Category Archives: Publish or perish

How science goes wrong

[from: The Economist, Oct 19th 2013]

Problems with scientific research: How science goes wrong

Scientific research has changed the world. Now it needs to change itself

A SIMPLE idea underpins science: “trust, but verify”. Results should always be subject to challenge from experiment. That simple but powerful idea has generated a vast body of knowledge. Since its birth in the 17th century, modern science has changed the world beyond recognition, and overwhelmingly for the better.

But success can breed complacency. Modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying—to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity.

What a load of rubbish

Even when flawed research does not put people’s lives at risk—and much of it is too far from the market to do so—it squanders money and the efforts of some of the world’s best minds. The opportunity costs of stymied progress are hard to quantify, but they are likely to be vast. And they could be rising.

One reason is the competitiveness of science. In the 1950s, when modern academic research took shape after its successes in the second world war, it was still a rarefied pastime. The entire club of scientists numbered a few hundred thousand. As their ranks have swelled, to 6m-7m active researchers on the latest reckoning, scientists have lost their taste for self-policing and quality control. The obligation to “publish or perish” has come to rule over academic life. Competition for jobs is cut-throat. Full professors in America earned on average $135,000 in 2012—more than judges did. Every year six freshly minted PhDs vie for every academic post. Nowadays verification (the replication of other people’s results) does little to advance a researcher’s career. And without verification, dubious findings live on to mislead.

[…]

[read full article here]

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Why open-access publication should be nonprofit

Haspelmath M (2013) Why open-access publication should be nonprofit — a view from the field of theoretical language science. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 7:57. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00057

Why open-access publication should be nonprofit—a view from the field of theoretical language science

Martin Haspelmath
Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany

Many of my fellow theoretical linguistics researchers have not noticed the momentous changes in the world of science publication yet. When confronted with the idea that publication costs should be covered by author fees (“author processing charges,” or APCs), they often react with disbelief and indignation.

But the signs of inefficiency of the old subscription-based system are just as clear in my field as elsewhere, so I see no reasonable alternative to Gold open access (i.e., freely accessible electronic publications on the publisher’s website). Green open access is inefficient because of the duplication of efforts, and subscription is inefficient because it is very difficult to predict for an institution to what extent its members will want to use a journal or book. Moreover, the subscription-based model is even worse for scholars with low budgets: While a low-budget scholar can at least read the richer scholars’ works on the APC-based open access model, not even that is possible on the traditional model, and usually one can publish in prestigious places only if one knows the relevant literature.

But is APC-based publication of scientific results by profit-oriented companies (such as Holtzbrinck, the parent company of Nature Publishing Group, the parent company of Frontiers) a good alternative to subscription? Clearly, the old author-pays model removes a major inefficiency of the subscription-based system, because the authors know that they want to publish, whereas the subscribers only suspect that they want to use the publications. According to Stuart Shieber, an open-access expert and theoretical linguist at Harvard University, subscription-based publication can lead to market dysfunction (unreasonably high publication prices) because science journals are not competitive goods: If you subscribe to one science journal, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need another one (see Shieber, 2013). But from the author’s perspective, Shieber says, they are competitive goods: You just need to publish in one journal, and you can choose the cheapest one.

Shieber’s article is very sophisticated from an economics perspective, but it completely leaves aside a crucial component of scientific publication that I will argue leads to market dysfunction also with the APC-based open-access model: Scientific publications serve both to disseminate research results and to build careers of scientists. The success of a scientist (and of groups of scientists) is routinely measured by the place of publication of the work. When evaluating a scientist, the evaluators not only look at the amount of research output and the amount of citations, but also at the place of publication. Moreover, when deciding what to cite, scientists routinely privilege papers published in more prestigious journals and books published in more prestigious imprints. Thus, to be a successful scientist, one needs to publish in the same places as other successful scientists. Thus, journals and imprints have a significance for science that goes far beyond the purpose of dissemination of research results. The latter can nowadays be achieved much more easily, by archives such as Arxiv.org, or by publishing in one’s personal blog, or on Academia.edu. The primary purpose of peer review is actually peer selection: One needs to make a special effort to present one’s results in such a way that one’s peers recognize their value. It is only in this way that one’s research is likely to have an impact on others. Being selected for publication in a particular place (journal or book imprint) means being successful.

