#ASAPbio is currently discussing the future of #science publication! #scicomm #starstuddedcast

Just in case you weren’t aware, ASAPbio is currently underway and is likely going to influence the future of science publication!!

Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology (ASAPbio) will be an interactive meeting to discuss the use of preprints in biology held on February 16-17, 2016. The meeting will be streamed online, and we welcome participation from all interested parties through this website and on Twitter (#ASAPbio).

For background on the issues facing science publication, especially in biomedical science and biology, check out this primer from Nature last week (Does it take too long to publish research?). We here at CauseScience think that the answer to that title is a resounding YES!! One option that ASAPbio is considering are preprints – commonly used in other science fields. Nature this week featured another article related to ASAPbio about preprints (Biologists urged to hug a preprint).

For up to date info on the conference, check out the twitter hashtag #ASAPbio, which thus far has included tweets from well-known scientists, and fun pictures of former NIH directors and Nobel Laureates!! Or just visit the ASAPbio website!!

Definitely exciting to see people discussing the problems of science publication, but more importantly, discussing potential solutions!!

The WEAK case against double-blind peer review – highlighting why we need it!! #science @NatureNews

NATURE this week feature a correspondence from Thomas E. DeCoursey reasoning against double-blind peer review. In my humble opinion his reasoning is flawed…. not unlike the current peer-review structure. To air out my laundry, I support a completely open or double-blind system for manuscript peer review. All of the peer review models have some flaws, but these two seem infinitely better than the current system where authors are blinded to reviewers but not vice-versa.

DeCoursey makes the somewhat legitimate point that it may be possible for reviewers to ascertain who the authors of a manuscript are based on citations. However, there would always be some element of doubt for the reviewer about who the authors are, and there are many cases where this circumstance would not occur.

Then DeCoursey reasons that reviewers need to know who the authors are in order to judge them on their past work…. or something…. wha???

To function in our increasingly competitive research culture, in which misconduct is on the rise, researchers need to be aware of which labs can be trusted and which have a record of irreproducibility. If a highly regarded lab and one with a questionable reputation each submit reports of similar investigations, a good reviewer would be extra vigilant in assessing the less-reliable lab’s study, even though the same evaluation standards would be upheld for both.

Yes, misconduct is on the rise, but this point seems wrong to me on every level. Reviewer’s should be vigilant of misconduct and scientific quality on every paper, regardless of what lab the paper comes from. Plenty of ‘good’ labs have had to retract papers for many reasons, and labs with a history of misconduct have reformed and redeemed themselves with quality papers. In fact, less vigilant reviewers may be to blame when flawed papers from highly regarded labs make it through the review process with glaring mistakes. Any reviewer that is more or less vigilant reviewing a manuscript based on the author’s names is not an impartial reviewer. PARTIALITY is bad when reviewing papers and grants…  Ethics 101 – Conflict of Interest. For the same reason, most journals won’t allow scientists to review a manuscript from within the same institution.

There is a reason double-blind experimental design is the gold standard for experiments and human clinical trials. Just like a reviewer might think he knows who the authors are, a doctor might think he knows whether a patient is receiving placebo, but neither can ever really be sure. Why wouldn’t we want the same type of controls for peer review?

Double-blind peer review removes this crucial quality-control option, opening the way for mediocre and bad labs to clutter the literature with sub-standard science.


Maybe I’m jaded, but good reviewers should be screening out sub-standard science regardless of whether they know what lab a manuscript is from or not. This closing statement makes it sound like DeCoursey thinks only the best labs, with the biggest names, and the highest impact factor publications should be publishing… which I hope is not the case (maybe I read into it too much). If it is the case, then that only argues stronger for a double-blind peer review system.

And in closing, a double-blind peer review system would help avoid racist, sexist, or other embarrassing situations like this one, where a reviewer commented that the two female author’s should add a male author in order to strengthen the manuscript. Double-blind peer review erases sexism, racism, nationalism, institutionalism (?), and other discrimination from the peer review process, which is definitely huge plus!

How and why do we need to judge research? Derek Smith explains @ConversationUK

Explainer: how and why is research assessed?

By Derek R. Smith, University of Newcastle

Governments and taxpayers deserve to know that their money is being spent on something worthwhile to society. Individuals and groups who are making the greatest contribution to science and to the community deserve to be recognised. For these reasons, all research has to be assessed.

