How journals could “add value”

jennydelasalle:

Some great ideas of what academic authors & readers can ask publishers for. Especially regarding handling & presenting data.

Originally posted on opiniomics:

I wrote a piece for Genome Biology, you may have read it, about open science.  I said a lot of things in there, but one thing I want to focus on is how journals could “add value”.  As brief background: I think if you’re going to make money from academic publishing (and I have no problem if that’s what you want to do), then I think you should “add value”.  Open science and open access is coming: open access journals are increasingly popular (and cheap!), preprint servers are more popular, green and gold open access policies are being implemented etc etc. Essentially, people are going to stop paying to access research articles pretty soon – think 5-10 year time frame.

So what can journals do to “add value”?  What can they do that will make us want to pay to access them?  Here are a few ideas…

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Working from home works for me!

I already blogged the things I like about working from home… so here is its opposite. Four things that are not so great and how I overcome them.

  1. It can be lonely: telephone and videoconferencing help to overcome this, but really, loneliness isn’t something I struggle with. All the e-mail interactions help, too.
  2. I lack a change of scenery in my day. But when I get a change, it really helps: it’s amazing how much a little lunch time walk can lift my spirits and inspire me.
  3. It’s annoying sometimes when the weather is great and I don’t even get a commute in it. I can always just step out onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air, though. That is better than working in most offices!
  4. I have to cook and wash up for myself at tea/lunch time… as well as all the breakfast and dinner things…

I got 7 advantages and only 4 disadvantages, so there’s proof that it works for me.

Quality measurement: we need landscape-reading skills. 5 tips!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The academic publishing landscape is a shifting one. I like to watch the ALPSP awards, to see what’s happening in academic publishing, across the disciplines, and indeed to keep an eye on the e-learning sector. Features of the landscape are shifting under our feet in the digital age, so how can we find our way through them? I think that we need to be able to read the landscape itself. You can skip to the bottom of this post for my top tips, or read further for more explanation & links!

One of the frequent criticisms levelled at open access journals, has been that they were not all about high quality work. Indeed, with an incentive to haul in as many author payments as possible, a publisher might be tempted to lower the quality threshold and publish more articles. An article in the Guardian by Curt Rice, from two years ago explains some of this picture, and more.

However, quality control is something important to all journals, whether OA or not: in order to attract the best work, they have to publish it alongside similar quality articles. Journal and publisher brands matter. As new titles, often with new publishers, OA journals once needed to establish their quality brands: this is no longer the case for all OA journals. Andrew Bonamici wrote a nice blogpost on identifying the top OA journals in 2012.

And of course, OA journals, being new and innovative, have had the opportunity to experiment with peer review mechanisms. Peer review is the gold standard of quality filters for academic journals, as I explored in earlier blogposts.  So, messing with this is bound to lead to accusations of lowering the quality! But not all OA journals vary from the gold standard: many use peer review, just as traditional journals do.

In reality, peer review happens in different ways at different journals. It might be open, blind or double blind. It might be carried out by two or three reviewers, and an editor might or might not have a final decision. The editor might or might not mediate the comments as sent back to the author, in order to assist in the article’s polishing. The peer reviewers might get guidelines on what is expected of them, or not. There is a variety of practice in peer review, from one discipline to the next, and one publisher to the next, if not from one journal to the next. And as the Guardian article I mentioned earlier points out, dummy or spoof articles have been known to make it through peer review processes. So peer review itself is not always a garuantee of quality. Rather, is a sign to watch out for, in our landscape.

For some academic authors there are quality lists for their discipline, but how good are the lists? A recent article in the Times Higher by Dennis Tourish criticises the ABS guide to journal quality, which has often been used in business and management studies. Australia’s ERA once used journal rankings, but dropped them, as this article by Jill Rowbotham described.

Fortunately, academics know how to think for themselves. They know how to question what they find. They don’t always accept what they’re told! So, we librarians can tell them where to find such lists. We can show them how to look up a journal h-index or its impact factor, and we can explain what a cited half life is (I like Anne-Wil Harzing’s website for information on this). But, as with the traditional reference interview, the real skill for the author is in knowing what what you need.

