Weekly digest: what’s happening in open science?

Steph Macdonald

Featuring the growing traction of Registered Reports, an investigation into the inconsistent role of a peer reviewer, unusual citation patterns in some manuscripts and a new Plan S toolkit

Registered Reports – the two-step plan via Nature

Results are the only part of a study that are beyond a researcher’s control. However, the results are often the deciding factor as to whether a manuscript is published, leading some researchers to cherry-pick outcomes for publication. One way to overcome this publication bias is through the use of the Registered Reports format, which, unlike conventional publication models, splits the review process into two stages. In the first stage, the authors summarize the research design, background literature, research hypotheses and proposed methodology, including study procedures and an analysis plan. The Stage 1 manuscript is then subject to peer review to assess the value of the research question(s), the rationale of the hypotheses and the strength of the proposed methodology.

Stage 1 manuscripts might be rejected, accepted or accepted subject to revisions. Acceptance at this stage means that the research will be published regardless of its outcome, following a second round of peer review (Stage 2), and that, in the meantime, the Stage 1 manuscript will be registered in an appropriate repository, such as the Open Science Framework. Although the author is an advocate for Registered Reports, they note that this type of publication may not be suitable for all studies, particularly so for those lacking a clear hypothesis or trialling new methodology. However, in many cases, Registered Reports are a powerful tool for increasing the transparency, quality and reliability of scientific reporting.

How transparent is the role of a peer reviewer? via The Publication Plan

Most people in the scholarly community are familiar with the term ‘peer review’. However, there is little consensus about what the exact role of a peer reviewer is. A recent study, published in BMC Medicine, investigates the perceived role of a peer reviewer as described in statements from a number of biomedical journals. Peer reviewers were most commonly described as “unbiased and ethical professionals, and skilled critics”. Some guidelines suggest that they must also be upstanding members of the scientific community, able to uphold the high standard of scientific communication and journal standards. Reviewers’ tasks included addressing and evaluating publication content, assessing the manuscript presentation and providing recommendations. The study findings revealed inconsistencies in the definition of the role of a peer reviewer and a lack of clarity in journal expectations. As suggested by the study’s authors, a clearer definition of the role of peer reviewers would likely lead to publications of higher quality in the future.

Using the peer review process to boost citations – via Nature

In a controversial move, Elsevier has launched an investigation into possible abuse of the peer review system by some researchers trying to boost citations of their papers. The current investigation stems from a study, published on the SSRN preprint server, of
55 000 academics acting as peer reviewers for Elsevier journals. Although some overlap is to be expected, a small minority of reviewers (fewer than 1%) consistently have their own research referenced in papers they have reviewed. Earlier in 2019, Bioinformatics banned a referee after discovering they had requested and an average of 35 additional references per manuscript, 90% of which they had co-authored. In an attempt to reduce citation manipulation, Jonathan Wren, a bioinformatician at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and Associate Editor at Bioinformatics, is developing an algorithm to detect unusual citation patterns in manuscripts. Despite leading this investigation, Elsevier has been heavily scrutinized on social media by many open access advocates.

Plan S – where are we now? via cOAlition S

On 12 September, cOAlition S announced the launch of their latest open access toolkit. The toolkit, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and UK Research and Innovation (in partnership with The Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers) and developed by Information Power, aims to help learned society publishers transition to an open access model and enter into transformative agreements that are compliant with Plan S. The resource is available here under a CC BY licence.

Image courtesy of Jan Alonzo