Judging the importance of research is often done by looking at the number of citations a piece of research receives after it has been published.

Let’s say Researcher A figures out something important (such as how to cure a disease). He or she then publishes this information in a scientific journal, which Researcher B reads. Researcher B then does their own experiments and writes up the results in a scientific journal, which refers to the original work of Researcher A. Researcher B has now cited Researcher A.

Thousands of experiments are conducted around the world each year, but not all of the results are useful. In fact, a lot of scientific research that governments pay for is often ignored after it’s published. For example, of the 38 million scientific articles published between 1900 and 2005, half were not cited at all.

To ensure the research they are paying for is of use, governments need a way to decide which researchers and topics they should continue to support. Any system should be fair and, ideally, all researchers should be scored using the same measure.

This is why the field of bibliometrics has become so important in recent years. Bibliometric analysis helps governments to number and rank researchers, making them easier to compare.

Let’s say the disease that Researcher A studies is pretty common, such as cancer, which means that many people are looking at ways to cure it. In the mix now there would be Researchers C, D and E, all publishing their own work on cancer. Governments take notice if, for example, ten people cite the work of Researcher A and only two cite the work of Researcher C.

If everyone in the world who works in the same field as Researcher A gets their research cited on average (say) twice each time they publish, then the international citation benchmark for that topic (in bibliometrics) would be two. The work of Researcher A, with his or her citation rate of ten (five times higher than the world average), is now going to get noticed.

Excellence for Research in Australia

Bibliometric analysis and citation benchmarks form a key part of how research is assessed in Australia. The Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) process evaluates the quality of research being undertaken at Australian universities against national and international benchmarks. It is administered by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and helps the government decide what research is important and what should continue to receive support.

Although these are not the only components assessed in the ERA process, bibliometric data and citation analysis are still a big part of the performance scores that universities and institutions receive.

Many other countries apply formal research assessment systems to universities and have done so for many years. The United Kingdom, for example, operated a process known as the Research Assessment Exercise between 1986 and 2001. This was superseded by the Research Excellence Framework in 2014.

A bibliometrics-based performance model has also been employed in Norway since 2002. This model was first used to influence budget allocations in 2006, based on scientific publications from the previous year.

Although many articles don’t end up getting cited, this doesn’t always mean the research itself didn’t matter. Take, for example, the polio vaccine developed by Albert Sabin last century, which saves over 300,000 lives around the world each year.

Sabin and others published the main findings in 1960 in what has now become one of the most important scientific articles of all time. By the late 1980s, however, Sabin’s article had not even been cited 100 times.

On the other hand, we have Oliver Lowry, who in 1951 published an article describing a new method for measuring the amount of protein in solutions,. This has become the most highly cited article of all time (over 300,000 citations and counting). Even Lowry was surprised by its “success”, pointing out that he wasn’t really a genius and that this study was by no means his best work.

The history of research assessment

While some may regard the assessment of research as a modern phenomenon inspired by a new generation of faceless bean-counters, the concept has been around for centuries.

Sir Francis Galton, a celebrated geneticist and statistician, was probably the first well-known person to examine the performance of individual scientists, publishing a landmark book, English Men of Science, in the 1870s.

Galton’s work evidently inspired others, with an American book, American Men of Science, appearing in the early 1900s.

Productivity rates for scientists and academics (precursors to today’s performance benchmarks and KPIs) have also existed in one form or another for many years. One of the first performance “benchmarks” appeared in a 1940s book, The Academic Man, which described the output of American academics.

This book is probably most famous for coining the phrase “publish or perish” – the belief that an academic’s fate is doomed if they don’t get their research published. It’s a fate that bibliometric analysis and other citation benchmarks now reinforce.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The ethics of authorship in scientific publication, explained @TheConversation

Tackling unethical authorship deals on scientific publications

By Isaac Santos; Carlos Duarte, University of Western Australia; Damien Maher; Peter Macreadie, University of Technology, Sydney, and Scott G Johnston

The research excellence of academics is often measured by the quantity and quality of their scholarly publications. But how do we know that all authors listed on a publication have actually been involved in the research?

Is our “publish or perish” culture encouraging the development of unethical, fraudulent co-authorship deals?