One could imagine alternative models of establishing scientific credentials, e.g., by a rating system similar to the one found in online bookshops, but discussing these is beyond the scope of this note. The big advantage of anonymous peer review and selection that I see for my own field is that it gives younger scholars the chance to become more widely visible even without traveling to many conferences. In the following, I assume that peer selection of publications will be the prevalent mode of establishing scientific credentials also in the future.

Now crucially, the association of place of publication with prestige means that the market for APC-based journals does NOT provide for competition after all: I cannot simply submit my paper to a cheaper journal if the cheaper journal has much less prestige and will lead to much fewer citations of the article. I will quite likely submit my paper to the best journal in my subfield even if this means that I will pay higher APCs (as long as my budget still allows it). Publishers will be able to price their journals according to their prestige, not according to their services. But in the 21st century, the prestige of a journal is primarily the result of the work of the scientists who publish in it, who serve as editors and as reviewers, and not the result of the publisher’s efforts. If I publish an excellent piece of research in a journal, or if I write a careful review of a submitted manuscript, I thereby enhance the prestige of this journal, and I thereby contribute to making the journal more expensive for future submitters. The publishers will reap the benefits of my excellent and conscientious work, because they can charge more without improving their services. This situation is clearly undesirable for science.

Journal and book publication has become very simple and cheap as a result of technological developments: One just needs typesetting, hosting and web presentation, as well as perhaps some kind of print-on-demand service (for open-access books). This can be done very easily without major investments, and as a result, journal publication in the less wealthy countries has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. For example, the Brazilian platform Scielo.org hosts over 1000 journals that are freely accessible and do not charge any author fees.

Of course, even nowadays journal and book publication does not come for free, and somebody has to pay for it. But in order to have a functioning market with reasonable prices, one needs real competition. My research institution can replace its cleaning company by another one, or it can buy its computers and printers from different companies if we are dissatisfied with the services and products. But we cannot simply replace journals and imprints, because we use these to build our careers and to measure our success.

A functioning model would be one where the scientists own the journal titles and book imprints, and where they choose typesetters, webdesign companies, and hosting companies that can be easily replaced by others if the prices are not right. Just as basic science itself is not a profit-oriented activity, publication of scientific results would not be a profit-oriented activity. APCs could be charged by the nonprofit organizations of the scientists (universities, scientific libraries, scholarly associations), but these would not increase as a result of excellent and high-impact work being published by the journals and imprints. On the contrary, since universities and scholarly associations derive their prestige in part from their publications, it is to be expected that the best work will be published without any APCs: These nonprofit organizations would benefit from their prestigious journals and imprints, so it would make sense for them to subsidize them in much the same way as they are subsidizing non-profit-oriented basic research itself.

The alternative model, where APCs are charged by profit-oriented publishers, has another serious drawback: It creates a strong incentive to create journals and book imprints that function like “vanity presses,” allowing authors to publish their low-quality work without significant risk of rejection. Vanity presses have long existed in the regular book market, and they have not been a problem because no public money went into them. Of course, everyone should be free to publish their bad novels or low-quality scientific articles if they desire. However, when it comes to scientific publications, the idea is that the APCs are covered by grants for scientific research, i.e., mostly by public money that would otherwise go into science. In the traditional system, grant holders are free to publish the results of their research wherever they want—but there used to be a limited set of possibilities, and scientific vanity publishers hardly existed. But nowadays increasingly, grant agencies are trying to impose the restriction that the publication should be open access—and with the for-profit approach, there is an unlimited set of possibilities. Anyone can easily found a new journal and offer publication for APCs, simply claiming that it is peer-reviewed. For example, I recently heard of two Chinese companies that are publishing a large number of open-access journals, some of them in my field of linguistics: Wuhan-based SCIRP (http://www.scirp.org/, over 250 journals) and Beijing-based MDPI (http://www.mdpi.com/, over 120 journals). The business model here is to start a large number of new journals and to hope that some of them will succeed and bring profit. For example, MDPI’s journal Languages does not even have an editor yet. This is of course reminiscent of the business model of spam e-mail, and in fact, some observers have warned of the danger of “predatory journals.” In particular, Jeffrey Beal noted in a Nature column in 2012 that there are hundreds of journals with this business model, and he writes:

