The Role of Research Societies in Promoting Open Science, Preprints, and Reproducibility: An Interview with Iratxe Puebla
Research societies are constantly seeking to extend and advance their respective fields. Open science and preprints play an important role in improving the transparency, reliability, and integrity of the scientific process and research in general. Today, we’ll discuss with Iratxe Puebla various ways in which societies can promote preprints and open science, with an ultimate goal of improving research reproducibility and supporting good scientific practices. Iratxe is currently the Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community, ASAPbio as well as Facilitation & Integrity Officer at COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics).
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey in scientific publishing?
After training as a biochemist, I moved into publishing in 2003, when I joined the editorial team for the BMC-series of journals at BioMed Central. It was the early days of open access, and an interesting time to learn the ropes as an editor in a digital-only open access environment. I then worked as a freelance editor for several years, which brought me opportunities to build skills in handling publication ethics and research integrity issues. I later joined the editorial team of PLOS ONE, working on internal editorial processes and policy development. I became very interested in how to make research more open beyond open access, and worked on initiatives around open data, registered reports, and preprints. I recognized the potential for preprints to bring positive change to science communication and this brought me to my current position at ASAPbio, where I promote the productive use of preprints in the life sciences, working closely with stakeholders in science communication as well as an inspiring community of researchers.
Although preprints have been around for decades, the biomedical sciences have only recently begun to normalize them. How do research societies, especially those in the biomedical sciences, encourage their members to post preprints? And what can such societies do to support and promote preprints?
Some research societies have been influential in supporting adoption of preprints in the life sciences. The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) and the American Society for Microbiology, which operate highly respected journals, clearly expressed support for preprints in their editorial policies quite early on as preprints started to pick up in biology. Molecular Biology of the Cell, one of the ASCB journals, has also pioneered interesting innovations focused on preprints, such as its MBoC Preprint Highlights which provide brief summaries and badges outlining research contributions for preprints selected by early-career editors. This type endorsement from research societies is an important reassurance for researchers of their community’s support for preprints.
Societies will often run sessions related to science communication as part of their annual conferences or other programs for their members. This is another opportunity to raise awareness among members and to provide forums for researchers to learn how they can incorporate preprints into the communication plans for their research.
There are also examples of societies in different fields that have taken a step further and developed their own preprint servers for their disciplines. ChemRxiv, a preprint server for chemistry, is a collaboration by five of the largest chemical societies, and the Earth and Space Science Open Archive (ESSOAr) is a server for earth, environmental, and space sciences operated by the American Geophysical Society.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, people have become a lot more aware about the fact that many studies aren’t reproducible. While the onus is often on individual scientists or journal editors to ensure that published research is reproducible, what is the role that research societies could play here?
One of the purposes of research societies is to educate its members, as well as the general public, about the latest scientific developments, research practices, as well as the value of science to society. Research reproducibility is an important part of research best practices, and of building public trust in science. Research societies can emphasise the importance of reproducibility in their outreach activities, and provide training for their members in steps they can take to make their own research more reproducible. Societies can also develop dedicated awards to recognize researchers who demonstrate reproducible and open science practices.
Research societies often also have a publishing arm. They can implement policies that promote reproducibility at their journals, as well as for submissions to their conferences, for example, by implementing policies that require data sharing, invite the submission of negative results or replications, or by encouraging the use of reporting guidelines by both authors and reviewers.
In a talk organized by the PRBB Good Science Practice Working Group (https://ellipse.prbb.org/iratxe-puebla-asapbio-if-we-value-rigor-and-open-science-it-has-to-become-part-of-the-reward-system/#:~:text=As%20concluded%20by%20Puebla%2C%20%E2%80%9CIf,do%20for%20the%20greater%20good%E2%80%9D), you mentioned that open science can be the solution to a lot of the issues that plague science today. Could you elaborate on this? Also, what role can research societies play in promoting open science?
One of the points I made in that talk is that scrutinizing an article after its journal publication, which compresses years of work into just a few pages, is often too little too late. We now have tools that allow researchers to disseminate different outputs at all stages of the research process. Open science allows moving the communication of research upstream: researchers can document their findings more fully and open them for community feedback earlier on, allowing oversights or errors to be rectified before they make it to the final journal article. There are plenty of ways in which researchers can engage with open science: research plans can be archived as a pre-registration or even published as a Registered Report, data, code and protocols can be deposited in dedicated repositories, and preliminary or ongoing work can be posted as a preprint for community feedback. This allows researchers closest to each of these outputs to look at the work, reuse it, and raise questions and suggestions. It also means that researchers no longer need to make choices about what results to put in the journal submission or commit to the file cabinet, a variety of outputs can be shared with the community, which strengthens the evidence available and helps tackle publication bias.
Research societies can play a role in supporting open science by training their members in open practices, and by developing policies that endorse and enact those open practices, for example, by implementing data policies at their journals, or encouraging pre-registrations, full reporting and preprints.