Open Access Week 2017 – Open in Order to…

As a proud co-founder of Open Access Week, we hope you will join us in celebrating progress and promoting awareness to help make Open Access – the founding principle of PLOS – the new norm in scholarship and research globally. This year’s theme is “Open in Order to…” and invites the community to focus on what openness enables.

Since PLOS’ beginning, we’ve been open in order to accelerate progress in science and medicine through publishing, advocacy and innovation to benefit the research community and beyond. PLOS is open in order to ensure that: research outcomes are discoverable, accessible and available for discussion; science communication is constructive, transparent and verifiable; and publishing advances reproducibility, transparency and accountability. Continue reading “Open Access Week 2017 – Open in Order to…”

A system that prioritises publications means early career researchers’ scholarly attitudes and behaviours remain conservative

Early career researchers (ECRs) are the largest community of researchers but despite this we know little about their scholarly attitudes and behaviours. Reporting the first-year findings of a longitudinal study of an international panel of ECRs, Dave Nicholas reveals that many remain conservative in their scholarly attitudes and practices. ECRs are concerned by “risky” open peer review, regard archiving their work in repositories as a non-priority, and display little interest in open science or altmetrics. Many ECRs see opportunities for change, but do not feel able to grasp them as they are shackled to a reputational system that promotes publication record and citation scores above all else.

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This blog post is based on the author’s co-written article, “Early career researchers: Scholarly behaviour and the prospect of change”, published in Learned Publishing (DOI: 10.1002/leap.1098).

Science is a social process: facilitating community interactions across the research lifecycle

Modern day research practice is incredibly collaborative, increasingly interdisciplinary and a very social process. Sierra Williams underlines the importance of researchers and publishers alike recognising publication as one aspect of a much wider social process. By way of introduction to her role at peer-reviewed open access publisher PeerJ, she reflects on the purpose of community in science communication.

Sowing the seeds for change in scholarly publishing

The promise of open science to improve the speed, transparency and completeness of research sharing has attracted a lot of innovators and developers creating new, open source technology solutions. All too often, though, technologies are built by organizations that see themselves as competitive with one another and work at cross purposes.

We’re focusing on changing this culture. That may seem a strange statement from a Foundation whose initial work has already launched open infrastructure projects such as PubSweet and INK, but bear with us. Coko is working to seed a new ecosystem of open source projects, tools and platforms that work together.

We envision building an evolving network of modular, interoperable, flexible and reusable open source projects that facilitate rapid, transparent and reproducible research and research communication for the public good. Rather than remaining independent and siloed, these projects will share resources and learn from each other, creating an open science infrastructure. Coko is striving to create a healthy ecosystem of projects that can thrive and work with each other to solve the many problems and opportunities that face STEM publishing today.

Our first small step in this direction — which we see as a giant leap — is pulling together complementary projects to create an Open Source Alliance for Open Science. This federation will actively work together to form the  ecosystem, agreeing on best practices that emphasize generosity and openness. The idea is to create a common pool of resources whose development is driven by community needs. Code is shared, so are tips for funding applications, report writing and outreach (etc).

An apt analogy is a community garden: plants that grow well together in common soil are seeded, grown, harvested, shared and plowed back into the land. Individual “plots” may be tended by the gardeners who are most adept at cultivating the seedlings, yet cross-pollination and resource sharing where appropriate are encouraged. The gardeners work in a common space, find territorial solutions and share fruits of the “harvest.”

One example of how we are prototyping this process is with the Substance Consortium, we helped found along with the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), SciELO and Érudit in 2016. Consortium members all use (or intend to use) the open source Texture editor, which helps publishers improve structured documents without having to mess with the underlying markup of XML (extensive markup language). The Consortium started as a way to recognize that organizations using the tools as critical infrastructure have a responsibility to contribute to their upkeep. To that end, Coko has played a foundational role in establishing the consortium, as well as putting energy and funds that contribute to the sustainability of Substance and the codebase.

As another example we introduced the innovative new project, Stencila, to funders — and then stepped aside. Typically, in a competitive environment, smaller projects that are desperate for initial funds may be co-opted by larger ones who overshadow the smaller organization and take a large cut of the funding. The larger project may vacuum up the credit without adhering to attribution best practices. Instead, in a demonstration of good faith, we coached through the funding process and made the direct introductions to funders. Stepping aside to enable to operate as they need to, with the funds they need, and receive the recognition they duly deserve.

