Weekly digest: what’s happening in open science?

Steph Macdonald

Featuring the use of ‘spin’ in clinical trial abstracts, the first publication in UCL Open: Environment, a new clinical trial educational resource and insights from the OASPA webinar on learned societies and open access.

Putting a positive spin on clinical trials via The Publication Plan

At some point in their career, most clinicians, short on time, turn to abstracts to provide succinct and accurate information for clinical decision-making. However, a recent study suggests that, just like a book cannot be judged by its cover, an academic study should not be judged purely based on its abstract. The study, published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, aims to educate researchers on ‘spin’, which happens when only positive results that fit in with the authors’ desired narrative are presented in the abstract. Of the 116 manuscripts from leading psychology and psychiatry journals analysed, more than half showed evidence of spin, exaggerating the actual clinical findings in the abstract. A potential explanation for the high rate of spin found in this study is the increasing pressure to publish high-impact results. Although the authors appreciate that spin is subjective, they also highlight the need to tackle this issue by inviting reviewers to specifically spot spin and by providing authors with training to help them to communicate their findings in abstracts effectively.

Pioneer publication for UCL Open via UCL News

Earlier in 2019, we featured a story detailing the launch of University College London’s (UCL’s) megajournal UCL Open. This week, its first paper titled ‘Global evolution and palaeogeographic distribution of mid-Cretaceous orbitolinids’ was published in UCL Open: Environment. The megajournal aims to challenge existing publishing models by removing paywalls and by delivering groundbreaking research free of charge. Before their publication, articles are hosted by the journal as preprints, so that a rapid and transparent publishing process is established through open peer review. Over the coming months, the e-journal will expand to cover a wide range of disciplines to ensure that cutting-edge research is freely accessible to all. The first UCL Open: Environment publication can be found in full here.

Power to the people via The People’s Trial

Speakers at this year’s EBMLive highlighted the importance of involving patients and the general public in clinical trials. However, even to those of us with a background in scientific research, the processes and terminology associated with clinical trials may be confusing. The People’s Trial is a new online platform designed to help the public to learn about how randomized clinical trials work and to think critically about healthcare choices. Although it is still in its early stages of development, the platform will eventually take participants through each stage of a clinical trial, from hypothesis formation to outcome reporting. It will also act as a tool for investigators, by suggesting ways to involve patients in clinical trial design.

Learned societies and open access publishing via OASPA

Plan S has led many within the scholarly community to question the future role of learned societies. In July 2019, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) held a webinar to address some of these concerns, titled ‘How should Scholarly Societies transition to Open Access?’ As described by Stuart Taylor (The Royal Society) and Aileen Fyfe (University of St Andrews), learned society publishing was traditionally non-commercial and only switched to a subscription-based model in the 1950s/1960s. Alicia Wise (Information Power) highlighted the potential use of transformative agreements to ease the transition of society journals towards open access. A model transformative agreement and toolkit are being developed by the Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S project and will be launched on 12 September 2019. Rachael Samberg (University of California [UC]  Berkeley Library) also discussed some of the work UC Berkeley Library is doing to help learned societies engage and/or develop open access publishing models. The webinar, including an engaging Q&A session, is available to listen to in full here.