In early August, it was announced that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) would provide significant funding for a new open publishing platform. Called Octopus, this initiative is not yet fully launched, but when it is it plans to “provide a new ‘primary research record’ for recording and appraising research “as it happens’”; UKRI calls Octopus “a ground-breaking global service which could positively disrupt research culture for the better.” I reached out to Octopus’s founder, Dr. Alexandra Freeman, to ask some questions about Octopus and its plans for the future.
This interesting Scholarly Kitchen interview about a promising publication effort in the UK is well worth a read. This program is well worth monitoring to consider its impact more broadly. This is a novel and promising way to distribute research outputs.
When I came back to academia at the end of 2016, after 18 years working in the media, I was really surprised to experience the scientific publishing system ‘from the inside’. Researchers openly talk about ‘what story they are going to tell’ with their data, publication is very slow, word limits mean that full details of work have to be put into supplementary information, hosted elsewhere or simply left out, and a lot of time is spent on tiny details (even down to fonts) of no relevance to the work itself. On top of that, publications seem to be almost the only way in which researchers’ work is being assessed — and often through very poor proxy metrics. Researchers are being put under enormous pressure to get work through the current publishing system, and yet their outputs are then evaluated by the sorts of outcomes that I was used to in the media (how many readers, how many citations, how ‘impactful,’ etc.) rather than measures of scientific quality.
It struck me that journals are trying to fulfill two roles at once in the current system. On the one hand they are disseminating important findings to their readers, particularly to professionals who may be able to implement those findings in practice. On the other hand they have the somewhat thankless task of being the primary research record, where researchers publish all their work in all detail to a minority readership. These two roles pull in opposite directions: an article that gives full details, all the twists and turns and blind alleys of the real research process, does not make a nice, easily-digested narrative for those who mainly want to know the findings and implications; an article that supplies the ‘edited highlights’ does not give the full details that other researchers need to learn from. Journal articles are best suited to the dissemination role — the “news and views” and editorialized, narrative-driven pieces. What I felt was missing from the landscape was a platform designed exclusively to be the primary research record — to serve the need for publication of information fast, and in full detail, and open to full scrutiny.