The competition for author fees among fraudulent publishers is a serious threat to the future of science communication. To compete in a crowded market, legitimate open-access publishers are being forced to promise shorter submission-to-publication times; this weakens the peer-review process, which takes time to do properly. To tackle the problem, scholars must resist the temptation to publish quickly and easily… (Beall, 2012)

But the problem with Beall’s argumentation is that it is difficult to say in what sense the business model of “predatory” publishers is “fraudulent.” They are just exploiting a new niche that has been created by the notion that authors should pay for publication by profit-oriented companies. Clearly, given the current system, where not only quality, but also quantity of publication counts, scholars have an incentive to publish “quickly and easily.” Moral exhortations to “resist the temptation” will not make this problem go away.

In order to prevent scholars from publishing their work in less than fully respectable venues, science funders will have to set up a new control system that monitors journal publishers and that prevents grant holders from using grant money to publish in these journals. It is difficult to see how this can be done efficiently and without unduly restricting the freedom of scientists. In any event, it will cost money that would be saved if publication costs were carried by the publishers (universities, libraries, scholarly associations), rather than by the authors.

Another argument that Shieber (2013) cites against toll-access publication is that traditional publishers typically use price bundling, so that canceling individual journal subscriptions does not significantly reduce the costs of the libraries. But is this different in the for-profit open-access model? Not at all: Once open-access publication becomes the norm, for-profit publishers will introduce price bundling for APCs: If your institution enters into an agreement with the publisher, you will pay only EUR 500 for publishing your paper instead of the usual EUR 1000. There are already signs that this is happening: In January 2013, De Gruyter and the Max Planck Society came to an agreement about open-access publication of Max Planck books by De Gruyter (see http://www.mpdl.mpg.de/news/pressrel_2013/PM_deGruyter_MPG_de.pdf).

To summarize, the major argument for open access is that toll access is inefficient because there can be no functioning market (Shieber, 2013) and because it is difficult for subscribers to predict their needs. How should open-access publication be funded? One common funding option is by public funds, i.e., publication is funded in the same way in which science is funded. The other major funding option is by for-profit companies, on the basis of APCs. The major argument against for-profit companies is again that there can be no functioning market: Scientific publications not only serve to disseminate research findings, but they also build scientific prestige and reputation. Thus, they should be owned by scientists and their institutions, not by companies whose main purpose is to make money. If scientific work is published by for-profit companies, they make money from the reputation that is built up by publicly-funded scientific work. This means that scientific work should be published by nonprofit organizations—those very organizations that are engaged in doing science. This is in fact the traditional model of the 19th century, when it was primarily the scholarly societies and academies that published scientific works. It turns out that this is also the best model for the future.

References

Beall, J. (2012). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature 489, 179. doi: 10.1038/489179a

Pubmed Abstract | Pubmed Full Text | CrossRef Full Text

Shieber, S. (2013). Why Open Access is Better for Scholarly Societies. Available online at: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/pamphlet/2013/01/29/why-open-access-is-better-for-scholarly-societies/

Whither Science Publishing?

[from The Scientist, August 1, 2012]

Whither Science Publishing?

Bob Grant

As we stand on the brink of a new scientific age, how researchers should best communicate their findings and innovations is hotly debated in the publishing trenches.

[…] Over the intervening centuries, academic publishing has morphed into a sprawling international industry that, on the one hand, rakes in revenues of more than $19 billion in its scientific, technical, and medical segment alone, according to one 2008 analysis (Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, 9, ISSN 1704-8532, 2008). On the other hand, a constellation of open-access (OA) publishers, producing nearly 8,000 OA journals (according to statistics kept by the Directory of Open Access Journals) has grown up, paralleling the rise of the Internet as the primary mode of gathering, communicating, and sharing information both inside and outside the scientific community.

