Scientific Nutrition Update 46: Open Journals, Open Data, and Open Review

In this episode I discuss why I think open journals, open data, and maybe even open review are important if we want science to continue to progress.

Script (remember I ad-lib):

For today’s episode I am going to talk about why open journals, data, and peer review matter.  As someone who spends hours each day digging through the scientific literature this is an issue that is incredibly important to me.


So first of all let’s talk about what an open journal is.  An open journal is a scientific, peer reviewed journal, that is free for anyone to view it.  This is contrast to many other journals which are locked tight behind paywalls. Obviously this sounds like a great thing right? So why isn’t every article published in open access journals yet?  Well there are a few reasons. First is cost: for shorter articles and in some of the most prestigious open access journals it can be slightly more expensive to publish in them, however, there are often waivers that can help with this.  The second reason is: prestige. Many scientists do not see open access journals as prestigious when compared to more traditional ones. However, I expect this to change in the future and I’ll explain why later. However, there are several advantages to open access journals too including the fact that they tend to much quicker to publish in, and they tend to be much more visible.  So why do I think open access journals will become more prestigious? It is related to the fact that these articles end up with significantly more eyes on them, and more people analyzing them. Having your article survive that kind of added scrutiny makes it much more likely that you are doing “good science.” At some point it is going to become a badge of honor for your article to survive in that kind of environment, in my opinion.


The second important piece I want to talk about it somewhat less common, but perhaps even more important and that is open data.  Open data is where all of your data is published publicly and accessibly. Now the reason this is important is several fold. First and foremost in my opinion is that it helps make it a little bit harder to commit fraud.  Besides that factor often scientists will make mistakes that do not even get caught in peer review. Having the data freely accessible makes it more likely that someone will catch the mistake. Also having the data freely available makes it easier for people to use your data for meta-analyses, which as a scientist is valuable because it makes it more likely you will be cited.  Also besides that the spirit of open data is more akin to the spirit of science, the spirit of collaboration and building. It allows for us all to end up learning more.


Finally is the one I am least sure about, and that is open peer review.  First of all what is peer review? When an article is submitted to an academic journal it goes through a process called peer-review wherein peer scientists review the article with the goal of catching any serious mistakes before it goes to publishing.  The idea behind open peer reviewing is the comments made, suggested revisions, and who is suggesting it becomes public. The idea behind this is that people’s critiques will become more tactful and constructive. There is also the idea that it is helpful for people to be able to see the revision process like this so they are more aware of the way things have been changed.  However, some studies suggest that open reviews increase the number of reviewers declining to review, and some have suggested it could cause people to seek revenge against reviewers who declined to publish their work. In my opinion it is still valuable, but it is the least valuable part of the open science movement.


In conclusion, I think both open journals and open data are important for the advancement of science, and that open review has potential benefits.  The entire spirit of science is supposed to be collaboration and openness and awful subscription costs have hampered that. Open data and open journals are one way to start improving that.  If you learned something new in this episode please consider sharing it with a friend, and thank you for tuning in.

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