Editorial — Reliable Research: Getting Science Right

By . Published on 26 November 2013 in:
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Science is in the news a lot these days. This is not surprising, since there is interest from many quarters: from the public fascinated by contemporary research, to policy makers who wish to decide how best to allocate public funding to achieve particular goals.

A recent cover story of The Economist caught my attention and that of many in the scientific community. With the title of “Unreliable Research: Trouble at the lab”, the article makes the provocative and worrying claim that whilst we scientists would like to believe science is self-correcting, there is actually much evidence to the contrary. An associated “Leader: How science goes wrong” focused on how this has arisen in part because aspects of our current work environment encourage a lax attitude towards internal quality control.

European publications related to the EPS

Although the particular examples of bad practice highlighted in these articles were not from physics, the issues raised are of relevance to us all. We are well-aware of the intense competition for positions and the continual pressure to publish; and the many demands on our time means that it is nearly impossible to respond to all requests for peer-review of proposals and applications and papers.

The role of learned societies here is crucial in defending the quality of science. Publication pressure on researchers is driven by many factors, one of which is the simplistic use of numerical metrics. EPS published a detailed statement on this issue in 2012, and we must continue to insist and fight that the culture of metric-based assessment changes. Support for long term fundamental research must be kept at the highest level.

In addition, this edition of e-EPS announces the release of a new EPS Statement (prepared with many other societies) on managing the transition of publication towards Open Access models. The Statement make a series of recommendations that we believe will ensure that the reliability of science and the quality of scientific publication are maintained no matter how the future publication landscape may evolve.

But societies such as EPS can only do so much. The EPS can prepare statements on behalf of its Members, but it is up to us as individuals to raise awareness in our own universities and institutions of the issues raised. It is as individuals that we can organize seminars and discussions and encourage debate with our colleagues, students and our hierarchies. And of course we can also reconsider whether we are really too busy to review the papers that we are asked to…

When science is criticized in articles such as that in The Economist, reading the rebuttals and responses prepared by others and nodding our heads in agreement is simply not enough. We can all make simple steps ourselves, and I am convinced that in the end it will be these that will make the difference.

John Dudley
EPS President

Read previous post:
Managing the Transition to Open Access Publication

Discussions regarding open access to scientific literature began in 1990s as a result of the widespread availability of the World Wide Web. In order to better understand the implications and impact of recent policy developments, the European Physical Society [EPS] organised a Round Table on Open Access publishing at its Council Meeting on 5 April 2013. The Round Table brought together scientists from different fields (astronomy, chemistry, physics, biology…) and from different countries and learned societies. Sir John Enderby chaired the Round Table, whose participants were: J. Dudley (EPS); M. Huber (EAS); D. Kulp (APS); A. Oleandri (SIF – EPJ); B. Pulverer (EMBO); U. Schubert (EuCheMS); and J.-H. Weil (FEBS).

The Round Table showed that publishing is an essential part of scientific research, necessary for the communication of results, inspiring future research and career development. Publishing is also a core activity of learned societies. The Round Table also brought to light that different scientific communities, national contexts, and positions in learned societies have an influence on positions regarding open access to scholarly, peer reviewed articles.