Today, researchers stand on the brink of a new age in scholarly publishing. Never before has science been so inundated with new findings, or have technical advances generated such mountains of data. Innovations sprout from labs the world over as humanity’s understanding of our universe grows. But that growth is only as robust as the system used to share disparate bits of knowledge, test and challenge reported advances, and remotely collaborate in scientific efforts. To keep up with the blistering pace of scientific and technological advances, publishers are getting creative. In recent years, new concepts such as post-publication peer review, all-scientist editorial teams, lifetime publishing privilege fees, and funder-supported open access have entered the publishing consciousness.

But open access and other newer publishing modalities are still dwarfed by the traditional subscription-based model. Will open access eventually become the dominant mode of publishing science? Are there unseen challenges that await such a dramatic shift? Are there ways to improve the traditional system of peer review, a practice introduced nearly 350 years ago to vet articles published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society?

The Scientist asked these questions and more of publishers, researchers, information scientists, and others to get a sense of where scientific publishing stands today, and where it’s going.

… continue reading at The Scientist

Commentary: Too many authors, too few creators

[from Physics Today, April 2012]

Commentary: Too many authors, too few creators

Philip J. Wyatt
Wyatt Technology Corporation, Santa Barbara, California

A few years ago, Robert Fefferman, dean of physical sciences at the University of Chicago, made an interesting remark. He mentioned that Enrico Fermi, wanting to encourage individual creativity and innovation, required his PhD students to select their problem, solve it, and submit the results for publication in their name alone. Fermi also was aware that a multiauthor paper with one famous author might receive automatic acceptance rather than a thoughtful and thorough review. Many PhD students then and since have published their theses under joint authorship with their advisers. Unfortunately, the need among grant-seeking academics to publish and be cited often grew stronger, especially during federal funding cutbacks, the most recent example being the cuts in science budgets under President George W. Bush. When applying for government grants, an applicant team’s record of many cited publications was important to confirm that the submitted proposal had significant cachet for continuing support. A vicious cycle began.

Over the years, publication lists were increasing. Some colleagues boasted more than 300 publications and one close to 800! The number of authors associated with each published article was also increasing; single-author papers had become relatively rare. Were Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Richard Feynman, and other great scientists just lucky in finding simple ideas that one mind could understand and present? Or was technological creativity becoming so difficult that great teams of scientists were required to recognize and develop it?

Seeking answers, I made a cursory examination of some publication records of the last half century. I selected the eight publications listed in the table to the right and selected the first issue of each from January 1965 and from January 2011. To compare innovation over time, I included data on the first 100 patents issued to US applicants by the US Patent and Trademark Office during the corresponding periods. The data were gleaned from the office’s weekly Official Gazette.

The results seem truly astonishing. Although the data sets selected are relatively small, they show the downward trend of individual creativity. Most of the papers studied were written by authors in, or associated with, academia. A few came from government laboratories and some from industry.

[…]

continue reading at Physics Today

Harvard Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing

[from Harvard Library News]
Major Periodical Subscriptions Cannot Be Sustained

To: Faculty Members in all Schools, Faculties, and Units
From: The Faculty Advisory Council
Date: April 17, 2012
RE: Periodical Subscriptions

We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.

Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.

The Library has never received anything close to full reimbursement for these expenditures from overhead collected by the University on grant and research funds.

The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership,  reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.

It is untenable for contracts with at least two major providers to continue on the basis identical with past agreements. Costs are now prohibitive. Moreover, some providers bundle many journals as one subscription, with major, high-use journals bundled in with journals consulted far less frequently. Since the Library now must change its subscriptions and since faculty and graduate students are chief users, please consider the following options open to faculty and students (F) and the Library (L), state other options you think viable, and communicate your views:

1. Make sure that all of your own papers are accessible by submitting them to DASH in accordance with the faculty-initiated open-access policies (F).

2. Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access (F).

3. If on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above. If not, consider resigning (F).

4. Contact professional organizations to raise these issues (F).

5. Encourage professional associations to take control of scholarly literature in their field or shift the management of their e-journals to library-friendly organizations (F).

