Publish ideas from scholarly articles early, event told

Jisc Digifest hears openness could bring benefits, but some cite plagiarism risks

March 7, 2016
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Academics should be encouraged to openly publish all their research funding proposals, successful or otherwise, a conference has heard.

Jisc’s Digifest was told that free and early dissemination at every stage of the research cycle, including project ideas and experiment designs, would reduce duplication of work and enable scholars to find potential collaborators more easily.

Ross Mounce, a postdoctoral research associate in the department of plant sciences at the University of Cambridge, told Digifest that academics should consider “publishing the entire research workflow, not just the final outputs”.

He is a founding editor of Research Ideas and Outcomes, an open access journal that hosts material such as project ideas and funding proposals from all disciplines.

“Ninety per cent of research proposals never get to see the light of day: they just get rejected,” Dr Mounce said. “Even the research proposals that do get funded, we barely see any of this. We might just see a small abstract about it. So as a researcher wanting to find out what other people are researching right now or are going to do in the next six months or two years, I have no idea.

“This creates a lot of unnecessary repetition of work and loss of potential collaboration.”

Dr Mounce said that journals such as Research Ideas and Outcomes could help to reduce duplication and open up new partnerships. But reaction to the idea on social media was mixed, with fears raised that ideas could be copied if disseminated early.

“We can’t even get it to happen within our department; people are concerned that others will ‘steal’ their idea,” tweeted Fiona McKay, a lecturer in health at Deakin University in Australia.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Dr Mounce argued that open publication at every stage of the research process could help to reduce plagiarism.

“By publishing your ideas, you are securing your ownership of that idea and it prevents plagiarism,” he said. “At the moment, we have a system where everyone secretly submits research proposals and they don’t know if someone has copied [them].

“Academics sit on panels for proposals, and if they read something and say ‘that’s interesting, that’s a good idea’, they can get it rejected and put the idea in their [own] proposals and go to a different funder and get funding.”

Dr Mounce added that academics should not be fearful of sharing work at an early stage, when it might not be as polished as a journal article. Such openness could allow for errors to be spotted and ideas improved early on, he said.

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