There will always be a compromise: a slightly lower ranked journal that has a faster turnaround. A slower journal that has better peer review mechanisms for helping you to polish your work. The fast, innovative young journal that will market your work heavily. Not to mention the match of the subject of the article! There are many factors for the author to consider.

So how do we read the landscape? Here are my tips:

  1. We can take a look at the old guides, of course: the lists are not completely redundant but we need to question whether what we see matches what they describe.
  2. We can question whether a score or measure is for a characteristic that we value.
  3. We can talk to people who have been there before, i.e. experienced, published authors.
  4. We can tentatively scout ahead, and try a few things out with our most experimental work.
  5. We can scan the horizon, and watch what pioneers are doing: what works well there? As well as the sources I mention in my opening paragraph, I like to read the Scholarly Kitchen for horizon scanning.

Ultimately, we need to be alert, and to draw on all our knowledge and experiences, we need to be open and aware of our publishing needs. The best way to do this is to be a reader and consumer of published outputs in your discipline, and a member of the academic community. That way, you will know what your goal looks like, and you’ll recognise it when you see it, out there in the shifting sands of academia.

Digital tools for research #ECRchat yesterday on Twitter

I took part in this online twitter chat yesterday, which discussed tools that researchers might find useful. There is a storify summary:

[View the story “Digital tools: ECRchat 23 April 2015″ on Storify]

It was interesting to see how the chat built up, and people got more involved at the end of the hour, rather than at the beginning!

There have been quite a few useful ECRchats, and it’s one of the more active twitter hashtags that I follow, along with #phdchat, #openaccess #altmetrics and #peerreview

The Connect-the-Dots Revelation – Revealing Hidden Academic Practice

jennydelasalle:

I’m sharing this post by Alke Groppel-Wegener, who is also author of the Fishscale of Academicness that I like so much. Please have a think about supporting her book on Kickstarter: if ever met a visual thinking student who struggles to write essays, then you will know how helpful this book could be!

Originally posted on Tactile Academia:

As you might know, I am currently putting together a workbook for students that collects some of the visual analogies I have been using in my teaching. I have been getting some questions about what is meant by ‘visual analogies’ and how that would translate into a book on academic writing as part of my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to print some copies (and until the 7th May 2015 you can support this by pledging for your very own copy here). So in order to give people a better idea, here is the introduction (I will add a picture of my layout soon):

Here’s the trouble with writing academic essays at degree level: if you haven’t been to university before, you probably haven’t done it before. You will have written all sorts of things:

  • emails,
  • letters,
  • short stories,
  • social media up-dates,
  • blog posts,
  • txts,
  • reports
  • and much…

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Academic blogs: they risk plagiarism, don’t they? Three key aspects to consider.

After attending the Digital Academic event in Warwick on 23 March, on behalf of Piirus, I reflected on one of the conversations relating to plagiarism. Should researchers worry about plagiarism, if they begin to blog? Here are my thoughts on three important aspects of this concern:

1.  Hey, that was my idea!

There are academics who would not put their ideas into a blog post, because releasing them into the open is to run the risk that others will get a journal article or book out on the ideas before they do. And its the journal articles and books that are the real currency of academic reputation, not blog posts. The argument against this concern is that a scholarly idea would be based upon substantial research: how could others re-do your research and publish before you? But there are times (perhaps discipline dependent) when a particular phrase or way of interpreting known research is what really makes a research output “zing”, and others could steal such a phrase or perspective.

Other researchers take the view that, if you blogged your idea, then you already claimed it as your own, so blogging is actually protection against plagiarism. This is great in theory: it’s publicly seen to be yours and so not even those with low moral standards would risk their reputations by plagiarising it. And if they did, you can prove that the material was yours first, with the date of your blog post’s publication.

Another reason to blog your ideas first, are apocryphal tales of papers languishing in peer review for just long enough for the referee to get their own paper on the same theme published. A quick blog post about your recent submission to a journal could be in your best interests!

However, we often say in English that “great minds think alike”, so in a case of apparent plagiarism, it might be just that someone else happened on the same idea. Your complaint that it is plagiarism might never be heard, or might be seen as sour grapes over what is mere bad luck. If you never let your idea out in the first place, you could at least be sure in such a scenario that it was just bad luck. On the other hand, if you blogged your idea then perhaps the person who stumbled on it too would get in touch and together you could create a richer, collaborative research output. Perhaps!

