Rewarding open practices in research publishing

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Monica Moniz explains how an innovative ‘question-led’ journal series can address issues of demoralisation among academic authors, as well as advancing knowledge

Before I was a publisher, I was a researcher. This was almost 10 years ago – and, although much has changed in science publishing since then, the pressures and incentives remain the same.

I am particularly concerned that, according to a recent study by The University of Bristol and Octopus, and reported in Research Information, around a third of academics said they saw no benefit to their careers in sharing work quickly and openly – and that many are 'demoralised by a culture that disincentivises sharing and collaboration, encourages questionable research practices, and increases the risk of bias’.

I believe most people go into research because they want to contribute to and share knowledge as quickly and transparently as possible – so the fact that they don’t see any reward in using open practices such as sharing their methods early, for example, is very disappointing. I am sure everyone that works in academia and publishing is aware that this is a problem with many causes, that all boil down to what gets rewarded in an academic career. Fears of being scooped, and concerns around ensuring that their research is impactful, all stem from that.

Why should we not reward researchers who publish an innovative method? Why don’t we reward the scientist who publishes experiments that produced null results? Surely all of these are as important to our society (as well as saving time and money) as some surprising new findings? What we mean by ‘impactful’ needs to be redefined to include all of these open practices.

A change in direction

The Research Directions series of journals, launched last year by Cambridge University Press, was designed to address some of the “questionable research practices” mentioned in the study. When we were brainstorming what a science journal should be, we started by trying to respond to the following question: how can a science journal better reflect how science is conducted? We know that science gets presented as a beautiful narrative in most research articles – but real science is much more complex; some would say much more interesting.

Therefore, we designed Research Directions to do two things: be question-led and encourage authors to publish units of work. This includes all the additional and complementary literature that seldomly gets published – such as large data sets, presentations, white and policy papers, and much more. We hoped that by designing the journals this way we would be helping the community to address the questions they think are urgent and important – and that all content including methods, null results, additional data and so on, gets seen by those who need to see it as quickly as possible.

We want to embed open practices in our Research Directions series as much as possible; all journals are open access, and we publish our peer review reports to ensure transparency about the evaluation of what we publish.

We are also aware that the open access model can lead to inequality in terms of who gets to publish. Therefore, we apply Cambridge University Press policies that mean no author is prevented from publishing because they cannot afford to pay the article processing charges. These include existing publishing agreements with several institutions, the Cambridge Open Equity Initiative and the Research4Life scheme.

Questions, results, analysis and impact

We launched the first three journals in the autumn of 2022 and we are now about to launch numbers six, seven and eight. The connected maps from the first journals, which show how all the individual units of work contribute to a question, are beginning to show the complexity of work being done. Our peer reviewed content – Questions, Results, Analysis and Impact papers – as well as community content items (which are not peer reviewed) are being downloaded and read in significant numbers, which means the model is working. 

That does not mean we are complacent, however – we will continue to work with each research community that has trusted us in this endeavour, and innovate where they need us to. We are also anticipating that there will be more communities wanting to push the boundaries in this way once they see the success of our model, and we will welcome them!

The large majority (if not all) of the scientific challenges that our society faces need multidisciplinary responses. Most challenges need a diversity of methods – but also of ideas and experience – and so, with Research Directions, when we publish a question we welcome work from any discipline, any part of the world, and any level of experience that contributes to answering that challenge.

As one of the Editors-in-Chief elegantly put it, our journals are question-specific and discipline-agnostic. That is how knowledge will advance.

Monica Moniz is Publisher & Programme Manager for Research Directions at Cambridge University Press