The number of authors on scientific papers has been growing. In 2011, the average number of authors on a paper stood at 4.5, up from 3.8 in 2007. Papers listing hundreds – even thousands – of authors are not uncommon.

Authorship has become a core currency of modern science, and the main means to assign credit to researchers. Assigning authorship responsibly and ethically is essential to the health of any research group and the broader scientific community.

Sharing credit for scientific discoveries is a challenge. The growing number of authors listed on papers demands that individual professional ethics be stronger than ever.

If willing to do so, experienced group leaders can easily take advantage of inexperienced scientists, and authorship credit will always flow up the rank ladder. The “Matthew Effect” in science describes how senior scientists can easily benefit through credit that belongs to junior co-authors.

This places junior scientists in difficult positions to argue against any unfair authorship deals. Group leaders may just quietly accept, or even enforce, unfair authorship deals to further build their credentials, and retain leadership status.

While data are scarce and hard to come by, the pressure to publish may create incentives for growing numbers of unethical authorship deals.

These deals come in many names including coercive, honorary, guest, gift, ghost, and duplicated authorship. Minimising unethical authorship deals is challenging when academics may be unacquainted with formal authorship criteria.

Take the test

Many academics may have experienced or heard about unethical authorship deals. If you have at least a few scientific papers under your belt, are you aware of any of the following situations?

  1. A senior academic is included in publications just because they are the gatekeeper to facilities funded with taxpayer money.
  2. A senior academic adds additional authors to a paper even if the first author (often a junior academic) never spoke to these additional authors or has no idea about their contributions.
  3. A junior academic adds a senior academic to a paper simply to improve career prospects, or potentially bring prestige to facilitate the publication of the paper.
  4. A senior academic expects to be given authorship on all papers produced by their group regardless of whether they contributed to the research or not.
  5. Large research groups including all members in all papers even when there has been negligible contribution from some of them.

If you are a junior academic who answered “no” to all the above questions, you have good reasons to be proud of your group’s ethics.

If you answered “yes” to any, it may be time to consider your career and leadership options. You may be part of an undeclared, unethical scheme in which junior academics do the work while the most senior academics take undue credit and reap the rewards.

All the options listed above breach our ethics and codes of conduct, and artificially inflate the record of senior academics.

Unethical conduct around authorship is akin to a lie and undermines the entire discipline of science.

Occasionally such behaviour is exposed. For example, a senior academic lending his name to a paper had to argue that he did not participate in the research so he could escape a more serious case of academic misconduct. Such cases have led some major journals to issue statements requesting details on the contributions of all co-authors.

Incentives in the university system

Our highly competitive “publish or perish” culture is well established and encouraged by reward processes in universities and funding agencies.

A scientist’s publication record is considered a major criteria influencing success in prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) grants or promotion. In an environment of increasing competition, universities need to develop strategies to maximise funding outcomes.

A common Australian university strategy is to invest most of the resources into a few science stars that are expected to raise additional funding from the ARC.

This approach has at least one major flaw. The relationship between an academic’s productivity versus dollars invested is unlikely to grow linearly.

At a given point, the research outputs will reach the point of diminishing returns and continuing institutional investment is unlikely to further increase productivity. Personal productivity can only be squeezed so far. Researchers have a finite capacity to meaningfully contribute as authors.

At this point, unethical authorship schemes may come into play and quickly gather momentum.

Academics who control substantial university resources may suddenly become untrained managers of large research groups. They become science politicians. These new managers may still be listed as authors even though effective management requires re-allocation of time away from scientific endeavours.

The incentive for senior academics to become managers should be better pay, not contractual key performance indicators (KPI) that value their inclusion as an author on every paper produced by a work unit for which they are responsible.

The way forward

Challenging spurious authorship claims of senior academics is perceived as a career suicide for junior academics in an environment of short-term contracts controlled by the group leader.

The senior academic knows that if the junior collaborator objects, the choice of whistleblowing is daunting. The junior academic may think it is far easier and safer to just add another name to a multi-authored paper if this culture is already established.

In this case, the junior academic offers payment (by authorship) to the senior academic in return for protection in an uncertain academic environment.

Such authorship schemes erode both scientific and personal integrity. They essentially amount to publication prostitution. So how do we prevent them?

