Weekly digest: what’s happening in open science?

Steph Macdonald

Featuring concerns over financing ‘pay to publish’ models, a fresh demand for clinical trial transparency sanctions, and how one highly cited article may influence a journal’s impact factor and a researcher’s career progression.

Fresh concern from publishers over Plan S financing via Nature

Will the scholarly community be ready for a ‘pay to publish’ model by 2024? The question follows concerns raised by some publishers over the tight timeline for the implementation of Plan S, the controversial plan aiming to make all research papers funded by cOAlition S members open access by 2021. This article, written by cOAlition S co-chairs John-Arne Røttingen and David Sweeney, discusses the ways in which this challenge will be addressed.

Although funders will initially support transformative publishing agreements, this financial backing will end in 2024, at which time cOAlition S recommends that institutional libraries and consortia transition from ‘read and publish’ agreements to ‘pure publishing’ deals. John-Arne and David assure readers that cOAlition S funders will contribute to financing these deals and that such agreements will, in the long term, be more cost-effective than a single-paper charging system. It will be interesting to see how authors, institutions, publishers and funders work together to support the implementation of these changes.

How transparent is the ‘Make it Public’ campaign? via TranspariMED

This week, Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, reiterated the demand for a system of sanctions for those (researchers, organizations and funders) who do not comply with clinical trial reporting guidelines. The statement follows concerns from some transparency campaigners that the Health Research Authority (HRA) will push back against such sanctions after the ‘Make it Public’ consultation process ends on 6 September 2019. A consultation document issued by the HRA states that, before imposing transparency sanctions, the organization will perform another round of consultations. Meeting minutes released by the HRA revealed that an advisory group felt that discussing firmer sanctions was, at this stage, premature. Given that the HRA have also refused to release legal information regarding their power to impose sanctions, it is no wonder that TranspariMED has concerns.

The power of a single publication via The Publication Plan

Impact factor (IF) is calculated by indexing the average citation number of a given journal’s recent publications. However, this process lacks transparency and, as shown in a recent article published on arXiv, can be swayed by a single highly cited publication. The article presented data from over 11 600 journals that received an IF in the 2017 Journal Citation Reports, and calculated how much the top-cited paper influenced the overall journal IF. In most journals, the top-cited paper significantly boosted their overall IF; however, the IF was more volatile in small journals than in large ones. The author speculates that this may incentivize small journals with a high IF to remain highly selective. The article calls for the use of alternative measurements, based on robust statistics, for future journal comparisons.

A little more conversation, a little more action, please via Nature Index

Despite being recognized as a highly flawed metric in the article discussed above, impact factor (IF) is still the primary measure used to evaluate academic research. A recent survey of 338 researchers from 55 institutions across North America, published as part of a larger study on bioRxiv, showed that 36% of the respondents consider IF to be a key metric for future promotions and tenure. The survey also revealed that respondents believed that their peers placed a greater value on journal IF than they themselves did. These results highlight the need for honest conversations about what really matters to researchers when communicating academic research.