I can only conclude from these perspectives and scenarios that reaching the right audience at the right time is really crucial, and how you choose to do this will be a personal and discipline-specific decision. This is nothing new, but now there is the blog as a possible channel too. For some authors the only way to reach the right audience is in traditional journals, so those “zing” ideas are omitted from their blog, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t blog too! Maybe they could use a blog to promote a paper or book after publication. Blogs can be a great way to provide “teaser” content for a book, to promote it, if your publisher approves.

2.  Traditional publishers can provide protection

Some authors feel safer when their output is taken on by an established organisation, rather than releasing their work in what is essentially self-publishing through a blog. Even if you could prove that someone has plagiarised your work (from a blog, a journal article, a conference paper or any source), then you would need the scholarly community to recognise that someone else had committed bad practice, to get any kind of redress. To achieve that recognition could take considerable energy, time and resources to even attempt to achieve.

If your idea was first published by a society or publisher then they might have processes and resources with which to negotiate with the producer of the plagiarising article, and so provide you with support in your complaint. It is possible, but of course not guaranteed that you will find this supportive: your interests and the publisher’s interests might not coincide.

A case of plagiarism may also be a breach of copyright, and you may have the option of engaging a lawyer to defend your copyright. But remember that copyright law is all about the right to make money from your intellectual output. Perhaps a publisher will protect your work by way of protecting their own income: they will certainly understand commercial aspects, but of course their interests and yours might differ.

3.  Rejected for self-plagiarism

It could happen: your journal article is submitted to the most prestigious journal in your field and you get a rejection because substantial chunks of the the content is found to appear elsewhere. Or perhaps worse: your article is published but then retracted as it is recognised as a redundant publication, with content that has previously been published. What a mess!

Of course, this regrettable situation could happen from one journal article to the next and not only from blog content. In fact, if your blog is aimed at a different audience, then you’re less likely to inadvertently repeat phrases in what amounts to self-plagiarism than when writing traditional outputs. There is also always the option of saving your blog post for after the publication has come out.

Final thoughts

The risk of plagiarism from others reading your blog post is no worse than when you have a conversation with someone at a conference, and in fact openness can lead to collaborations and other benefits, which is why that conference conversation might have happened in the first place. The risk of plagiarism is one that you need to weigh for yourself, and as the speakers at the Digital Academic event described, blogging brings opportunities that traditional publications alone might not do, so that risk might be one worth taking.

My favourite social media “rules”

If you’re thinking of creating your own social media strategy (or updating an existing one), then you could do worse than read through these 80 “rules”. It seems aimed at companies using social media for financial gain, and some of the advice seems suitable to those building social media tools. A lot of it is focussed on the role of the audience or tool users, and much of it is just good advice for us all. Here are excerpts from a few of my favourites:

  • No. 9. “Go wherever your audience is”: So, choose Twitter or Facebook, or Google+, according to the people who you want to reach.
  • No. 12. “Update your page or delete it”: Easier said than done, but definitely good advice!
  • No. 23. “Just because you can measure everything doesn’t mean that you should”. They also develop the point to say that “likes and mentions look good on a report, but will not keep you in a job”. They suggest that ROI (Return on Investment), or NPS (Net Promoter Score) will, but perhaps your own job will depend on other criteria!
  • No. 24 Social media is not cheap or easy. (It later explains in rule 74 that Gangnam Style was a carefully planned success, rather than a viral success!)
  • No. 42 “If fans start publishing and sharing your content without permission, offer to help”

Finally, lots of these rules seem to say that it’s all about speed, not perfection, and that you should have a higher purpose. To paraphrase: get stuff out there, and make sure it’s going to make lives easier, happier, or more rewarding!

 

A webinar called “Mastering motivation: the neuroscience of engagement and collaboration”

I watched a recorded webinar over lunch the other day, and it became an extended lunch as I took notes for this blogpost. The speaker is Michael Bungay Stanier and he seems to be a leadership coach or consultant to companies. I found the webinar title interesting: researchers are often sceptical of management training, but advice that is based on scientific research must surely appeal!

