TRANSPOSE – TRANsparency in Scholarly Publishing for Open Scholarship Evolution

This is the second in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2018, and their projects. This one was submitted by Tony Ross-Hellauer.

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Journal policies shape Open Scholarship practices and safeguard against legal and ethical risks in publishing. Journal policies are an under-investigated element of Open Scholarship, however. This is unfortunate, since Open Scholarship requires publication policies that are aligned with its aims in order to reduce the transaction costs – and thereby career risks – for researchers that want to practice transparent, inclusive, and collaborative research. Such transaction costs are exacerbated by obscure or only implicitly stated journal policies; a lack of central resources to monitors such policies; and a lack of data-sharing from publishers regarding their publication processes. In the move towards Open Scholarship, researchers are expected to open up their research to transparency and scrutiny; the same should be expected of academic publishing.

TRANSPOSE (TRANsparency in Scholarly Publishing for Open Scholarship Evolution) is a new, grassroots initiative to address SCI 2018’s theme of overcoming risk:

  1. Risk to researchers: For researchers, and especially early career researchers, Open Scholarship means experimenting with new practices for the benefit of scholarship. Such experimentation may put researchers at risk of falling foul of review etiquette, or licensing agreements. This is especially true of those disciplines (such as some humanities disciplines) where such practices are less prevalent. Therefore publishers have a duty of care to inform and educate authors and reviewers about the terms under which they engage with those journals and the consequences of their choices. Obscure policies will often mean that researchers are unsure of their rights and may be dissuaded from innovation out of unfounded fears, thus putting the future of Open Scholarship at further risk.
  2. Risk to the scientific system: Healthy systems innovate, and scholarly publishing should innovate based on evidence. Yet since publisher internal processes are often a “black box” of proprietary information, it can be difficult for meta-research to take an evidence-based approach. Moreover, with current claims of a reproducibility crisis in many scientific disciplines and sky-rocketing publication rates, efficient movement towards Open Scholarship is required. Lack of clarity about Open Scholarship practices in journal policies, and authoritative evidence about the extent of their adoption, impedes such progress.

Such risks manifest themselves in a host of uncertainties. How do policies shape the adoption of Open Scholarship? Who can contribute, and who gets credit? What rights do authors have to post preprints, and when? Are peer review processes functioning as optimally as possible?

Photo of bridge and open skyTRANSPOSE will research these issues to: 1) make clearer to researchers the conditions of engaging in the academic publishing system through greater transparency on policies; 2) quantify the degree to which practices are currently supported to provide an evidential basis for future changes at the policy-level, and; 3) work to increase sharing of data about publisher-internal processes which bear on the quality and process of publication procedures. We’ll examine the following concrete issues:

  • Preprints: Researchers are often afraid of taking steps (such as posting a preprint) because the reaction from journals is unknown. Based upon our surveys (for example, re licensing) they tend to assume the worst: that journal policies regarding the acceptability of preprints, both as submissions and citations, are as conservative as possible. Therefore, the act of making policies and practices crystal clear helps authors to accurately predict outcomes and reduce risk. Furthermore, fears regarding social norms and practices (such as scooping) could be addressed with evidence of their true prevalence, especially as they relate to behaviours that are likely to be protective (ie, preprinting).
  • Unacknowledged reviewing: Early career researchers (namely graduate students and postdocs) may feel hesitant to contribute to peer review done in the name of their supervisor; and supervisors may not disclose names of others involved in review where journal policies suggest such common practices may have punitive consequences. Providing appropriate and ethical credit for their involvement would reduce their risk.
  • Extent of open peer review procedures: A recent meeting demonstrated widespread support for journals in the life sciences posting the contents of peer review. However, currently only 2% of them are doing so. Tracking these practices in one place over time will allow editors and publishers to reconsider practices to match those of their peers.
  • Data-sharing on journal processes: As ECR Libby Pier said in a recent blog post “Until there’s more data on [Open Peer Review] … I think scientists ought to be wary of donating their time and resources to an uncertain process. On the other hand, we can’t obtain more data on the effects of open peer review if we don’t have willing participants. And therein lies the paradox of OPR: We won’t know if it works until more of us try. So for the good of the future of scholarship, perhaps we need to be willing to participate in an experiment of our own collective making.” But ECRs shouldn’t need to expose themselves to risk like this – we need to foster more studies and hence enable an evidence-based approach to changes in processes.