Our efforts to cultivate these projects differ from the typical competitive model where organization see what others are doing, then throw shade on the newcomers by claiming to be building the exact same thing. This land grab results in whoever has the superior budget, PR and grant-writing staff, and stronger name recognition “winning,” whether or not they intend to actually create the product, build it well, or share it in a meaningful way. This highly competitive landscape discourages healthy open source communities forming around projects and meaningful, productive, inter-project collaboration.

The garden model will give smaller projects a chance to thrive and grow so as to avoid being co-opted or plowed under. This will create a more diverse and rich ecosystem, since many of these projects arise out of specific expertise that larger projects may not have.

To lay the groundwork for this Alliance, we’re planning a meeting May 1 in Portland, along with founding partners DAT, the Code for Science & Society (CSS) and The California Digital Library (CDL). By meeting in person, discussing initiatives and directly collaborating, we seek to generate buy-in on shared goals and open direct lines of communication between organizations. The initial meeting will garner support for shared goals and values and establish a self-sustaining community with firm attendee commitments to continue the conversation. If you’d like to participate email us at

Notebook Sharing: Scholarly Scribbles

In the second guest blog post of our ‘Opening Science’ Series, Dr Rachel Harding talks to us about her Open lab notebook project, Lab Scribbles. Rachel is a Postdoctoral Fellow within the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), at the University of Toronto, and performs her work in a collaboration with the Cure for Huntington’s Disease Initiative (CHDI) Foundation. She blogs at
Contact: @LabScribbles,

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a devastating inherited neurodegenerative disorder with limited therapies and no cures available to patients. HD symptoms are progressive in their severity throughout a patient’s lifetime and include a range of physical, psychiatric and cognitive manifestations. These are often likened to having Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS simultaneously. All HD patients have a mutation in the huntingtin gene of their DNA, and was successfully mapped in the human genome more than 20 years ago. In the intervening time, however, our knowledge of the huntingtin protein, encoded by this gene, remains incomplete. Thus, how the HD mutation might affect the function of the protein is also poorly understood.


Electron microscopy allows calculation of a low resolution envelope of the huntingtin protein particles, revealing their overall shape

Using a technique called cryo-electron microscopy, I am working with a collaborative team of scientists in numerous labs around the world to image individual huntingtin protein molecules, in the hope that it might give insight into how huntingtin functions in the cells of our bodies. This is not a novel premise for a project in the field, with many labs already attempting similar experimental strategies. However, very little evidence of this research can be found in the published literature. This likely reflects the intrinsic bias of the traditional scientific publishing system to preferentially report complete research stories — and so-called ‘positive’ data. My hypothesis is that this progress would be faster if all scientists shared detailed methods and data, both positive and negative, more rapidly with the wider community.

“One of the greatest benefits has been the international collaborative network of scientists who have contributed ideas, materials and experimental data…”

In an effort to catalyse research efforts, I am releasing all of my methods and results for this project in close to real time using the data repository Zenodo and my blog Lab Scribbles. Using a CC-BY license, all output is available for anyone to read, use and critique. Since commencing this project, I have been fortunate to have had many great conversations about my research with academics also working on HD, patients and families affected by this disease, and many other persons interested in the research and this alternative ‘publication’ process. One of the greatest benefits has been the international collaborative network of scientists who have contributed ideas, materials and experimental data towards this project, pushing us towards our research goals more quickly. Following the first anniversary of this project, I am now looking to see how I can improve my data sharing to ensure the data is both discoverable and in a format useful to other scientists.

I have been fortunate to have the full support for the Open notebook project from both the SGC, and my funding agency, the CHDI. In particular, I have appreciated the mentorship of Aled Edwards, Cheryl Arrowsmith and Leticia Toledo-Sherman.

The text, figure and photograph are by Rachel Harding, and are distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.

Envisioning future scholarly communication: The Vienna Principles

In June 2016, we published the Vienna Principles: A Vision for Scholarly Communication in the 21st Century. The set of twelve principles describes the visions and foundations of a scholarly communication system that is based on the notion of openness in science, including the social sciences and humanities.

Open science demands the highest possible transparency, shareability and collaboration in knowledge production, as well as in the evaluation of scientific knowledge and impact. The principles are designed to offer a coherent frame of reference to the often controversial debates on how to improve the current system of scholarly communication.

Mindful of the fact that systems of communication shape the very core of scientific knowledge production, we set out to envision guiding principles for scientific practice that we really want. In this post, we’d like to introduce the principles and provide context on how they came about. We’ll also share our ongoing work of turning the vision into practice.

