Weekly digest: what’s happening in Open Science?

Amy Williams

Featuring the peer reviewers accidentally re-animating the ideas of a 19th century biologist, the funders using open science to fight ebola and Kim Kardashian’s foray into academic publishing.

Are peer-reviewer biases reviving Lamarck in the popular imagination? via Wiring the Brain

Jean Babptiste Lamarck was a 19th century biologist famous for his evolutionary theory proposing that change in species over time resulted from the inheritance of characteristics acquired over the course of an organism’s life (as opposed to the theory of evolution via immutable traits present at birth that would later stem from Darwinian and Mendelian ideas). In recent years, the field of epigenetics has shown that in certain plant and invertebrate species, some acquired traits can indeed be passed down through generations – leading to a rehabilitation of Lamarck in some circles as the father of this new and exciting field. This article takes a look at some of the more ‘out-there’ claims of some epigeneticists on inheritance in humans, and the enthusiastic reception of these papers in the press. These theories have been believed and adopted by many as fact, further reviving Lamarck’s pre-Darwinian theories. The problem, the article argues, is that the evidence supporting epigenetic inheritance in humans is shaky at best – and that experts in the field conducting peer review, as researchers in this controversial area themselves, are giving papers credit where it may not be deserved.

The Gates Foundation echoes the Wellcome Trust’s call to fight ebola with Open Research practices via Linkedin

In an epidemic scenario, when time is of the essence for containing and curing deadly outbreaks, open research practices of preprinting, sharing data and open access publishing are increasingly being used to mobilize researchers. This week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it will be joining with the Wellcome Trust to support and promote open research practices to combat the ebola epidemic currently stalking the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both funders will encourage grantees to use their Open Research platforms to ensure that all results and findings can be shared and re-used as efficiently as possible.

Before we can know whether results are realistic, others must be given the information to reproduce them via Nature

The notion of reproducibility has been a cornerstone of science since the age of enlightenment and was advocated by Robert Boyle in the late 1600s as a way of substantiating his discovery of vacuums. In the face of the modern day reproducibility crisis, this piece argues that a key problem at present is that ‘reproducible’ means different things to different people, and researchers rarely give enough information in their research papers for reviewers to gauge the validity of the claims made. The author concludes with a call to bring science away from the ‘trust me’ approach of many researchers today, and back to the ‘show me’ approach of Boyle. They pledge not to review any research that they do not deem to be reproducable, and to disclose all software and ethically appropriate data as part of paper submissions.

Kim Kardashian’s exciting foray into academic publishing via Retraction Watch

In a piece that could be straight out of The Onion, this Retraction Watch special features an interview with the MIT postdoc Tomáš Pluskal, who has just published a collaboration piece with Kim Kardashian and the inventor of Bitcoin in the illustrious Drug Designing & Intellectual Properties  journal. Many call this journal predatory, but Tomáš has nothing but praise for it: peer review and no comments in just 4 days; an open-mindedness to papers produced by random paper-generator tools from the Internet; and liberal authorship criteria, which allowed Tomáš to collaborate with his very busy co-authors exclusively via Instagram.