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Concept: Academic publishing


The growth in scientific production may threaten the capacity for the scientific community to handle the ever-increasing demand for peer review of scientific publications. There is little evidence regarding the sustainability of the peer-review system and how the scientific community copes with the burden it poses. We used mathematical modeling to estimate the overall quantitative annual demand for peer review and the supply in biomedical research. The modeling was informed by empirical data from various sources in the biomedical domain, including all articles indexed at MEDLINE. We found that for 2015, across a range of scenarios, the supply exceeded by 15% to 249% the demand for reviewers and reviews. However, 20% of the researchers performed 69% to 94% of the reviews. Among researchers actually contributing to peer review, 70% dedicated 1% or less of their research work-time to peer review while 5% dedicated 13% or more of it. An estimated 63.4 million hours were devoted to peer review in 2015, among which 18.9 million hours were provided by the top 5% contributing reviewers. Our results support that the system is sustainable in terms of volume but emphasizes a considerable imbalance in the distribution of the peer-review effort across the scientific community. Finally, various individual interactions between authors, editors and reviewers may reduce to some extent the number of reviewers who are available to editors at any point.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Academic publishing, Science, Research, Peer review, Review, Scientific community


Journal impact factors have become an important criterion to judge the quality of scientific publications over the years, influencing the evaluation of institutions and individual researchers worldwide. However, they are also subject to a number of criticisms. Here we point out that the calculation of a journal’s impact factor is mainly based on the date of publication of its articles in print form, despite the fact that most journals now make their articles available online before that date. We analyze 61 neuroscience journals and show that delays between online and print publication of articles increased steadily over the last decade. Importantly, such a practice varies widely among journals, as some of them have no delays, while for others this period is longer than a year. Using a modified impact factor based on online rather than print publication dates, we demonstrate that online-to-print delays can artificially raise a journal’s impact factor, and that this inflation is greater for longer publication lags. We also show that correcting the effect of publication delay on impact factors changes journal rankings based on this metric. We thus suggest that indexing of articles in citation databases and calculation of citation metrics should be based on the date of an article’s online appearance, rather than on that of its publication in print.

Concepts: Academic publishing, Nature, Impact factor, Newspaper, Publication, Book, Citation impact, Publications


Inaccurate data in scientific papers can result from honest error or intentional falsification. This study attempted to determine the percentage of published papers that contain inappropriate image duplication, a specific type of inaccurate data. The images from a total of 20,621 papers published in 40 scientific journals from 1995 to 2014 were visually screened. Overall, 3.8% of published papers contained problematic figures, with at least half exhibiting features suggestive of deliberate manipulation. The prevalence of papers with problematic images has risen markedly during the past decade. Additional papers written by authors of papers with problematic images had an increased likelihood of containing problematic images as well. As this analysis focused only on one type of data, it is likely that the actual prevalence of inaccurate data in the published literature is higher. The marked variation in the frequency of problematic images among journals suggests that journal practices, such as prepublication image screening, influence the quality of the scientific literature.

Concepts: Academic publishing, Science, Peer review, Literature, Scientific journal, Publishing, Open access, Scientific literature


Understanding the relationship between scientific productivity and research group size is important for deciding how science should be funded. We have investigated the relationship between these variables in the life sciences in the United Kingdom using data from 398 principle investigators (PIs). We show that three measures of productivity, the number of publications, the impact factor of the journals in which papers are published and the number of citations, are all positively correlated to group size, although they all show a pattern of diminishing returns-doubling group size leads to less than a doubling in productivity. The relationships for the impact factor and the number of citations are extremely weak. Our analyses suggest that an increase in productivity will be achieved by funding more PIs with small research groups, unless the cost of employing post-docs and PhD students is less than 20% the cost of a PI. We also provide evidence that post-docs are more productive than PhD students both in terms of the number of papers they produce and where those papers are published.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Academic publishing, Science, United Kingdom, Nature, Impact factor, Productive forces


Peer-reviewed publications focusing on climate change are growing exponentially with the consequence that the uptake and influence of individual papers varies greatly. Here, we derive metrics of narrativity from psychology and literary theory, and use these metrics to test the hypothesis that more narrative climate change writing is more likely to be influential, using citation frequency as a proxy for influence. From a sample of 732 scientific abstracts drawn from the climate change literature, we find that articles with more narrative abstracts are cited more often. This effect is closely associated with journal identity: higher-impact journals tend to feature more narrative articles, and these articles tend to be cited more often. These results suggest that writing in a more narrative style increases the uptake and influence of articles in climate literature, and perhaps in scientific literature more broadly.

