Weekly digest: what’s happening in open science?

Amy Williams

Featuring peer reviewing robots, the debate over the definition of academic freedom and the scary side of preprints.

The robots lending a hand to peer reviewers via Nature

Our growing dependence on machines has been a controversial topic in recent years, with fears ranging from a risk of rising unemployment to more colourful dystopian visions of machines taking over the world. As far as over-worked peer reviewers are concerned however, robots are welcome. The introduction of a new suite of artificial intelligence tools by a few pioneering journals has started to take some of the burden off peer reviewers. While humans are (for now) firmly in the driving seat of the review, these helpful programmes are being developed to support reviewers by checking statistical analyses contained within papers, ensuring that manuscripts meet journal criteria, and by performing linguistic analysis to generate a top-line summary of submitted papers. This article takes a look at some of these new systems being piloted by pioneering publishers and records reviewer’s responses to them.

What does does academic freedom really mean for open access mandates? via Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication

While Plan S has ignited controversy over the meaning of academic freedom, and whether it is right to tell authors how they can and can’t publish, it is easy to forget that this is a conversation that has occupied academics for some time. This paper was written in response to the introduction of open access mandates in Canada in 2015. Although the Canadian policy was not so far-reaching as Plan S because hybrid journals and embargo periods were permitted, it is interesting to note that the same questions arose. The author concludes that many of the arguments that open access policies infringe on author freedoms rest upon an unfamiliarity with the myriad open access options available, particularly the alternatives offered by green open access.

Are preprints a double-edged sword? via The Wire

Since the launch of bioRxiv in 2013, preprinting has taken off in the field of biological sciences. With the promise of medRxiv, the new preprint server specifically for medicine, on the horizon, it is easy to see how the trend in medicine may continue as it has in other disciplines. But is this a good thing? It is true that preprints offer many benefits: they speed up the dissemination of research, they can protect authors from being scooped, and they enable a broader academic dialogue on a paper’s contents before the final version is published and is set in stone. This article argues, however, that in spite of these benefits, preprinting might not be such a great idea after all. The cornerstone of the articles argument rests on the ‘fake news’ phenomenon, in which claims are increasingly able to gain broad appeal even without facts to underpin them. While there are many problems with academic publishing as it stands, journals are under increasing pressure to uphold standards, and, on the whole, editors and peer reviewers, while not perfect, do promote quality. The article also criticizes the frequent association made between preprints and open access, and suggests that preprinting risks inviting journalists even further into the workings of the academic process, which, in a world of increasing specialization, may only serve to hinder the scientific process.

The petition for open citations via change.org

Open citations seem like a no-brainer to many: making the information on who has cited which articles freely available, and available for reuse and analysis. That has been the rallying cry of the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC), which has now been endorsed by many publishers, large and small, including the The BMJ, Taylor & Francis and Wiley. Some publishers, however, have resisted the move to open up citation data, preferring to keep it behind a paywall. This petition, started by an academic who is keen to find out which fields and applications his research is being used by, lobbies the American Chemical Society to join the I4OC. The petition has been signed by over 200 people so far and marks an interesting change from the traditional methods of open science lobbying, which tend to focus on open letters and white papers.