Open access science in the age of disinformation

In the run-up to last year’s presidential election, the FBI warned that overseas-sponsored online journals were likely to spread disinformation about the 2020 election by disseminating articles containing misleading or unsubstantiated information in an attempt to “exacerbate disunity and dysfunction in the United States.”

For Roger schonfeld, director of libraries, scholarly communication and museums for Ithaca S + R, the FBI warning drew attention. As someone charged with fueling evidence-based innovation and leadership among libraries, publishers, and museums, Schonfeld had long grappled with questions about how open access to the stock market unleashes positive and negative effects in society.

In a debate widely Learned cuisine room published last week, Schonfeld said that disinformation, politicization and other problems entrenched in the open access movement stem from a “mismatch” between the incentives of science and the way “openness and politicization bring science into public discourse ”.

While open access has democratized science, to good effect – by making research available to sick patients interested in learning more about their condition or to scientists working in the Global South – it has also had “effects. second-rate “which are of greater concern,” he said.

“It’s now easier for scientific literature to be quoted and used in all kinds of political speech,” Schonfeld said in an interview. “When the scholarly publishing methods we use today were first formed, there was no feeling that there would be some sort of politicized discourse looking for opportunities to misinform the public and provoke intentionally disunity. “

As someone working at the crossroads of libraries and scholarly publishing, Schonfeld said he was motivated to write his article in part because he saw a lot of tension and debate over the publishing economy. , without commensurate attention to how to better control fraud and prevent disinformation, a role he believes academics and librarians have a responsibility to play.

Schonfeld isn’t the only one thinking about the unintended effects of open science. Brian nosek, a researcher in psychology who has long studied these questions, is the co-founder and executive director of Center for Open Science and professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. The centre’s mission is to increase the integrity of the open access system.

He notes that the open science movement has put a lot of emphasis on the end of the research process – the results. But he said a basic incentive problem must be addressed if academics are to operate in a results-driven system.

“Publishing is the currency of advancement,” Nosek said. “I, as a researcher, have a conflict of interest over what is good for me in terms of career advancement and what is good for science… The reward system is about beauty and novelty, and it is different from the reality of daily research, which is messy. and has a lot of false starts. Our goal is to realign [the] reward structure, so what’s good for science and what’s good for scientist are the same thing.

COS offers a pre-registration option for researchers who wish to tackle the problem of conflicts of interest by registering their research objectives and methodology before embarking on a project. Another mechanism COS has in place for researchers who want to embrace openness with the right incentives is what Nosek calls “saved reports”. He said about 300 journals now offer the option.

Instead of the typical research process, where the authors write up the results and submit them for peer review, the COS Saved Reporting System instead asks academics to do some discovery work and write their idea as a proposal. journals to review and commit to publishing if they think the issue is important and the methodology is right. He said the system removes conflicts of interest by “freeing me as an author from having to figure out how to mass the results so they are publishable.”

More than 400,000 users now work with the Open science framework, a COS scientific repository designed for sharing, searching, and aggregating search records, Nosek said. Some 80,000 pre-recorded studies are hosted there. Its center awards badges to journals that adopt a pre-registration system.

“It signals the standards of this journal community and signals the values ​​of the publication,” Nosek said of the badge system.

While some researchers and publishers have been review of preprinting services so as not to do more to fight against their role as potential “vectors of disinformation”, to quote Schonfeld, Richard sever, the co-founder of bioRxiv and medRXiv, two main pre-publication services, preprints are valuable additions to scholarly publishing. Sever straddles two worlds, as he is also deputy director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. He dismissed much of the criticism of preprints as short-sighted, given the power they have to disseminate research around the world at the push of a button.

“Open access pre-prints are made easy by technology,” he said. “Before the web, you would have a result and share it with another scientist, make a photocopy and send it in the mail. What happens with the web is that all of a sudden you can set it up and anyone with an internet connection can read it. “

Sever noted that one of the most important COVID treatment trials – which was later published in the New England Journal of Medicine – originally appeared as a pre-publication. With the pandemic, he said, clinical scientists realized that preprints were “essential because they were to advance science faster than ever.”

Schonfeld’s view was less optimistic, arguing that as the use of preprints increased among researchers seeking to publish the results online early, many “bunkums” were allowed to spread very quickly around the world.

“It’s an illustration of how the open movement has created a vector in which literature that would never have been publicly available, would never have been available for tweeting, is now accessible to everyone,” said Schonfeld. “No part of the industry has considered the different ways it can report reliability.”

Schonfeld said that, like publishers, who sometimes host preprinting services, universities have a major role to play in ensuring impartial and rigorous scholarship, but often this obligation is “treated as a mere compliance function.”

Ivan Oranski is an MD who co-founded the nonprofit website Retraction watch, whose motto is “follow retractions as a window into the scientific process”. He blamed the abundance of retractions on preprints, the overall growth of disinformation as a cottage industry, and what he called the “dismal failure” of peer review to detect the problems it faced. should. But he said these challenges are not new and open access should not be blamed.

“All the people who defend what is in fact a decades-long failed system blame it on preprints and open science, and – I know that sounds cynical – but I know part of why they the fact is that preprints are a major threat to the business model, ”Oransky said.

Oransky, a professor of medical journalism at New York University, said disinformation would be an equally prevalent problem in a society with only paid, peer-reviewed journals. Its database now contains 31,000 withdrawals, which arrive at a rate of approximately 2,500 to 3,000 per year. Using technology, he said, a community of detectives comes together online and looks for errors in articles, helping to fuel the Retraction Watch database.

“The technology allows people to post more and post more shit, but it also allows more people to find the shit,” Oransky said. “It goes both ways, and we have to be open and honest about it.”

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