Racial and ethnic disparities persist in NSF funding decisions

Read the full story at Chemical & Engineering News.

Over the past 2 decades, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has consistently funded White researchers at higher rates than researchers from other racial and ethnic groups, according to a new study that has not yet been peer-reviewed (OSF Preprints 2022, DOI: 10.31219/osf.io/xb57u).

The study also found that White principal investigators (PIs) have secured NSF funding at increasing rates since at least 1999, a finding that contrasts with a common sentiment among White researchers that they have had more difficulty acquiring funding over time, says Christine Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who led the work.

The peer review system is broken. We asked academics how to fix it

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by Kelly-Ann Allen, Monash University; Jonathan Reardon, Durham University; Joseph Crawford, University of Tasmania, and Lucas Walsh, Monash University

The peer review process is a cornerstone of modern scholarship. Before new work is published in an academic journal, experts scrutinise the evidence, research and arguments to make sure they stack up.

However, many authors, reviewers and editors have problems with the way the modern peer review system works. It can be slow, opaque and cliquey, and it runs on volunteer labour from already overworked academics.

Last month, one of us (Kelly-Ann Allen) expressed her frustration at the difficulties of finding peer reviewers on Twitter. Hundreds of replies later, we had a huge crowd-sourced collection of criticisms of peer review and suggestions for how to make it better.

The suggestions for journals, publishers and universities show there is plenty to be done to make peer review more accountable, fair and inclusive. We have summarised our full findings below.

Three challenges of peer review

We see three main challenges facing the peer review system.

First, peer review can be exploitative.

Many of the companies that publish academic journals make a profit from subscriptions and sales. However, the authors, editors and peer reviewers generally give their time and effort on a voluntary basis, effectively performing free labour.

And while peer review is often seen as a collective enterprise of the academic community, in practice a small fraction of researchers do most of the work. One study of biomedical journals found that, in 2015, just 20% of researchers performed up to 94% of the peer reviewing.

Peer review can be a ‘black box’

The second challenge is a lack of transparency in the peer review process.

Peer review is generally carried out anonymously: researchers don’t know who is reviewing their work, and reviewers don’t know whose work they are reviewing. This provides space for honesty, but can also make the process less open and accountable.

The opacity may also suppress discussion, protect biases, and decrease the quality of the reviews.

Peer review can be slow

The final challenge is the speed of peer review.

When a researcher submits a paper to a journal, if they make it past initial rejection, they may face a long wait for review and eventual publication. It is not uncommon for research to be published a year or more after submission.

This delay is bad for everyone. For policymakers, leaders and the public, it means they may be making decisions based on outdated scientific evidence. For scholars, delays can stall their careers as they wait for the publications they need to get promotions or tenure.

Scholars suggest the delays are typically caused by a shortage of reviewers. Many academics report challenging workloads can discourage them from participating in peer review, and this has become worse since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has also been found that many journals rely heavily on US and European reviewers, limiting the size and diversity of the pool of reviewers.

Can we fix peer review?

So, what can be done? Most of the constructive suggestions from the large Twitter conversation mentioned earlier fell into three categories.

First, many suggested there should be better incentives for conducting peer reviews.

This might include publishers paying reviewers (the journals of the American Economic Association already do this) or giving some profits to research departments. Journals could also offer reviewers free subscriptions, publication fee vouchers, or fast-track reviews.

However, we should recognise that journals offering incentives might create new problems.

Another suggestion is that universities could do better in acknowledging peer review as part of the academic workload, and perhaps reward outstanding contributors to peer review.

Some Twitter commentators argued tenured scholars should review a certain number of articles each year. Others thought more should be done to support non-profit journals, given a recent study found some 140 journals in Australia alone ceased publishing between 2011 and 2021.

Most respondents agreed that conflicts of interest should be avoided. Some suggested databases of experts would make it easier to find relevant reviewers.

Use more inclusive peer review recruitment strategies

Many respondents also suggested journals can improve how they recruit reviewers, and what work they distribute. Expert reviewers could be selected on the basis of method or content expertise, and asked to focus on that element rather than both.

Respondents also argued journals should do more to tailor their invitations to target the most relevant experts, with a simpler process to accept or reject the offer.

Others felt that more non-tenured scholars, PhD researchers, people working in related industries, and retired experts should be recruited. More peer review training for graduate students and increased representation for women and underrepresented minorities would be a good start.

Rethink double-blind peer review

Some repondents pointed to a growing movement towards more open peer review processes, which may create a more human and transparent approach to reviewing. For example, Royal Society Open Science publishes all decisions, review letters, and voluntary identification of peer reviewers.

Another suggestion to speed up the publishing process was to give higher priority to time-sensitive research.

What can be done?

The overall message from the enormous response to a single tweet is that there is a need for systemic changes within the peer review process.

There is no shortage of ideas for how to improve the process for the benefit of scholars and the broader public. However, it will be up to journals, publishers and universities to put them into practice and create a more accountable, fair and inclusive system.


The authors would like to thank Emily Rainsford, David V. Smith and Yumin Lu for their contribution to the original article Towards improving peer review: Crowd-sourced insights from Twitter.

Kelly-Ann Allen, Associate Professor, School of Educational Psychology and Counselling, Faculty of Education, Monash University; Jonathan Reardon, , Durham University; Joseph Crawford, Senior Lecturer, Educational Innovation, University of Tasmania, and Lucas Walsh, Professor and Director of the Centre for Youth Policy and Education Practice, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Plan S funders embrace journal-free versions of peer review

Read the full story at Research Professional News.

