New report questions impact of publishing on research culture
Open research publishing platforms could be an important mechanism for reform
To explore the need for a platform like Octopus and create a benchmark for its effectiveness, a report was conducted by researchers from the University of Bristol, which found academic researchers demoralised by a culture that disincentivises sharing and collaboration, encourages questionable research practices (QRPs), and increases the risk of bias.
The researchers carried out a literature study, one-to-one interviews, and a survey of over 400 research professionals to understand how they felt about their work, careers, and the state of open research.
Their findings are published in a report which can be accessed here:
The work, "A snapshot of the academic research culture in 2023 and how it might be improved", was conducted to create a benchmark to measure the effectiveness of the Research England funded, and Jisc supported online publishing platform Octopus.ac.
Interviewees claimed that the current culture was unfair and is enabled by a focus on traditional peer-reviewed papers. One described writing research under the pressure to find "impactful" results as feeling like "I'm a novel writer instead of a researcher".
The report found that a third of researchers had not published research because it did not have a clean enough "story" to make it attractive to publishers, and one in five had not published research they had undertaken because they felt it would not help their career.
Nearly half (46%) of respondents said they would not publish ideas or methods for fear of being "scooped", because only "findings" mattered. About a third said they saw no benefit to their careers in sharing work quickly and openly.
Sixty percent of respondents said they believed that their publication record (for example, a researcher's number of publications and citations) had a strong influence on research assessment, and 41% of respondents thought that open research practices had "no influence" on assessment.
The researchers also found multiple causes for bias in research assessment and fear of discrimination based on the personal characteristics of the researcher, such as gender.
Researchers reported feeling under pressure to achieve an "interesting" or statistically significant result that is more likely to appeal to a journal. The authors found this could encourage questionable research practices such as data manipulation. The report also showed that younger or less-experienced researchers don't receive proportional credit for their work.
To combat these challenges, the report recommends:
- Outreach and education about open research publishing platforms
- Changing funder and institutional policies to ensure they reward and do not hinder research sharing
- Changing peer review and research assessment to focus on smaller units of work, rather than a narrative "paper" to minimise publication bias and the pressures that lead to QRPs.
Report co-author, Dr Pen-Yuan Hsing, said: "We found that the current research culture encourages researchers to hide their work at least until a traditional journal paper is published. In some situations, these pressures lead to questionable research practices."
"In general, open research practices are viewed as not beneficial, or even detrimental, to job security and career advancement. This is especially true given competing demands and the need for academics to prioritise their time on outputs that count in assessments that they are subject to."
Jisc's director of product for research management, Liz Bal, said: "We're committed to supporting our members explore future research dissemination models, with Octopus being one such model. As a technology partner to Octopus, we welcome this report in guiding its development and hope that it stimulates further discussion among institutions on the relationships between research culture and research dissemination."
Octopus platform founder Dr Alexandra Freeman said: "It's heartbreaking to read how researchers currently feel. The current system incentivises the wrong things."
"This means that those wanting to do the best quality research have to actively swim against the tide. Octopus is designed to realign research incentives to reward people for the intrinsic quality of what they do, removing the concept of "scooping", encouraging specialisation, and removing the feeling of having to "be good at everything"."