Interview with Lynn Kamerlin, Part 2

Lynn Kamerlin’s name may be familiar to you if you’ve been following the Plan S debate. She is known for spearheading an open letter outlining what her research community — chemistry — sees as problems with Plan S. Her open letter may have already had an effect, with the first round of implementation guidance shifting away from a complete ban on hybrid journals to a more reasonable (but still flawed) policy.

Because people and their normal work and aspirations can get swamped in the furor of OA debates, I wanted to talk with Kamerlin with the goal of understanding more about Kamerlin as a researcher and scientist.

In Part 1, we discussed the Nobel scandal, differences between US and EU (and global) research and funding trends, and more.

Today, Part 2 discusses Plan S, the role of societies in supporting scientists, preprints, Open Science, and research ethics, among other topics.

You’ve expressed concerns about Plan S and its rollout. What led you to take such a public position? 

I have been engaged with Open Science for several years now, and it is something I care deeply about (in particular data sharing, which is not really touched on in Plan S). I have also spoken in many settings in favor of funder OA mandates, so also that is something I am positive towards. However, I believe that the definition of OA as outlined in Plan S is far too restrictive, and can lead to a wide range of problems, as we outlined in our open letter (signed by almost 1500 researchers from across the world as of 2nd December 2018, Denmark, for example, has an excellent national strategy for open access, that prioritizes green and takes great care that the overall costs of the publishing system should not be increased by the transition to open access, while explicitly placing as a prerequisite that “the implementation of Open Access may not hinder researchers’ freedom of publication.” There has been substantial concern in Norway also that a proper risk and consequence analysis has not been performed for Plan S, an example of which is this report by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO):

I wasn’t expecting my position on this issue to become so public, but it was also something I felt I cannot stay quiet about, especially after extensive discussion with colleagues and seeing how concerned they also were about the situation.

In your experience, how do young researchers and students view open access publishing? Is it something they’re conversant about? Or is it an issue outside of the main for them?

We in fact did a survey on this topic recently as part of a report on Open Science skills for researchers, which can be accessed at the following link, with the survey in the appendix: . This covers researchers from a range of career stages, but early career researchers are well represented. As can be seen from the responses, at least at the time of this survey, in many cases the respondents’ knowledge of different aspects of Open Science  in general was limited (although I acknowledge that the sample size was small and this survey served as more of a qualitative than a quantitative tools). Researcher engagement with Open Access varies greatly in my experience, also at the early career researcher stage. While some care deeply, for others it is an issue outside of the main. All I have spoken to have been positive about Open Access in general once I have discussed it with them, but APC remain a concern also for early career researchers I have spoken to. I should note that the signatories of our open letter have remained fairly stable at roughly 20% early career researchers so many have engaged in the open letter. 

The role of scientific societies in general is one you’ve touched on in your reflections on publishing economics and research reporting. Can you elaborate on the role various scientific societies have played in the lives of you and your colleagues?

As my research is quite interdisciplinary, I am a member of several national and international scientific societies. In addition to providing publication venues, the role of societies in organizing topical conferences and symposia, and in many cases awarding prizes is well known. Less well known is the substantial role societies take in advocacy for the discipline, for example in national research policy discussions, in organizing mentorship and career development programs for early career researchers, in outreach, in organizing educational programs, for example for underprivileged researchers. Of course not all societies engage in every single activity I have listed as an example here, and many societies engage in additional activities I have not listed here. But at least in chemistry, computational biology and biochemistry, our scholarly societies play a critical role as the backbones of our communities. 

How do researchers you've encountered view preprints? More generally, what signals (title, authors, publishers, article type, etc.) do you and your colleagues look for that seem to denote quality and time well-spent?

I have seen a spectrum of responses. Fortunately, the majority attitude towards preprints has been quite positive, although individual colleagues have expressed concerns about being scooped if publishing preprints. I personally treat preprints in the same way that I treat manuscripts that come to me for review – to me a high quality manuscript (whether pre- or post-print) is one that makes a meaningful contribution to the discipline, is well presented, with analysis that is supported by the data. As with post-prints, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and past history of solid work can be a good predictor of future quality, but is no substitute for methodological rigor and quality data. However, as with the post-print world, in the pre-print world, curation of research in such a way that it can be easily found is absolutely critical, in order to expand what preprints are read by researchers. I think this is something existing repositories still need to work on, as while the research is readily available, finding new research relevant to your field is not as trivial, which I am concerned limits the scope of what is read. It will be interesting to see how the preprint ecosystem develops in this regard.

Publication ethics are still important, as the recent gene-edited baby claims from China illustrate. How does your lab talk about research ethics with the various teams and researchers you work with?

I actually teach research ethics to our Masters students, and both research and publication ethics is an issue of great importance to me. I am very worried about the recent gene-edited baby claims from China, as well as being afraid this opens the door to other ethical violations. I find that this is still an issue that needs substantial discussion, especially with younger researchers. It’s something I try to teach my team members in my own group from an early stage in their joining the group. Fortunately, it has not been a problem with the various researchers we collaborate with, but then I have been both very selective in my choices of collaborators, and lucky to work with excellent researchers who take these issues very seriously.

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