Toll of ARC’s preprints rule revealed

Fears for physics pipeline as 32 researchers relinquish up to A$22m for citing preprints

August 26, 2021
Research. papers, peer review, physics
Source: iStock

More than 30 academics have had their careers potentially derailed by Australia’s controversial preprints rule, with up to A$22 million (£12 million) siphoned from physics research.

Fifteen applications to the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) programme were ruled invalid because of the inclusion of preprints, according to a document tabled in parliament, while 17 applicants for the mid-career Future Fellowships scheme met the same fate.

The 32 applicants had sought combined funding of almost A$22 million, primarily for research in astronomical and space sciences, atomic and plasma physics, quantum physics and condensed matter physics.

The document was tabled in accordance with an order passed by the Senate following widespread criticism of the Australian Research Council (ARC) for banning references to preprints in funding applications.

Sven Rogge, president of the Australian Institute of Physics, said the quashing of the 32 applications would create a “massive kink in the pipeline” of his discipline. He said DECRA and Future Fellowships grants were often the “make or break” of academic careers, providing one-off opportunities for tenure track.

“If their grant is ineligible, that window is gone,” Professor Rogge said. “If you rip [money] out of physics, that’s bad to begin with. But doing it at the point where we have early career researchers establishing themselves is the worst thing you can do. That’s what we live on, bringing good new people into the system.”

He said that while the grant money denied to the 32 applicants would have gone to others, they most likely would not have been physicists: “These people properly cited the work of other people, which is absolutely in line with proper publication etiquette. The ARC, without consultation, put in a rule that forbids that.

“What’s the point of a rule that has no positive impact, and punishes people who wanted to be totally upfront and give the assessors the best possible information?”

Professor Rogge said the preprints rule should not be applied to forthcoming funding rounds for the Discovery Projects, Centres of Excellence and Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities schemes. He said applicants who had been denied funding because of the preprints rule should have their grants restored, if necessary by taking money from other funding pools: “That would hurt the other schemes, but it would help the people that really need it the most.”

Greens education spokeswoman Mehreen Faruqi said the preprints rule must be rescinded. “All applications that were thrown out should be immediately reconsidered for grant funding without the nonsensical rule hindering their eligibility,” Dr Faruqi said.

“This whole saga has hit a nerve about the broken and declining state of research funding in this country. Researchers deserve so much better.”

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