Senior academics should carry most of the burden and lead from the front by example. High standards of individual ethics are critical, as is creating and fostering a culture in which personal ethics are more valued than research outputs.

Educating junior academics not only on the importance of publishing, but also on how to properly attribute authorship is a good starting point.

The requirement of a significant intellectual input requiring contributions to designing and/or conducting the study as well as analysis and writing, must not be waived for anyone.

Follow the codes

There are national and international guidelines and codes of conduct that establish clear criteria for shared authorship. For simplicity, some of us follow an authorship index that works quite well in our broad field of natural sciences.

In a research environment with strong ethics, the leading author should offer authorship to all who may have a legitimate authorship claim. They should also be open to considering co-authors whose role may not have been evident, which can occur in large interdisciplinary efforts.

The invited academics should then use even stronger personal ethics to decide whether they should accept authorship or opt for a warm acknowledgement. In this way, excluding a colleague who has made a sufficient contribution is avoided. Unfair exclusions can also poison academic environments.

But in a research environment where professional ethics are weak, undeserving authors are unlikely to decline invitations to become authors. Here, the opposite approach should be adopted by the leading author. Co-authors are invited only when the leading author has confidence the colleague made a large enough contribution to warrant authorship.

When weak ethics or self-interest prevents action from senior academics, junior academics should find creative ways to stand up and retain credit for their discoveries without committing career suicide.

Confidential conversations with independent mentors – that may include an ethics officer or a director of research – can start a process of top down change without threatening the career of the junior academic.

The future

If junior academics don’t take action when facing unethical authorship deals, the worst may happen.

If junior academics accept the masked exploitation as they develop a publication portfolio, they replicate the unethical behaviour of their senior peers and jointly break codes of conduct.

If this unethical behaviour is passed from one generation to the next, the scale of the problem will only increase. With different generations of scientists vying for the same pool of funding, a publication arms-race is likely to develop, to the detriment of personal and academic integrity.

Ending a culture of unethical authorship deals can be quite challenging. Preventing these deals in the first place is a responsibility of the entire scientific community.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

What if scientists acted like celebrities? #IfScientistsWere #IfScientistsWereProAthletes


The other night while watching a sports interview (during the US national figure skating competition to be exact), the writers of CauseScience noticed that athletes get away with saying a lot, trash talking, and completely ignoring criticism. It made us wonder about what it would be like if scientists were treated like celebrities. Our culture values entertainers, athletes, musicians, actors/actresses, and other celebrities to a much higher degree than scientists, doctors… and most other meaningful professions.

Imagine scientists trash talking competitors. Or responding to reviewers comments the same way athletes respond to criticism. Or being interviewed about how running a gel or PCR went that day. It would be hilarious!!


CauseScience will be launching a series of posts and hashtags to consider what it would be like If Scientists Were… Since this weekend is the superbowl, what better way to start than with #IfScientistsWereProAthletes

A few examples from Ashley Wagner’s interviews surrounding her WIN at the 2015 US Figure Skating Nationals – just to get your wheels spinning. Some negative, but also positive quotes that are quite funny when applied to SCIENCE!

  • About her competitors – “In skating, she makes me uncomfortable, because she’s always kind of breathing down my neck. I don’t like to get beat. And I do not like to get beat by girls.”
  • About her critics – “this shows them that they need to shut their mouths and watch me skate.”
  • About her job – “I LOVE skating, i mean, I’m so lucky that this is my job, that this is what i do everyday.”
  • and again – “I’m so endlessly in love with this sport and I’m so glad I was able to show it with the way I skated tonight.”

[tweet https://twitter.com/CauseScience1/status/561164403052380160]

Note: While this is ultimately for fun and a laugh, it can also serve to showcase the lack of public engagement and agreement with science and scientists. As well as the under-appreciation of scientists. In the end, it may not be surprising that most scientists don’t act like celebrities or professional athletes. Science is a profession that trains people to be logical, critical, evidence-based, and open-minded. And usually the ‘system’ keeps most scientists’ egos from getting too big.

UPDATE- See our favorites of #IfScientistsWereProAthletes in a new CauseScience post here!

Scientists into criminals – update – Colombian researcher Diego Gomez faces 8 years in prison for sharing article #openaccess #YoComparto

deigomezCheck out the OpenScience article written by Diego Gomez, the Colombian master’s student who faces 4-8 years in prison for sharing an academic article over the internet with fellow researchers and students (a Master’s thesis).