I’d have liked more linking and references to neuroscience research but it isn’t really about that. It’s about four factors that can influence our brain’s degree of comfort and thereby increase our engagement and collaboration with each other. Much of the webinar is about how we can take control of those factors, and those tips don’t seem to come from neuroscience but are common sense, and familiar to me from other management training that I’ve taken part in. So it’s good, but not what I expected.

Here is my summary of the webinar:

Neuroscience is the study of how the brain works. It tells us how people’s brains are reacting to questions or tests, and we can draw some conclusions from that.

Neuroscience tells us that the human brain needs to feel that things are safe: we aren’t aware of it at a conscious level but the brain is running a programme in the background that is constantly checking safety, and it will lead you away from risky and dangerous things. So it is important that we make our environment feel safe, to reassure our “lizard” or primitive brains. (Entrepreneurs may be able to review situations and see them as less risky than others.)

Michael identifies 4 factors that we can influence, to make the brain feel safe (Nice abbreviation: TERA).

Tribe – In the company of others, your brain is asking: “Are you with me or against me?” So we can try to increase this sense of belonging to the same tribe: tips include smiling, laughing together, small talk at a virtual meeting (Ask people to share their high point of the last week.) and other tactics for achieving rapport and empathy.  Suggests defining a common goal or a common enemy!

Expectations – Your brain is asking: “Do I know what’s happening, can I predict what will happen?” If it’s really obvious what will happen, then the brain feels more comfortable, but if it’s too comfortable then you will get bored and distracted. Setting an agenda is important for a meeting. Be clear about timing and outcomes when talking about things: eg let’s talk about this for five minutes, and in that time we’ll try to come up with x y z. An agenda doesn’t have to be standard, or set before the meeting. We should start a meeting by setting the agenda together: “What are the key decisions we need to make?” Ask a different question at the start of each meeting, to keep things fresh.

Rank – People feel more comfortable if they are high status, or more threatened, if they feel of lower rank. The sense of rank can be influenced.

  • If you are of lower rank and want to increase it: stand up to face the rest of the meeting, when speaking. If you have a question and want to seek help: consider asking yourself first. (See below, the way to answer your question with other questions!)
  • If you are of higher rank and want to make others feel more comfortable: talk at the same level as others, and perhaps sit at 90 degrees to them rather than directly opposite. Praise people. Learn and use names. Listen to each other! Let others go first. If someone asks a question of you and you just give your advice/answer, then you increase your status, but if you respond by saying “that’s a great question, what ideas do you already have”, then you can increase their status. Then ask them, “what else?” Beware of sounding patronising: tone is important, so be genuinely interested in the other person’s answers.

Autonomy – What are the small decisions you can get others to make, rather than you making? Increase reports’ sense of autonomy, and give yourself a break from working so hard! Decide agenda together.

At the beginning, Michael asks you to think of someone who you are trying to manage/lead/collaborate with, and apply this theory. What’s very important to you, in this setting, and what’s least important? And what is important to the other person? At the end, he asks if what is important is the same for both parties. 71% of the people who responded to the poll in the live webinar said that no, it wasn’t the same. Being aware of this might make you do things differently. He asks what two things will you do differently now that you know this?

My two things:

  • Try not to automatically, always answer questions that are asked of me.
  • Start meetings a little more slowly: I’m always eager to get stuck in!

Amongst the discussion at the end, there are lots of tips on how to handle lateness at meetings. And another key phrase I picked up on is that sometimes we have to “pick our battles”. So true!

Old fashioned but active online groups: e-mail lists!

As a Librarian, there are many e-mail lists that look interesting to me. In the past, I’ve been an active member of such lists, answering questions from peers and indeed asking questions of them. At their best, they’re more than a place to watch for information, but an active forum for discussion and sharing of expertise and good practice.

There are three main sources that I’ve identified: take a look and see if you find something interesting. My tip is to look at the archives of a list that seems good, to see how much activity it has: is this level what you are looking for?

Are there other lists of e-mail lists that you recommend for librarians?

Further thoughts on Peer Review & speeding up traditional journal publication

Back in January, I wrote about Peer Review. It’s a big topic! Here are some more reflections, following on from my last blog post about it.

