Open for collaboration

Inspired by the ‘Open for collaboration’ theme of this year’s Open Access Week, Editors Alexandra Thompson and Francesca Lake comment on the importance of collaboration and information sharing: both the good and bad

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Next week is Open Access Week, with this year’s theme being ‘Open for collaboration’. It has made us think about the current state of the publishing industry and scientific community with regard to not just open access, but data sharing and discussion as a whole.

What is happening in academic publishing?

Within scholarly publishing, we’ve all seen the recent increase in funder requirements for open access, and calls to increase transparency across scientific research. Many publishers offer open access options and there are many journals that are exclusively open access [1]. At Future Science Group we have hybrid journals offering various open access options for your work, and Future Science OA, our fully gold open access journal, launched earlier this year.

There are many benefits to publishing open access. Many studies have seen increased citation rates for freely accessible articles [2]; and for those that didn’t, some see the articles reach a broader audience, and gain a greater impact earlier on [3]. This broader audience can include the public and researchers from developing countries, both of whom may not have access to subscription journals. In addition, it has the ability to increase transparency in science – with open access, everyone has greater access to the facts and figures, and data supporting the conclusions, which is integral to being able to assess the real meaning behind research.

This latter point forms part of the argument around reducing publication bias. Caused by factors such as space availability in print journals and a preference toward positive results from journal editors and academics owing to ‘impact’, publication bias is something that some publishers hope to avoid; for example, many have signed up to the AllTrials campaign [4], which calls for transparency and reporting in clinical trials [5]. Open access can help alleviate publication bias by ensuring that all results are available to those who need to analyze them. In addition, the publication of online-only journals means there are no space restrictions, and so negative, inconclusive and contradictory findings can be better considered.

But what, I hear you ask, are the disadvantages? We’re still yet to see where the world of science chooses to go in terms of open access versus subscription publishing. What’s more, open access has its issues, not least owing to so-called predatory publishers, such as those highlighted in recent peer-review “stings” [6].

Impact of the digital age

Another issue around the publication of research, clinical trial results, and so on, is the speed of getting the results out there. In this digital age we expect information to be fast and freely available: having to wait weeks or months for your article to be published because it is part of a collective journal issue is less appealing. Therefore, some publishers are moving towards article-by-article publishing and, even further than that, in some cases publishing articles at various stages of editing running up to the finalized article.

The publishing field is also being impacted by social media. Altmetric [7], which measures the impact an article has by assessing shares on social media as well as mentions by news outlets and bloggers, is increasingly being applied as a way of assessing which articles have had the biggest impact online and actually being able to see who has been giving the article attention. Tools like Kudos [8] are also increasingly being used to overlay additional information onto articles and again measure the social media impact, and websites such as PubPeer and also Twitter are being used to critically analyze work. The STAP controversy might have taken far longer to come to its conclusion if the papers in question hadn’t been so accessible and so easy for people to discuss online [9]: previously scientists may have discussed publications through letters to editors and in person, but now discussion is faster and more open.

This is because, following the boom in social media, blogs and networking websites, the scientific community is becoming increasingly interested and engaged with the online discussion of research. It’s not just important that research itself is transparent, but also that it is being discussed more openly and becoming accessible to more people, because discussion helps fuel innovation. That’s why online communities and networks sites are important: at RegMedNet we believe that discussion provides greater insight and increased collaboration, and therefore faster development of therapies that could revolutionize healthcare and make a real difference to patients.

Beyond sharing data

Lack of data and information sharing is not the only factor hindering scientific and medical progress. Research efforts are also hampered by patient samples being gathered by the harvesting company/institute and not being shared, although recent improvements have been made by new biobank collaborations providing improved access to researchers [10–12]. Different countries have different regulations; lack of funding makes academia more competitive; different scientific or medical disciplines do not always know how they can work together. However, we believe that the scientific community is becoming more collaborative and hope that increased information sharing, whether open access papers or discussion online, will help people to connect and develop ideas, together.

– Written by Alexandra Thompson, Community Manager of RegMedNet, and Francesca Lake, Managing Commissioning Editor of Future Science OA


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