To bring clarity to these issues, we will crowdsource a list of journal policies for (1) open peer review policies, (2) co-reviewer policies, and (3) pre-printing policies. We’ll then look at a representative subset of journals in more detail to systematically taxonomize and analyse their stated peer review and preprinting policies. These initiatives will then be complemented by a strategic discussion on how journals could be persuaded to improve their policies. As a final step, we will work to foster data-sharing in order to more systematically test how these innovations affect the quality and efficiency of scholarly communications, as well as their effects on researchers. These actions will mitigate the risks that adopters of innovative practices run, clarifying options and providing more evidence.

TRANSPOSE has already started and all are welcome to participate!

Photo of open sky seen through barn doorsGroup participants

Jessica Polka is Director of ASAPbio, a researcher-driven non-profit working to promote transparency and innovation in life sciences communication. With a background in biochemistry, cell biology and synthetic biology, Jessica has been advocating for the productive use of preprints in these disciplines and is heavily invested in tracking and encouraging policy changes. She recently co-organized a meeting on increasing transparency in peer review in the life sciences ( She brings to this project a desire to translate knowledge into community-driven actions that result in policy and cultural change. Jessica will bring her rich experience in community-organisation to bear in driving the crowdsourcing elements of the project, also contributing expert knowledge of the current landscape for preprints and open peer review.

Gary McDowell is Executive Director of Future of Research, a non-profit organization which wants to champion, engage and empower early career scientists with evidence-based resources to improve the scientific research endeavor. Gary currently studies aspects of the academic enterprise as they relate to early career researchers and how they carry out their scholarly work, with a particular focus on systemic workforce issues. Gary’s contribution to this project will be the particular focus on the recognition of scholarship of early career researchers through increased transparency in the peer review process, including efforts to make sure that all who participate in the peer review process and authorship of peer review reports are named as doing so.

Jennifer Lin is Director of Product Management at Crossref, a scholarly infrastructure provider, developing metadata services that make scholarly content easy to find, cite, link, and assess. Jennifer received her PhD in political philosophy and has served as an instructor at Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked for PLOS where she oversaw product strategy and development for research data sharing, article-level metrics, and open assessment initiatives. Jennifer’s role in the project is to provide technical resources for data collection and dissemination in the project as well as more broadly provide background context on the diversity of publishing practices (editorial and production) across publishers.

Benedikt Fecher heads the “Knowledge Dimension” research programme and the “Internet-Enabled Innovation” research unit at Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, Berlin. In his research he focuses on open science and open access infrastructures. In 2016, Benedikt was also a scientific advisor to the Leibniz Association on the subjects of open access and research data. He has been a mentor in the “Free Knowledge” fellowship for Open Science programme since 2017, supported by Wikimedia, the Stifterverband and the Volkswagen Foundation. Benedikt is also co-editor of the blog journal Elephant in the Lab, which critically engages with the science system and a member of the editorial board of the Open Access journal Publications. Benedikt will bring a social sciences perspective to the team, using theories from Science and Technology Studies to contextualise findings and produce policy recommendations.

Samantha Hindle is Content Lead at bioRxiv, a non-profit preprint server for the life sciences, and co-founder of, a preprint journal club review platform geared towards promoting the training (and acknowledgement) of early career researchers in peer review. Samantha has a background in Cell Biology and Neuroscience and, until recently, was an early career researcher herself. Samantha has seen the benefits of working openly through her involvement in the Mozilla Science Lab and OpenCon communities, and is passionate about enabling policy change that will align the current academic culture with Open Science practices. Samantha’s role in this project will be the focus on visibility of journal preprint and peer review (co-reviewer) policies to overcome the risks associated with pre-printing and engaging in open peer review.

Tony Ross-Hellauer is Senior Researcher in the department of Social Computing at Know-Center GmbH, Austria’s leading research centre for big data analytics and cognitive computing. Tony is Editor-in-Chief of the Open Access journal Publications, and his research on open peer review has received international recognition. He is actively involved in Open Science advocacy and community-building. His research interests include Open Science, new models and infrastructures for scholarly communications, science policy and ethics, alternative models for peer review, and philosophy of technology (in which field he completed his doctoral work). Tony’s contribution to this project will be the particular focus on the evidential basis of the benefits and risks of open peer review (especially for early career researchers) and the need for greater data-sharing to stimulate further research, as well as the broad ethical dimensions of the project more generally.

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[ Photos by Pahala Basuki on Unsplash used under Unsplash free license. ]