I urge institutions that support research with public funds to encourage their recipients to publish their results in a way that assures equal access to information. Moreover, I call for researchers to back open access, in this way, we support the mitigation of inequality of science in our countries, we stay away from the illegality in the access to information, we can turn our research into an engine for development in our countries, and above all we will avoid that no other person like me, sees themselves involved in weary penal processes. Finally, I call to legislators and the managers of public policies, to cast their eye onto authors’ rights, because this situation can turn a scientist into a criminal.

If you missed it, here is the previous CauseScience post about Diego Gomez. Also, check out the Karisma Foundation and this Nature News blog post. Here is the link to Diego’s previously posted open letter. Diego can be found on twitter here –@diegogomezhoyos . Also sign this petition to promote open access worldwide.

Academic publishing costs: Should reviewers be compensated for their time?? #science


Eleftherios P. Diamandis has written a provocative correspondence in this week’s Nature. Diamandis suggests that reviewers and journals should treat peer-review as a business transaction. In other words, journals should pay for the reviewers valuable time to encourage fast and quality reviews. At the end of the day, reviewers serve as manuscript editors (for both science and writing), why should they provide this service for free to a for-profit business (in many cases)?

Reviewers are crucial to the success of prestigious and profitable journals, traditionally receiving no monetary or other recognition. As journals proliferate and scientists get ever busier, our appetite for reviewing wanes (see, for example, M. Arns Nature 5154672014). One way to revive this activity would be to consider it a business transaction — with modest remuneration of, say, US$50 per hour (see also S. Ott and D. Hebenstreit Nature 5062952014).

CauseScience has posted before about academic publishing and its need for a major overhaul. The current system takes advantage of taxpayers, institutions, and researchers. What do you think? Should reviewers get compensated for their time spent reviewing research manuscripts? Take the poll below:

Are science journals hurting science? Daniel Marovitz explains that science publication needs to embrace the internet age @WiredInsights


Daniel Marovitz has written an article describing a number of reasons that science journals no longer make sense for science, and how they may be holding science back from the age of technology. The article is on Wired.com’s InnovationInsights.

Technology has helped so many industries evolve over the past few decades, but scientific publishing, surprisingly, has hardly changed since the first journal article in 1665. They must; their day is done. Their continuing existence damages science.

Marovitz includes the following reasons, and great explanations for each:

1 – The use of an arbiter (Editor) in science

2 – Extensive delays

3 – The public trust –

4 – Anonymous peer review

5 – Missing data

Marovitz closes the article with a plea for publication of science to embrace the age of the internet:

It is time for publishing — the sole window through which science is made visible to the world — to embrace the open culture of the Internet. In an age of serious global challenges, science will continue to be the source for answers. Those answers must be delivered with speed, fairness, transparency, and freedom from bias. The scientific journal is a relic of another age.

Are you a scientist with a social media presence? Beware of your ‘Kardashian Index’ #hilarious #science

Shadan Larki for The Daily Dot informs us all about the scientific ‘Kardashian Index’ created by University of Liverpool geneticist Neil Hall:

“Consider Kim Kardashian; she comes from a privileged background and, despite having not achieved anything consequential in science, politics or the arts … she is one of the most followed people on Twitter and [one of] the most searched-for [people] on Google,” Hall wrote in his full report. “I am concerned that phenomena similar to that of Kim Kardashian may also exist in the scientific community.”

Enter Hall’s solution, the “Kardashian Index.” It’s “a measure of discrepancy between a scientist’s social media profile and publication record based on the direct comparison of numbers of citations and Twitter followers.”

Check out the article for some featured tweets from scientists with social media presence! Including this one from Jonathon Eisen (@phylogenomics):

eisen k index

Science Quotable: Jonathan Adams on scientific publishing merit


Publishing in a high impact journal is a real signal of achievement. It’s tough in a highly competitive environment to get past those editorial and refereeing decisions. So, it’s great to get into Nature or Science or the leading international journal in your field. But the point here, in the Current Biology study and in our own analyses, is that this seems to be more influential than the actual paper. Some of the UK researchers actually had more highly cited papers available. –Jonathan Adams guest post for a Nature blog