Representation matters – ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’

Portland Press works hard to ensure all our editorial boards are as geographically diverse as possible, representing the views of as wide a cross-section of the biosciences as possible. Gender balance is also crucial; the Biochemical Society insists that speakers at any event run or supported by the Conferences programme must be no more than 60:40 in favour of either gender. Women in science have long been neglected and overlooked, and their accomplishments and discoveries have been usurped by others, something that Jess Wade fights against (page 40).

Black and minority ethnicity scientists continue to face the legacies of racism and bigotry, as the STEMMETTES discuss in our Student Focus piece (page 52).

Being able to be your whole, authentic self is crucial to being able to achieve your potential – Karim Boustani and Kirk Taylor talk about their views of being LGBTQ+ in the lab today (page 16).

Pressure to publish – the darker side of research

The pressure to publish work can start early in your career, with some postdoctoral students required to publish one or more articles in order to obtain their PhD. The phrase ‘Publish or Perish’ has been described as a process of natural selection for academics – if only the best science is published and survives, surely this is good for everyone? As it turns out, not always.

As there is no quantitative way to assess research, ‘output’ (in the form of publications) is frequently used instead. Opportunities such as speaking at an event, career steps such as tenure decisions, as well as crucial funding decisions can all depend on the number and ‘impact’ of publications.

Combined with this, there is a strong bias towards publishing positive results. High-impact journals often require both positive results and novelty in order to consider a paper for publication, and a 2012 study found that by 2007, 85% of research articles claimed to have produced a positive result (https://bit.ly/2XUL9MZ). No one likes to admit they were wrong; but when negative results are not published, it means other labs are unable to avoid the same pitfalls and end up repeating failed experiments. This has a real cost in both time and funding, delaying genuine progress.

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Correcting the literature and retraction of papers is also crucial, but carries with it an unnecessary stigma; however, some leading lights are trying to change this view. At the start of 2020, Nobel Prize winner Francis Arnold tweeted to inform the community that one of her studies had not been reproducible and so she was retracting it (left, you may also like https://go.nature.com/2Ku9OQp)

Open scholarship

Open scholarship (also known as open science) is the name given to a change in the culture of scholarly research, enabled by developing technologies and new opportunities for communication and collaboration. It encompasses topics including open access, open data, metrics, research integrity and public engagement. The change in culture resulting from open scholarship affects all stages of the research cycle, from conceptualization of research through to publication and wider dissemination. In October 2019, The Biochemical Society and Portland Press released a joint position on open scholarship, full details can be found here: https://portlandpress.com/OpenScholarship

As part of our commitment to open scholarship, Portland Press has set up a pilot programme of Read & Publish deals (you can find out more here https://bit.ly/2VPFllg).

Along with bringing in new publishing and communication models, the 21st century has brought changes to peer review as well. From the traditional single- and double-blind models to more transparent models, comments on preprints and even post-publication review, the community is engaged in exploring multiple avenues to refine and improve the process.

Labs are changing too!

In the light of climate change, should research labs consider sustainability? Check out the 30 Second Read from our February 2020 issue on how one institution is reducing its single-use plastics in the lab.

Researchers have seen increased automation in the lab, removing human error from the equation and allowing for higher throughput as well as more reproducible results. Conversely, with less time at the bench, more research is computational, or data driven – check out the feature from Alison Nightingale (page 38) for a perspective on data management plans.

Research is also becoming more team focused and less about an individual scientist at a bench, with increased importance being placed on interdisciplinary approaches and more collaboration. In addition, the requirements of top-tier journals are increasing, so more experiments and analyses are needed for a single publication, which requires collaboration.

Universities are also making lab spaces more accessible to those with physical disabilities, neurodiversity or just non-traditional requirements such as additional childcare responsibilities.

Research integrity

With the pressure to publish, inevitably some take an unethical approach, which risks compromising the integrity of all.

With increased results shown via images, image manipulation is a significant concern – see our interview with Elizabeth Bik (page 44) to find out about this one-woman crusade against it.

Trying to ‘cash in’ on authors seeking to publish their work quickly, so-called predatory journals which charge publication fees to authors without checking articles for quality and legitimacy or providing the other editorial and publishing services that legitimate academic journals provide have sprung up and been described as a ‘global threat’ as they undermine legitimate publishers (https://go.nature.com/2RZzPeM and https://bit.ly/2XXoX4T).

Portland Press, publisher of The Biochemist, prides itself on being a community-owned, ethical publisher. We align with key industry partners such as the Committee on Publication Ethics (https://publicationethics.org/), and all our editorial policies are transparent and available on our website https://portlandpress.com/pages/editorial_policy