This post is part one of a two-part blog series. Visit the PLOS ECR Community for part two.
In advance of the third Early Career Researcher Travel Award Program launching today, PLOS reached out to recipients of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Healthcare and Science who were also PLOS authors at the time of the awards (scroll down on the Forbes pages to see individual honorees). Five leading Early Career Researchers (ECRs) working in genetics, pathogens, virology and the intersection of medicine and policy shared their views with PLOS on Open Access, open data and communicating scientific results. Below are their responses that we hope will inspire and motivate ECRs in all disciplines. At the end of this post, PLOS Medicine Chief Editor Larry Peiperl specifically responds to the importance of data sharing and publishing all valid results.
When asked, “Do you and your colleagues discuss publishing in Open Access journals, or making data openly available?” these stellar scientists replied:
As a computational group, we rely almost exclusively on publicly available datasets. Making data openly available is critical to moving science forward, and it’s really frustrating that it is still far from ubiquitous. But I think we need to go even a step forward, and make all parts of publications, including the code and pipelines, easily available as well. I have been actively involved in discussions about why and how to do this. Luckily, I think the field of human genomics has been quite pioneering in moving toward a more “open” culture. Among my colleagues, it is just assumed that everyone puts their papers on preprint servers as soon as they’re submitted. We give people a hard time if their data is not available. Increasingly, software is getting posted on github or similar repositories. Unfortunately, this is not the case in every field. —Melissa Gymrek, Assistant Professor, UC San Diego. Read Gymrek’s work in PLOS ONE.
It’s incredibly important for data to be shared in a way that promotes collaboration and the advancement of knowledge. I think in general the more diverse ways you can examine a problem, or a data set, the more likely you are to reach surprising and meaningful conclusions. As biomedical researchers, our major goal should always be to improve human health, and open access seems to be an essential part of that effort. —Carrie Cowardin, Postdoctoral fellow, Washington University. Read Cowardin’s work in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Making data openly available is an approach we highlight and discuss in our recent analysis of alternative mechanisms of research and development on our Re:route microsite. Open data platforms are one way we can make biomedical R&D help more people, by increasing scientific discovery output, sharing negative results, increasing competition and decreasing the cost of medicines, vaccines and diagnostics. This model is already being used to some extent by Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), among others. But it is not enough. This has to be implemented more broadly. —Gloria Tavera, President of the board, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. Read Tavera’s work in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
When asked, as one of the new generation of influencers in their respective fields, what changes do they foresee or would like to see related to the way research findings make their way to the greater scientific community, these innovators described preprints, linked data and code, the role of politics in the direction of scientific research and new forms of media as communication tools.
One of the many things I’d like to see in the future is to get the science spread to the general public more often. As a scientist, we’ve more often just focused on exchanging our ideas or findings within our close circle, while the general public have little idea of what we are doing. I think it will be really great for the next generation of scientists to become better communicators, and try to bridge what we know to the others, and with the use of new forms of media, I am pretty sure there will be many endeavors taken pretty soon. —Jiang He, Postdoctoral fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Read He’s work in PLOS Pathogens.
If current trends continue, the most recent scientific developments will continue to be communicated to the greater scientific community digitally, through many different open access platforms. The advantage is that this information can reach a wider audience than we could have ever imagined. However, we need to make sure that this dissemination mitigates sensationalism and only communicates good, accurate science. We will need well-trained science journalists and editors to lead these changes. —Srilakshmi Raj, Postdoctoral fellow, Cornell University. Read Raj’s work published in PLOS ONE.
Preprints and open access will become the norm.…I am particularly inspired by the ATGU’s eloquent publication policy. They sum it up: “We believe that it is only a matter of time before the concept of restricted access to the products of scientific research becomes an anachronism.” …In principle, a publication should include everything needed to reproduce the main findings of the study. That has to include software as well! I am frustrated with how many times I have to reinvent the wheel by redoing an analysis that was already done in another paper. My dream is that every figure, table, and result in a paper will be linked directly to the code and data used to produce them. —Melissa
We live in an interconnected world, and as technology advances, it becomes ever more pressing to share data openly and in an expedient way. The methods put in place by the WHO for sharing data on Zika virus come to mind. It’s incredibly important to maintain the quality of work we do while improving our ability to share it with others, and part of that means timely publication of results. I also hope for more acceptance of negative data, which can be just as important to be aware of as interesting positive results. Better communication and recognition of negative results would make current research much more efficient and productive. —Carrie
PLOS Medicine Chief Editor Larry Pieperl responds:
Encouraging data sharing became a priority for many during the West Africa Ebola outbreak 2-3 years ago. WHO called a consultation on data sharing and invited several journal editors to join the researchers and funding agencies for discussions in Geneva. The evidence presented there included an analysis that showed most of the research from the 2003 SARS outbreaks were not even submitted for publication until after the crisis was over.
I think some people had the idea that editors presented a barrier by refusing to publish research if the data had been previously shared, and wanted us to account for ourselves. What happened may have surprised them: journal editors had no problem endorsing data sharing in public health emergencies. This statement of editorial policy turned out to be timely, as the first studies on Zika came soon after, and data sharing quickly became an expectation. Of course, many of us believe that data sharing shouldn’t require an international emergency. Requirements by major funding agencies that researchers share data as a condition of their grant award are an interesting recent development.
Regarding negative results, they may not win awards, but their publication is unquestionably a contribution to the research community. Think of a forest where a few well-known paths appear on a published map, but most paths are not marked at all, even though some of them have already been explored for long distances only to find they lead nowhere. Surely a signpost should be added to keep others from wasting time and resources. In clinical research, a conclusive negative result can have the immediate benefit of preventing futile, costly or hazardous interventions in subsequent patients.
Now PLOS invites all ECRs who meet the PLOS Early Career Researcher Travel Award guidelines to share their views. For an opportunity to obtain support to attend a professional meeting, let us know your thoughts on the below:
Considering new and modern ways of communicating science, describe the role the community can play in changing the way science is judged and assessed to accelerate science and discovery.
We look forward to hearing your vision of the future. For more on the Forbes 30 Under 30 honorees, their backgrounds, greatest challenges and advice for success, head to the PLOS ECR Community for the second part of this two-part blog.