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09/25/2015

Publishing Research Ideas

The newest science journal on the block with several unique twists is Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO). RIO aims to publish a variety of outputs in the research cycle, not only the results of research. The journal will publish papers on ideas, proposals, methods, research results, and software. They also publish review articles, opinion pieces, data papers, software descriptions, workflows, data management plans, conference abstracts, single figure publications, project reports and much more. Their aim is to better use the efforts scientists spend on writing and evaluating research proposals and other products within the research cycle. RIO does have limits; they will not accept teaching lectures or materials, clinical trials, patient or other data that may be considered unethical, homeopathy, nuclear or bioweapons research, creationist or religiously motivated research, cryptozoology, and pseudoscience. The journal also has many other interesting aspects. While they are an open access journal, unlike others, they do not charge the typical high costs of thousands of dollars. The journal charges between 50 to a few hundred euros for most types of publications. Peer review is also optional and RIO relies on public scrutiny to promote transparent and public peer review. Expert driven peer review, typically done in most medical and science journals, however, can be done upon the author’s request. The typical review process for papers submitted to RIO includes several technical checks and an external pre-submission review from a colleague.

While all this sounds pretty good thus far, one of the major questions is whether scientists are willing to share good research ideas (Rabesandratana, 2015). Some social science research suggest that there is increased secrecy in today’s hypercompetitive biomedical science environment and scientists are less willing to share ideas and data (Anderson et al., 2007). The editor of RIO however is not too concerned and explains that by putting the idea out there early, the scientist is the first to receive credit for it (Rabesandratana, 2015). While that might be true, as I had a senior grad student tell me when I first started my PhD, “ideas are a dime a dozen and it doesn’t matter until you prove it.” If I was a betting person, I would bet that scientists are less likely to share all ideas openly. There is a lot more reward for scientists to use a good idea to secure funding, not obtain a small publication out by sharing it. Perhaps ideas that will never get funded or the technology is not yet available to the researcher to address the research question, or because there really is no way to design a study to directly address a research question might be the type of ideas we see published. 

Without peer review, I am also wondering what exactly gets published. There are several studies that show deficiencies in the current peer review process. Peer review is our main form of quality control for academic research, which we primarily use in competitively selecting research grant proposals to fund, and when to scrutinize manuscripts for publication (although peer review is used for hiring, policy development and much more). One of the problems with academic peer review are inconsistencies seen between reviewers where inter-reviewer reliability scores may be low; this is seen perhaps more so in the review of interdisciplinary proposals (see Master, 2011). And there are several studies suggesting bias of during review based on race, gender, position, authority and other factors. But is the review process the journal proposes sufficient? Sure the public and other scientists can directly scrutinize the paper (similarly to all published papers) but would it be a better process for 2-3 experts to review the paper and provide helpful suggestions even if it is to make the paper stronger or perhaps reject one not worth publishing. I am also mindful of the growth of biomedical and health science journals and how publications are viewed, weighed and rewarded. Should everything scientific be published?

Although I seem critical in this post, I must say that I am quite intrigued by this entire idea and process and I would like to see what work is published by RIO and how the journal fares. 

References

Anderson, MS. Martinson, BC. and De Vries, R. 2007. Normative dissonance in science: results from a national survey of U.S. scientists. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 2:13-14.

Master, Z. 2011. Responsible conduct of bioethics research. Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance 18:102-119.

Rabesandratana, T. 2015. A new journal wants to publish your research ideas. Science

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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