“Publish or perish.” This is a saying many researchers are familiar with, a concept that has led to competition and aggression in the research community, potentially at the expense of scientific inquiry and discovery. Too often, researchers are overly focused on the number of publications they have, even though this mindset may lead to a lower quality of work.
Published papers are a valuable currency in the scientific and research community. They can be essential to helping someone advance their position and maintain their grant funding at a university. But this has potentially disastrous effects, as it decreases incentive to collaborate.
A recent push towards “open science” attempts to combat the “publish or perish” mentality. Open science is the concept of sharing data before publishing in an effort to have more thorough research (Center for Open Science). Sharing research methods and results before officially publishing increases the reproducibility of the data and improves the integrity of the research. The previous push towards publishing papers as fast as possible encouraged negative results to be cast aside and left unreported in publishing. This meant labs were wasting time, money, and resources while repeating experiments that others had already done, but merely neglected to report or share with others. Open science is extremely helpful to fields with limited resources to study, like childhood brain disorders that cannot be effectively modeled in animals.
The shift toward open science was especially valuable to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) researchers. In 2012, the Harvard Brain Tissue Center’s brain storage facility experienced an unexpected thaw and lost 32 brain specimens from people with ASD (Hensley, 2012). In a field where extremely valuable specimens are difficult to acquire, this loss came as a major blow. It potentially set back the field 10 years, but also contributed to the rise of the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE). ABIDE is a platform where autism researchers can share neuroimaging data of brains from people diagnosed with ASD. This is helpful in research because, as ABIDE says, “single laboratories cannot obtain sufficiently large datasets to reveal the brain mechanisms underlying ASD” (Di Martino and Milham, 2012). The collaboration and data sharing is helping to advance autism science and directly impacts millions of people’s lives. Additionally, while ABIDE is a data exchange website, it still gives credits to those that collected the data. Along a similar vein, open science has also contributed to the rise of preprint journals, which are more formal versions of data exchange.
Preprint journals are where papers that have not yet been peer-reviewed but will be eventually submitted to more official journals are shared with the scientific community and the general public (Mudrak, 2018). Though these papers haven’t gone through formal review, other scientists can comment on them and offer suggestions for improvements on the experiment and paper before submission to larger, officially peer-reviewed journals. Through the scientific community’s unofficial feedback, preprint journals could actually help expedite the publishing process.
Sharing data and research before publishing allows not only for researchers to get their name into the field and get feedback on their papers, but also for research to be more accessible, as preprint journals are free to access. Preprint journals such as BioRxiv for biology and the biological sciences and SocArXiv for sociological research and other research in the social sciences can be accessed by all. Publishing research in some preprint journals such as SocArXiv is even incentivized by offering monetary prizes to graduate students in an effort to encourage this shift towards open science to improve and increase scientific collaboration.
Open science is not only valuable for fields with scarce resources, but can also prove helpful in increasing the accessibility of any kind of scientific research to the general public. Preprint journals and platforms for data exchange could prove helpful in increasing the reproducibility of scientific research. They could lead to a greater focus on publishing higher quality data at a greater frequency because people are no longer wasting their time with futile experiments that others have already conducted. Open science could result in a positive shift away from “publish or perish” and lead to a healthier culture in academia and research, one that promotes collaboration.