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In the news: December Digest

Open Access

An addendum to Plan S has been proposed for comment that includes more details about transformative agreements by which non-OA journals will agree to "transform" to OA platforms. This proposal includes 10 mandatory criteria and 3 recommended ones. Deadline for comments is Monday 6th January 2020, 9.00 CET.

Martin Paul Eve argues that the idea of geoblocked open access does not serve humanity. By preventing OA in countries that do not support OA, Eve argues that researchers will be excluded due to the action of their governments and that decisions such as this compromise the moral argument of "open access".

A 2016 survey with a 17% response rate (507 of 3000) researchers in the Global South from the AuthorAID network explored their attitudes and experiences with open access publishing. About 40% noted limited or no access to academic literature. 89% always use Google to search for literature. 17% had deposited research into institutional repositories. 70% thought that OA research was useful or extremely useful and authors generally had positive perceptions of OA journals. Journal selection for publishing their own work was driven primarily by the relevance to their discipline followed by journal impact and reputation. OA status ranked 7th. 

The Company of Biologists begins a two-year pilot transitional open access (OA) agreement with Jisc from January 2020. The 'Read and Publish’ deal will permit researchers at participating institutions unlimited access to all three subscription journals from The Company of Biologists, including the full archive dating back as far as 1853, and will allow the accepted articles of corresponding authors to be published open access by default and without limit.

An international group of authors in Ophthalmology topics selected 200 references from PubMed and then checked them for Open Access status. Those that were paywalled were examined to see if they were available at established institutions in low income countries or through HINARI. There was a lot of heterogeneity from 0% full texts to 95%, with a mean of 47% availability. Use of complementary "alternative ways" and Sci-Hub led to 96% of paywalled papers being available. This study prompts the authors to encourage the scientific community and decision-makers to strengthen efforts to make scientific information available in low income countries.

Peer Review

The Ninth International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication will be held in Chicago, September 12-14, 2021. There is a link to their website, with a call for submission. The Peer Review Congress has the aim to "encourage research into the quality and credibility of peer review and scientific publication, to establish the evidence base on which scientists can improve the conduct, reporting, and dissemination of scientific research." The Congress began its work mostly in biomedicine, and hopes to expand it to all of the sciences.

A study in BMC Medicine found that the use of an online CONSORT-based Peer Review Tool (COBPeer) by trained early career researchers compared to usual peer review processes resulted in better detection of inadequate reporting in RCTS and suggests that using two-step peer review process could improve the quality of reporting.

Open Science

A description of steps journal editors and publishers can use to operationalise data sharing policies, including the Make Data Count Project provides some practical information as well as arguments for a robust data sharing practice.

PLOS is encouraging authors to pre-register their study designs and hypotheses and submit them for peer review before conducting the experiments. The dual goals are to increase the credibility of the results and reduce the time needed for scientific knowledge to be made available - the latter by providing a provisional acceptance to articles for whom the plan has been pre-registered.

The People's Trial, funded by the Health Research Board, through the HRB-TMRN, is a crowd-sourced research platform. In several phases, they asked people via their website to identify questions that they wanted answered, (155 were suggested) voted on them and selected the top 10, and then posed the question - in this case "Does reading in a book in bed help one sleep? ". Participants are randomised, the study will be run, and results posted.

The University of Glasgow encourages the use of CRediT taxonomy to describe the contributions of authors and contributors in research studies. This is meant to promote the positive research culture at the University of Glasgow by recognising and valuing each individual's contributions to research.

The Access to Transparent Statistics (ACTS) is a call to action for journals and funding agencies to enhance the quality of statistical reporting and an appeal to research institutions to spearhead the battle for reproducibility of results. Components of ACTS include standardisation of the contents of statistical paragraphs, making the statistical subsection the opening paragraph of the Methods section, including a separate paragraph discussing the limitations of the statistical analysis and allocating resources to studies on reproducibility and null results.

Editors in the BMJ urge authors to share their analytic code. A recent retraction of a JAMA article was prompted by the miscoding of data resulting in essentially a reversal of the actual results of a trial. The Editors recommend publication of analytic code on platforms such as GitHub to provide an unambiguous record of methods, increase reproducibility, identification and correction of errors.


An entertaining quick video showing where articles on the preprint server bioRxiv are ultimately published from inception to 2019. Look quick!

Research and Publication Misconduct

The education ministry of South Korea has identified 11 authors (24 papers) who have included non-contributory high school or middle-age children as co-authors of published papers. Presumably this practice is used to help secure university placement for these children.

A survey of over 25,000 PhD holders across biology, physics, mathematics, engineers, linguistics, philosophy, and anthropology in Brazil assessed their views on plagiarism and found similar adherence to core principles. The authors feel that their findings can be generalised to most Latin-American nations.

In response to serious research integrity issues at a German biologic institute, leadership made several steps to restore their reputation. One was to hire a company to provide outside vetting of every paper and doctoral thesis for screening for errant statistic and manipulated images before publishing. This paper explores this issue of outside vetting, the benefits as well as some of the questions raised.


On an early career researcher blog hosted by PLOS, Dan Jeffries (a post-doc in chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard) engages other early career researchers to help to address the reproducibility crisis in science. He argues that having the base for future knowledge be unreproducible will inevitably lead to a future waste of time and resources in efforts to reproduce or extend that work. The reproducibility crisis leads to misguided research and development in pharmaceutical development and fundings, as well as missed opportunities to pursue other projects. He argues that the crisis, while perhaps being fuelled in part by fraud but importantly also by the variability in living systems, changes in analytic methods, or poorly documented methods in prior work. Jeffries argues that individual labs should include processes to promote reproducibility.

Academic and Research Environment

A professor at a Canadian University was suspended after reporting on history of fellow faculty members in predatory publications. The Canadian Association of University Professors concluded after investigating that institution violated a professor’s academic freedom in suspending him - and that it appears to have a weak understanding of the concept of academic freedom. The suspension has been lifted and the professor is now back on campus.

Liz Allen, Director of Strategic Initiative at F1000 describes changes that will be necessary to change today's research culture and to over-haul long-established processes and behaviours. She urges publishers to act as part of the research ecosystem while maintaining their role in assuring the trustworthiness and utility of research.

COPE Council member Nancy Chescheir


In December's Digest Deborah Poff, COPE Chair, reflects on the past year and plans for the future. We list the top 5 cases visited on our website in 2019 which deal with issues of plagiarism, authorship, predatory publishing and ethical oversight, and we have four new cases to share with you as discussed by #C0PEMembers at the latest forum. Members at the forum began a discussion on 'Artificial Intelligence in decision making' which we summarise and invite you to add your comments. Join us in determining the next steps for our fictional research integrity officer, Jo, who we introduced in March this year. Plus the monthly news roundup and events coming up in 2020.

Read December Digest: Top 5 cases 2019