Speeding things up, in journal article publication. (On “Peer review takes a very long time”)

picture of a pocket watch

I wrote that peer review “takes a very long time” because many scholars want to get their work out there to be read, as soon as possible. Of course, this is a loose concept and “a very long time” is relative. Some might think that I am criticising publishers for being slow, but I’m not pointing the finger of blame! I know that publishers have been addressing the issue and peer review has sped up in recent times, especially since there is now software to can help track it: SPARC has a handy round-up of manuscript submission software. However, the peer reviewers themselves must respond and they are under a lot of pressure. The system can only be as fast as the slowest reviewer, and there are all sorts of (entirely understandable) circumstances that might slow an individual down.

I should take a look at some of the developments that have helped to speed up traditional scholarly communication, though:

Scholarly publishers have invested in initiatives like Sage’s OnlineFirst to help peer reviewed research articles to reach audiences before journal issues are complete, thus cutting publication waiting periods.

Some publishers have also introduced mega journals with cascading peer review systems, which are also often based on Gold Open Access. Impact Story’s blog has a great post about how authors can make the most of these types of journal.  These speed up an article’s time to publication because after a peer review that led to rejection from one title, your paper can get fast-tracked through to publication in the next “tier” title at the same publisher, without the need to submit again and start the process from the very beginning.

And of course, as a librarian I should mention the sophisticated alerting services that help researchers to find out about each others’ papers as soon as possible: researchers are no longer dependent on the print copy landing on their desk, and finding the time to browse through the table of contents!

Putting it online yourself is quicker: why not try that?

Some research repositories might take non-peer-reviewed content, and in theory, authors could always put a copy of their work on a personal web-page before peer review if they’re confident in it and just want it out there. There are disciplinary differences in authors’ reactions to this idea. This article in PLOS Biology makes the case for the biology community following in the footsteps of physics, in using pre-print servers to share such early versions. Its authors point out that there are benefits to doing this, including:

Posting manuscripts as preprints also has the potential to improve the quality of science by allowing prepublication feedback from a large pool of reviewers.

Many authors would not share their early manuscripts in this way, because they value peer review as a process of polishing their work. I think this is a reason for peer review to take place in the open, because then it becomes apparent just how important a contribution a peer reviewer might have made to a paper. As I said in my previous post, peer reviewers should get credit for their work, but perhaps I should have made it clear that I’m not talking about it looking good on their CV, or their peer review activity going down well with their Head of Department!

 

Even authors who are happy to share un-polished pre-peer-review versions of their work (aka pre-prints, aka manuscripts) might be wary if it is not the norm in their discipline, because it might prejudice their chances of publication in the big-name journals of their field. Authors will likely have to agree to clauses stating that the work has not previously been published elsewhere. When I worked at the University of Warwick, in the early days of their institutional repository we surveyed a number of big publishers to ask if they would consider repository deposit to constitute prior publication, and thus a breach of this kind of clause in their authors’ agreement. Some said yes, some said no.

This is not such a clear area for authors, and for many it’s not worth the time of enquiring or the risk of finding out the hard way, i.e. through rejection of their article because plagiarism detection software identifies it as previously published online. Researchers need the quality “badge” that a journal gives them, for their CV and their institution’s performance review processes: publishing articles is not all about communication to other researchers, but it is also about kudos.

 

For some authors therefore (I would guess most), the earliest version they might share would be a post-peer-review version (sometimes called a post-print, sometimes called an author’s final version), which if there are no embargo periods from the publisher, would become available at the same time as their article became available through an OnlineFirst scheme.

 

 

Post peer review: commentary and altmetrics

I mentioned post publication peer review in my previous post: I thought about it as an alternative to peer review then, and perhaps I should think about it more as something that is complementary to peer review. Perhaps peer review doesn’t need to be either traditional or post publication but it is already really a process that doesn’t end with publication.

 

There are many ways that researchers are sharing and commenting on each others’ work after it has been published, therefore after the peer review process for traditional articles. We can track these interactions on sites like Researchgate and Mendeley, and through altmetrics software that collates data on such interactions… but altmetrics and its role is a subject I’ve looked at separately already, and it’s one I’m likely to return to again later!