6. Encourage colleagues to consider and to discuss these or other options (F).

7. Sign contracts that unbundle subscriptions and concentrate on higher-use journals (L).

8. Move journals to a sustainable pay per use system, (L).

9. Insist on subscription contracts in which the terms can be made public (L).

See coverage:
Chronicle of Higher Education
Inside Higher Education
The Atlantic

Doktor Wenn und Doktor Aber

Ein scharfsinniger Essay zur universitären Welt, in der das Prinzip Guttenberg systemimmanent geworden ist, in der “inzwischen 98 bis 99 prozent allerakadmischen Textproduktion in der […] Erwartung des parteillen oder völligen Nichtlesens verfasst werden.”

[aus: Der Spiegel, 49/2011]

Doktor Wenn und Doktor Aber

Die Figur des Hochstaplers gehört ins Zentrum der modernen Kultur. Von Peter Sloterdijk

Man darf unterstellen, Thomas Mann hätte sich im Stillen ganz außerordentlich über die Affäre erheitert, die im Februar 2011 die Bundesrepublik erschütterte, als man einem damaligen deutschen Minister, einem gewissen Herrn zu Guttenberg, eine beeindruckende Fülle von unmarkierten Übernahmen langer und kurzer fremder Textstücke in seiner Dissertation zu einem verfassungsrechtlichen Gegenstand nachwies. Er hätte sich sicher fürstlich amüsiert bei dem Gedanken, dass ein Mann mit einem so gutentwickelten Krull-Faktor es bis an die Spitze des Verteidigungsministeriums eines mächtigen Landes bringen konnte; eines Landes, dessen Armee noch ein gutes halbes Jahrhundert zuvor die Welt in Furcht und Schrecken versetzt hatte. Ja, der aktuelle Krull war gerade rechtzeitig ins Amt gekommen, um in Übereinstimmung mit der außenpolitischen Lage der Nation die Truppen zu verkleinern und um im Einklang mit dem Geist der Zeit auch für Soldaten im Kampfeinsatz den fälligen Übergang zu postheroischen Orientierungen zu vollziehen.

[…]  Volltext: Der Spiegel, 49/2011

Man müsste sehr naiv sein, wollte man annehmen, dass die Studierenden und Lehrenden von heute beim Betreten einer Universität aufhörten, Kinder ihrer Zeit zu sein — und die Zeit weist alle Merkmale eines Trainingslagers für krullsche Subjektivitäten auf. Der akademische Raum kann sich hiergegen nicht einfach immunisieren. Es gehört zu den Feinheiten der deutschen Hochschulsprache, dass sie das Ansammeln von beglaubigten Leistungen im Lauf eines Studiums geradeheraus als Scheinerwerb bezeichnet — was insofern als terminologisch wertvoller Hinweis zu würdigen ist, als zwischen einer authentischen Kompetenz, was immer das sein mag, und einer umfassenden Simulation derselben Kompetenz kein essentieller Unterschied nachzuweisen ist. Man könnte dies an einigen bekannten Beispielen von falschen Ärzten illustrieren, die jahrelang täglich mit gutem Erfolg schwierigste Operationen durchführten, bis sich eines Tages herausstellte, dass sie hierzu nicht qualifiziert waren.