Concepts: Scientific method, Academic publishing, Science, Fiction, Theory, Literature, Publishing, Narrative


A graphical abstract (GA) represents a piece of artwork that is intended to summarize the main findings of an article for readers at a single glance. Many publishers currently encourage authors to supplement their articles with GAs, in the hope that such a convenient visual summary will facilitate readers with a clearer outline of papers that are of interest and will result in improved overall visibility of the respective publication. To test this assumption, we statistically compared publications with or without GA published in Molecules between March 2014 and March 2015 with regard to several output parameters reflecting visibility. Contrary to our expectations, manuscripts published without GA performed significantly better in terms of PDF downloads, abstract views, and total citations than manuscripts with GA. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first empirical study on the effectiveness of GA for attracting attention to scientific publications.

Concepts: Scientific method, Academic publishing, Science, Empirical, Writing, Publishing, Publication, Desktop publishing


How easy is it to reproduce the results found in a typical computational biology paper? Either through experience or intuition the reader will already know that the answer is with difficulty or not at all. In this paper we attempt to quantify this difficulty by reproducing a previously published paper for different classes of users (ranging from users with little expertise to domain experts) and suggest ways in which the situation might be improved. Quantification is achieved by estimating the time required to reproduce each of the steps in the method described in the original paper and make them part of an explicit workflow that reproduces the original results. Reproducing the method took several months of effort, and required using new versions and new software that posed challenges to reconstructing and validating the results. The quantification leads to “reproducibility maps” that reveal that novice researchers would only be able to reproduce a few of the steps in the method, and that only expert researchers with advance knowledge of the domain would be able to reproduce the method in its entirety. The workflow itself is published as an online resource together with supporting software and data. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the complexities of requiring reproducibility in terms of cost versus benefit, and a desiderata with our observations and guidelines for improving reproducibility. This has implications not only in reproducing the work of others from published papers, but reproducing work from one’s own laboratory.

Concepts: Scientific method, Reproduction, Organism, Life, Academic publishing, Expert, Asexual reproduction, Expert witness


In August 2015, the publisher Springer retracted 64 articles from 10 different subscription journals “after editorial checks spotted fake email addresses, and subsequent internal investigations uncovered fabricated peer review reports,” according to a statement on their website.(1) The retractions came only months after BioMed Central, an open-access publisher also owned by Springer, retracted 43 articles for the same reason. “This is officially becoming a trend,” Alison McCook wrote on the blog Retraction Watch, referring to the increasing number of retractions due to fabricated peer reviews.(2) Since it was first reported 3 years ago, when South Korean researcher Hyung-in Moon admitted . . .

Concepts: Scientific method, Academic publishing, Peer review, Review, Scientific journal, Publishing, Open access, Retraction


Researchers require infrastructures that ensure a maximum of accessibility, stability and reliability to facilitate working with and sharing of research data. Such infrastructures are being increasingly summarized under the term Research Data Repositories (RDR). The project of Research Data Repositories-has begun to index research data repositories in 2012 and offers researchers, funding organizations, libraries and publishers an overview of the heterogeneous research data repository landscape. In July 2013 lists 400 research data repositories and counting. 288 of these are described in detail using the vocabulary. Information icons help researchers to easily identify an adequate repository for the storage and reuse of their data. This article describes the heterogeneous RDR landscape and presents a typology of institutional, disciplinary, multidisciplinary and project-specific RDR. Further the article outlines the features of, and shows how this registry helps to identify appropriate repositories for storage and search of research data.

Concepts: Scientific method, Academic publishing, Research


Much has been written regarding p-values below certain thresholds (most notably 0.05) denoting statistical significance and the tendency of such p-values to be more readily publishable in peer-reviewed journals. Intuition suggests that there may be a tendency to manipulate statistical analyses to push a “near significant p-value” to a level that is considered significant. This article presents a method for detecting the presence of such manipulation (herein called “fiddling”) in a distribution of p-values from independent studies. Simulations are used to illustrate the properties of the method. The results suggest that the method has low type I error and that power approaches acceptable levels as the number of p-values being studied approaches 1000.

Concepts: Scientific method, Statistics, Statistical significance, Academic publishing, Ronald Fisher, Statistical hypothesis testing, Effect size, P-value