Post by Yamini Ravichandran
On June 7th ASAPbio hosted a workshop in collaboration with IndiaBioscience and Open Access India, to discuss preprints and the value they can add to research assessment frameworks in India. ASAPbio works to drive open and innovative communication in the life sciences and promotes the productive use of preprints. IndiaBioscience aims to increase the visibility of science in society, by serving as a platform for science communication, policy discussions and the dissemination of information to the scientific community. Open Access India is an active community of scientific stakeholders that seeks to raise awareness and drive policy change for publicly funded research in India, advocating for open access, open data and open education.
The goal of the workshop was to understand challenges around current assessment frameworks in India and the opportunities that preprints bring to the scientific community. In addition, we facilitated a discussion with Indian researchers on steps that can support change in assessment and recruitment frameworks to incorporate preprints. The event also served as a platform to bring together the Indian scientific community to discuss and highlight the current state of scientific publishing and preprinting, and draw from their personal experiences.
The workshop was kicked off with an introduction by Iratxe Puebla from ASAPbio. She summarised the work and goals of the different host organisations and the objectives for the workshop. This introduction was followed by the keynote speaker: Prof. Satyajit Mayor, director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore and member of DORA’s Steering committee. Prof. Jitu Mayor (as he is more commonly referred to) summarized the challenges and state-of-the-art of the Indian research and publication ecosystem. Prof. Mayor emphasised that one of the biggest challenges lies in changing the mindset of the scientific community and policy makers to adapt and accept alternatives to the existing publishing and scientific dissemination options, for example, to incorporate preprints. Prof. Mayor also highlighted that although certain organisations are open to new assessment frameworks, implementing these changes can be complex and may take time. Prof. Mayor did note though that we are seeing positive steps as several institutes such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and NCBS are actively promoting practices such as preprinting to their researchers.
During the interactive Q&A session with the audience, a particular topic that stirred the discussion was how to make the assessment criteria for researchers more holistic and less focused on impact factors and publication records, given the challenge this presents for early-career researchers (ECRs) in particular, and for the overall acceleration of the scientific publication process. The discussion called for research assessors to move from evaluating impact factors and the number of publications to evaluating the science behind the research. Such a focus on the scientific content over journal-based metrics is also needed to address other challenges such as predatory journals. This shift would drive researchers to put out articles of more expansive and impactful research. Prof. Mayor concluded by putting his faith in the coming generation of researchers to pick up these issues as their own and steer the wheels of change. There is already groundwork in place for this discussion thanks to the work of organisations such as DORA over the last ten years; a number of Indian institutions and funding bodies are DORA signatories and we should call on them to lead the way in implementing updates to assessment frameworks, to incorporate preprints, among different steps to reduce reliance on journal metrics.
Followed by this broad discussion, breakout rooms facilitated by Iratxe and the ASAPbio Fellow Yamini Ravichandran were launched for a deeper dialog with attendees. These discussions involved a diverse group of stakeholders, including early career researchers, principal investigators and community members. A summary of the points raised is outlined below.
Challenges of current assessment frameworks in India
- Overemphasis on publication outputs & impact factors, rather than on the quality of the research – ‘Publish or Perish’ culture, frameworks driven by global institutional rankings
- Lack of straightforward alternatives to evaluate the quality of individual research works
- Lack of focus on integrity or on open-science practices
- Financial barriers associated with article-processing charges (APCs) to publish open access
- ECRs are penalised as they have less publications and are more disproportionately affected by peer review & publication timelines
Benefits that preprints can bring in research assessment
- Preprints are aligned to DORA, they allow evaluating the paper for its merits, free of journal-associated metrics
- Preprints provide proof of productivity in a faster timeframe than that of the journal process (and also for work that may not publish in a journal e.g. negative results) – more control for the researcher
- Feedback on the preprint can increase integrity & rigor – more eyes on the paper earlier allows improvements to the manuscript before it goes to a journal
- Preprints align to open science principles – there are no access restrictions, allowing visibility of research outputs to a wide audience
What steps can researchers take to support recognition of preprints in research assessment?
- Garner support from group leaders and institutions to publish preprints
- Encourage discussion of preprints at society conferences and committees
- Run local events to raise awareness of preprints
- Promote awareness at private institutions as these have their own models for research assessment and may favour implementation of frameworks that include preprints
- Raise requests within their institutions to incorporate preprints into hiring & promotion processes
- Raise requests to their funders to recognize preprints
- Encourage pro-preprint policies at journals
- Support ECRs interested in sharing their manuscript drafts as preprints
ASAPbio, IndiaBioscience and Open Access India thank Prof. Mayor and all attendees for their contributions during the workshop. Following the energizing discussion at the workshop, we will pursue further steps to engage the scientific community in India as well as other stakeholders in additional events and initiatives towards raising awareness and recognition of preprints in the region.
We welcome input from the community as we move ahead, if you would like to take part please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org (ASAPbio), email@example.com (Open Access India) or firstname.lastname@example.org (IndiaBioscience).