influence” on science.”
Finally, we do not need big journal brands or an Impact Factor to evaluate the relevance and quality of research. Neither for senior scientists, nor for young researchers. The latter group, however, has a significant intrinsic advantage: they are much more accustomed to communicating with social media tools. If they continue to use these when starting their academic career, they will strongly influence traditional, old-fashioned ways of crediting academic research.
My conclusion can therefore be considered as an invitation to the younger generation of researchers:
Substitute pay-walled journals with new open science technologies to publicly publish your scientific results
Continue to use social network tools to communicate about and discuss recent research with others
Adopt alternative metrics to measure scientific relevance in addition to classical citation
Liz Allen, who works with me at ScienceOpen, also recently wrote this blog post to encourage younger researchers to be part of the open scientific conversation and suggested different ways for them to get involved.
It will be your generation in a decade from now that will craft the careers of other young researchers. Nobody else. Therefore you should not be afraid of publishing Open Access or submitting your next paper to an alternative open science platform. The more people like you who follow that path of modern scholarly publishing, the less emphasis will be put on classical incentives for academic evaluation. Open Access and active communication about new results in science by social media and open science platforms, such as ScienceOpen, can increase both usage and impact for your work.
“We do not need big journal brands or an Impact Factor to evaluate the relevance and quality of research.”
And my request to senior scientists who are presently judging the quality of the younger generation of researchers: challenge yourself to look at their social networking record and their willingness to shape the new measures of recognition. And do not forget: Access is not a sufficient condition for citation, but it is a necessary one. Open Access dramatically increases the number of potential users of any given article by adding those users who would otherwise have been unable to access it, as Stevan Harnad and Tim Brody demonstrated already 10 years ago. Give the pioneers a chance – they are the future of research!
“Give the pioneers a chance – they are the future of research.”