“What science becomes in any historical era depends on what we make of it” — Sandra Harding, Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? (1991)


Focusing on the benefits of openness

Our work started in Vienna during the spring of 2015, when the Open Access Network Austria (OANA) commissioned the working group “Open Access and Scholarly Communication” to sketch a vision of how open science can change scholarly communication in the long run. Over the year, we had five further meetings, each of them in a different Viennese location, hence the name “Vienna Principles”.

The group consisted of a diverse set of people, including librarians, science administrators, students and researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including arts & humanities, engineering, natural sciences and social sciences in both basic and applied contexts.

Open science is still a fuzzy concept for many. People are often either unclear about its benefits or are overwhelmed by the challenges that come with it.

Many working group members are involved in related initiatives, such as Citizen Science Austria, Open Knowledge, Creative Commons and OpenAIRE, to name just a few, and several have a relevant professional background, including publishing and software development. The core group consisted of nine participants, but the overall work involved contributions and feedback by more than 20 people and the audiences of the 15th Annual STS Conference, Graz and the 3rd Plenary of the Open Access Network Austria.

At the beginning, there were a number of observations that were based on our own involvement in open science, and by the experience of group members that had joined the movement only very recently. Our first observation was that open science is still a fuzzy concept for many. People are often either unclear about its benefits or are overwhelmed by the challenges that come with it. Therefore, they tend to have a reserved attitude towards openness.

Many of the arguments carry implicit assumptions about the structures of a future scholarly communication system

Our second observation was that the debate within the open science community is not necessarily focused on the benefits of openness, but mostly on what constitutes openness, how to achieve openness, and what steps to take next.

The classic debate around the “green” and the “gold” route to open access is a good example for this. In these discussions, many of the arguments carry implicit assumptions about the structures of a future scholarly communication system, besides highly emotional debates about the commodification of scientific knowledge distribution.


What do we really want?

There are currently no commonly agreed set of principles that describes the system of open scholarly communication that we want to create. Such a collection of widely shared cornerstones of the scholarly communication system would help to better guide the debate around open science. At the same time, a vision is needed that better conveys the need for openness in scholarly communication to academia and society.

For the definition of the principles, we adopted a clean slate approach. This means that we set out to describe the world that we would like to live in, if we had the chance to design it from scratch, without considering the restrictions and path dependencies of the current system.

We established a set of twelve principles of scholarly communication describing the cornerstones of open scholarly communication

Our aim was to be clear, concise and as comprehensive as possible, without repeating ourselves. What followed was an intense phase, where we devised and revised, expanded and reduced, split and merged. We also addressed and incorporated the valuable feedback that we received by so many.

From this, we established a set of twelve principles of scholarly communication describing the cornerstones of open scholarly communication. This is just the beginning, with this being version 1.0 and we invite everyone to comment on this version.


What next?

Our paper has been positively received. Besides hundreds of tweets linking to the publication on Zenodo and newspapers and blogs have also reported about it. This includes articles that have been partially translated into Spanish, Japanese and German. The PDF on our website has been annotated 58 times alone. We are delighted that several researchers are now trying to adopt the principles in their research and collaboration projects.

We hope to be able to illustrate the best practises and identify any obstacles to open science in the scholarly communication system

The working group, consists of 16 new active members, of which some are consolidating the latest feedback received in recent months, and others who are devising recommendations on turning each principle into reality. This allows us to study and discuss the different attitudes towards the twelve principles in a range of disciplines, especially in those fields which seem most sceptical about the principles, such as historical and art-related subjects.

We will consider stakeholder’s viewpoints, clarify legal framework conditions, and discuss incentive and reward systems to identify how the principles can be best applied throughout the institutions. In doing so, we hope to be able to illustrate the best practises and identify any obstacles to open science in the scholarly communication system.

We plan to hold group discussions and workshops with stakeholders, publisher and funders to explain how the principles could support the services they offer and articulate the capability of these principles to different stakeholders’ needs.

We aim to have an updated version of the Vienna Principles by 2018

Furthermore, we are coordinating our efforts with other groups, such as the Force11 working group on the Scholarly Commons and SPARC Europe. By 2018, we aim to have an updated version of the Vienna Principles and several recommendations to support the adoption of open science based on the feedback obtained from the workshops and discussion groups.

We are looking forward to shaping the scholarly communication system of the future together with all of you.

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