Um die spezifische Differenz des akademischen Plagiats von allen sonstigen Fällen der Missachtung “geistigen Eigentums” zu erfassen, muss man die unverwechselbare Eigenart der akademischen Prozeduren in den Blick nehmen. In äußerer Sicht erscheint die universitäre Welt als ein Biotop, das auf die Hervorbringung von zumeist bizarren und durchweg unpopulären “Textsorten” spezialisiert ist. Die reichen von Seminarreferaten und Semesterarbeiten über Diplomarbeiten, Magisterarbeiten und Examensarbeiten bis hin zu Dissertationen und Habilitationsschriften, um von den Gutachten, den Forschungsanträgen, den Memoranden, den Struktur- und Entwicklungsplänen und dergleichen nicht zu reden: allesamt textuelle Gewächse, die ausschließlich im Binnenklima der Akademia gedeihen — hochalpinen Kriechpflanzen vergleichbar, die jenseits der Baumgrenze überleben und die in der Regel einer Umpflanzung ins publizistische Flach- und Freiland nicht fähig sind. Die Gesamtleistung der akademischen Schriftsachenproduktion besitzt einen schlechterdings unfassbaren Umfang, sie hat geradewegs Tsunami-Charakter — um die zurzeit plausibelste Massenmetapher zu benutzen. Mit ihrem jährlichen Output von Milliarden und Abermilliarden bedruckter Seiten stellt sie einen paradoxen Tsunami vor, der keine sichtbare Küste überschwemmt, sondern ausschließlich im Inneren der intellektuellen Institution tobt, von der Mitwelt so gut wie unbemerkt.

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Refereeing in Crisis?

[from: The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec 12, 2011]

Refereeing in Crisis?

By Nigel Thrift

One of the things that often shocks new journal editors is the difficulty that they face in obtaining referees for papers. It is often necessary to approach a string of referees in order to obtain the requisite number of references. Most annoyingly of all, sometimes a person who has just submitted a paper to a journal then refuses to referee for it or has the nerve to complain about delays to the reviewing process occasioned precisely by the search for referees. And that is before we get to the people who are approached who never even deign to reply. More seriously, at least from my experience of editing a journal, the problem is getting worse.

Journal refereeing is one of the key elements of peer review. It depends on reciprocity. Without that essential element of give in order to take the quality of reciprocity will gradually fade away.

Make no mistake, there are many people who faithfully review almost everything that they are asked to look at. These people are the backbone of the system and we should all thank them: there should probably be a memorial set up for some of them. But others are quite happy to let these trustworthy folk take the strain. Indeed, through the indifference of the free riders, the load on these folk is often made higher.

So why is the problem getting worse all around the world?

[…]

[continue at The Chronicle of Higher Education]

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Academic Search Engine Spam and Google Scholar’s Resilience Against it

[Journal of Electronic Publishing, Volume 13, Issue 3, December 2010]

Academic Search Engine Spam and Google Scholar’s Resilience Against it

Joeran Beel and Bela Gipp

In a previous paper we provided guidelines for scholars on optimizing research articles for academic search engines such as Google Scholar. Feedback in the academic community to these guidelines was diverse. Some were concerned researchers could use our guidelines to manipulate rankings of scientific articles and promote what we call ‘academic search engine spam’. To find out whether these concerns are justified, we conducted several tests on Google Scholar. The results show that academic search engine spam is indeed—and with little effort—possible: We increased rankings of academic articles on Google Scholar by manipulating their citation counts; Google Scholar indexed invisible text we added to some articles, making papers appear for keyword searches the articles were not relevant for; Google Scholar indexed some nonsensical articles we randomly created with the paper generator SciGen; and Google Scholar linked to manipulated versions of research papers that contained a Viagra advertisement. At the end of this paper, we discuss whether academic search engine spam could become a serious threat to Web-based academic search engines.

[continue at JEP]

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Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research

[Gargouri Y, Hajjem C, Larivière V, Gingras Y, Carr L, et al. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLoS ONE 5(10): e13636. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013636]

Background
Articles whose authors have supplemented subscription-based access to the publisher’s version by self-archiving their own final draft to make it accessible free for all on the web (“Open Access”, OA) are cited significantly more than articles in the same journal and year that have not been made OA. Some have suggested that this “OA Advantage” may not be causal but just a self-selection bias, because authors preferentially make higher-quality articles OA. To test this we compared self-selective self-archiving with mandatory self-archiving for a sample of 27,197 articles published 2002–2006 in 1,984 journals.

Methdology/Principal Findings
The OA Advantage proved just as high for both. Logistic regression analysis showed that the advantage is independent of other correlates of citations (article age; journal impact factor; number of co-authors, references or pages; field; article type; or country) and highest for the most highly cited articles. The OA Advantage is real, independent and causal, but skewed. Its size is indeed correlated with quality, just as citations themselves are (the top 20% of articles receive about 80% of all citations).