The Plan S open-access initiative has announced its support for newly emerging ways of producing research papers, in which peer review takes place independently from publication in journals or on platforms.

Plan S said on 6 July that most of its funders—who require the researchers they support to make resulting papers openly available immediately—will consider scholarly work that has been peer-reviewed without publication in a journal or on a platform to be of “equivalent merit and status” as papers published in these traditional venues.

The Open Access Opportunity: Building the Third Space

Read the full post from the Higher Education Policy Institute.

In her recent blog, Victoria Gardner explored whether open access was ‘the end or the means’? In this blog Matt Flinders argues that open access represents little more that the latest stage of a complex and ongoing shift in the architecture of knowledge. Open access is definitely not ‘the end’ of anything – it signals the need to think more systemically and ambitiously about knowledge translation and therefore the ‘third space’. 

When should U.S. research be stamped ‘top secret’? NSF asks for a new look at the issue

Read the full story in Science.

The U.S. academic community is gearing up for a new effort to convince national policymakers that the benefits of keeping government-funded basic research out in the open—and not stamping it classified—far outweigh any threat to national security from sharing scientific findings.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to hold a workshop on factors affecting the classification of federally funded research. Tentatively scheduled for the fall, the meeting is expected to revisit a Cold War-era policy that sets openness as the gold standard and says any classification of fundamental research should be kept to a minimum.

Delaying the inevitable? The uncertain future of the EPA’s online archive

Front door of United States Environmental Protection Agency building

Read the full story at New Security Beat.

In February 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its plans to shutter its online archive—a key resource on the work of the agency that is relied upon by researchers, legislators, policymakers, and citizens for work on everything “from historical research to democratic oversight.” Pulling the plug would instantly have made public access to a vast array of fact sheets, environmental reports, policy changes, and regulatory actions significantly more difficult.

Months of public backlash ensued—including damning public letters from prominent organizations. And just last week, the EPA announced that it would push back the demise of the archive until July 2023.

News of this welcome reprieve for the EPA digital archive raises a significant question: Why continue with plans to shut it down at all? Postponement does not resolve the eventual damage to government transparency and historical record keeping that the archive’s demise will create. And the concerns of organizations opposed to closure will not be satisfied by an additional year of operation.

Is there a case to be made that this vital resource’s reprieve should be a permanent one?

A copyright lawsuit threatens to kill free access to Internet Archive’s library of books

Read the full story in Popular Science.

Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library and a massive repository of online artifacts, has been collecting mementos of the ever-expanding World Wide Web for over two decades, allowing users to revisit sites that have since been changed or deleted. But like the web, it too has evolved since its genesis, and in the aughts, it also began to offer a selection of ebooks that any internet user can check out with the creation of a free account. 

That latter feature has gotten the organization in some trouble. Internet Archive was sued by a suite of four corporate publishers in 2020 over copyright controversies—with one side saying that what Internet Archive does is preservation, and the other saying that it’s piracy, since it freely distributes books as image files without compensating the author. 

Last week, the ongoing case entered a new chapter as the nonprofit organization filed a motion for summary judgment, asking a federal judge to put a stop to the lawsuit, arguing that their Controlled Digital Lending program “is a lawful fair use that preserves traditional library lending in the digital world” since “each book loaned via CDL has already been bought and paid for.” On Friday, Creative Commons issued a statement supporting Internet Archive’s motion. 

Methods in Ecology and Evolution to become a fully open access journal

Read the full story from the British Ecological Society.

The British Ecological Society has today announced that one of its youngest journals, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, will become a fully open access publication from January 2023.

Frontiers is first publisher to join ‘Stick to Science’ initiative

Read the full story at Research Information.

Frontiers has become the first publisher to join the ‘Stick to Science’ initiative to support open scientific collaboration.  

Initiated by Universities UK, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), public research university ETH Zurich, the ETH Board, Wellcome and The Royal Society, the ‘Stick to Science’ campaign calls for an open, inclusive, and collaborative research and innovation landscape in Europe that is free from political barriers.

The initiative comes off the back of uncertainties over the UK and Switzerland’s participation in Horizon Europe, the EU’s €95.5 billion research and innovation program. The UK’s relationship with Horizon Europe remains trapped in post-Brexit arrangements, while Switzerland is locked out of parts of the program, pending further government talks. In both cases, efficient science collaboration continues to be stalled by politics.   

Switzerland and the UK, two of the best performing science systems in the world, are long-standing and academically important partners in Europe’s research and innovation landscape. However, some of the best minds of the British and Swiss institutions are currently unable to fully and efficiently contribute to Europe’s science and research as a result of the ongoing uncertainty.  These circumstances are hindering some of Europe’s top scientists from working together to tackle looming global challenges such as climate change, pandemics, sustainability, energy and food security.  

EU science ministers agree on research assessment reform

Read the full story at Science Business.

EU science ministers today signed off an agreement backing research assessment reform in Europe, alongside conclusions on open science, international cooperation and Horizon Europe missions.

In a meeting in Luxembourg, the 27 ministers acknowledged it’s time for the EU to revamp how it evaluates research, putting more weight into the quality of research outcomes rather than qualitative indicators such as journal impact factors and number of citations.

Ministers acknowledged that national research organisations are already taking steps to improve they way they assess research, the reforms do not happen fast enough, and efforts remain fragmented.