Conclusions/Significance
The OA advantage is greater for the more citable articles, not because of a quality bias from authors self-selecting what to make OA, but because of a quality advantage, from users self-selecting what to use and cite, freed by OA from the constraints of selective accessibility to subscribers only. It is hoped that these findings will help motivate the adoption of OA self-archiving mandates by universities, research institutions and research funders.

[continue at PLoS One]

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What’s in a name?

[EMBO Rep. 2008 December; 9(12): 1171–1174.
doi:  10.1038/embor.2008.217]

What’s in a name?

Howard Wolinsky

An international author identification system could allow scientists to receive credit for all their scientific contributions and would solve the problem of identity in a world of limited surnames.

In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare (1546–1616) asked: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” (2.2.1–2). But, unlike Shakespeare’s characters, whose names were a burden to them, names for scientists are extremely important and are attached to discoveries, publications, careers and even fame. In her poem Sacred Emily, American poet Getrude Stein (1874–1946) wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”, which is reminiscent of the trouble that scientists face. However, unlike two roses, two scientists with identical names are extremely different. Indeed, this growing problem of how to unambiguously identify members of an ever-growing international community has triggered a serious debate.

Matthew Falagas, Director of the Alfa Institute of Biomedical Sciences (Athens, Greece) and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine (Boston, MA, USA) described the problem. “Every country has its own common names: Smith and Jones in English-speaking countries; here in Greece we have Papapapolous; in China, Li is very common,” he said. “When you enter the last name, or even with the initial of the first name, you may produce thousands of papers; you cannot understand who produced what. The result is that you have difficulties finding the best collaborator or the best person to ask to do peer review.” Falagas, who serves on the editorial board of the scientific journal PLoS One (San Francisco, CA, USA), said that he has heard of cases in which mistaken identity has resulted in the wrong person being invited to work on a project, appear on a television programme or to undertake the peer review of an article.

Names are also important with regard to the funding of research. Kyle Brown, who founded ResearchCrossroads (San Mateo, CA, USA; www.researchcrossroads.org), explained that the company started as a database to help funding agencies and researchers look up who was getting money from government and private foundations, including the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD, USA), the National Science Foundation (NSF; Arlington, VA, USA) and the Community Research and Development Information Service run by the European Union (CORDIS; Brussels, Belgium). Brown discovered the confusion inherent in similar names almost immediately as researchers contacted him to try to correct their information posted on the ResearchCrossroads website. “We struggle with this constantly,” he said. “I get e-mails every day or two saying: ‘My profile is combined with this other guy’s profile. Can you help us untangle them?’ And we’ll do that.” But he added that this is often a tough assignment as scientists can change jobs and even names, and do not use their middle initials consistently.

The same problem applies to publishing, in which it is not always clear whether the authors of different articles are the same person or not. “I’d love a user of Nature.com to be able to click on an author’s name and to be able to see a list of everything that we publish by them,” commented Timor Hannay, Publishing Director of Nature.com (London, UK). “And that kind of thing, which seems really trivial, should be very straightforward, but actually isn’t because we don’t have identifiers associated with them […] We’ve got a world in which scientists have assigned numbers to all kinds of things: to genes, to species, to stars, to molecules, to the articles they write. The one thing they left out was themselves,” he said, adding, “it does create real problems for us as publishers wanting to provide certain services.”

Yet, Hannay also has an idea of how to solve this problem: “A global author ID does bring you the same benefits that you already have from [a] unique article ID, and you can locate an article very quickly and easily online if you know what its DOI [digital object identifier] is.” However, despite the elegance and simplicity of the idea, introducing a unique author ID for scientists is anything but a simple measure, as Peter Binfield, Managing Editor of PLoS One commented: “It’s not a simple problem at all. I have worked at a few publishing companies and nobody is able to make unique author IDs happen within their own databases. [Authors] may submit with a different middle initial, or [they may have] moved institutions. Even our internal databases get incredibly messy and cluttered. It’s hard to keep anything consistent.”

[continue at EMBO Reports]

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