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Bullied into going national: Early career researchers are taking initiative

This post was contributed by Corina Logan and Laurent Gatto of Bullied into Bad Science.

“It’s a somehow unwritten law at the University of Vienna that you won’t get a permanent job without a Nature or Science paper” – Anonymous ECR

After giving talks on ethical vs exploitative publishing practices, I (Corina) repeatedly heard from early career researchers (ECRs) that they would like to publish ethically but feel like they can’t because their supervisor won’t let them. ECRs also often hear that they need to publish in particular journals in order to get jobs and grants. We implemented the Bullied into Bad Science campaign to try to change academic culture to value ECR freedom of choice when it comes to their research.

Bullied into Bad Science is an initiative by ECRs for ECRs. It was started by several ECRs at Cambridge who are concerned about the desperate need for publishing reform to increase transparency, reproducibility, and academic rigor of the production and dissemination of scholarly outputs. The goal is to urge individuals and institutions to take eight actions to better support us in conducting more rigorous research (e.g., selection committees should positively value open practices).

ECRs can join the campaign by signing our petition. We will use the petition to write letters to politicians and influential decision-makers in academia asking them to take action to better support us. Non-ECRs can also endorse the campaign.

Local action meets with opposition

Our efforts to change academic culture began at the local level at the University of Cambridge. In mid-2016, I (Laurent), Stephen Eglen, and several other scholars from Cambridge offered to support JISC, who negotiated, in the name of 160+ UK Universities, a multi-million 5-year contract for purchasing journal subscriptions with the publishing giant Elsevier. We prepared a letter of support and collected signatures from academics across the UK, expressing our hope that any deal presented to JISC would a. represent a good value and b. have publicly available terms. Sadly, after being asked by JISC to wait ‘for the right time’ to release our letter, we were informed that the deal had already been signed. It later transpired that this deal was nothing like what academics had hoped for.

In late 2016, when individual universities were deciding whether they wanted to accept the JISC-Elsevier deal, we tried to engage with our heads of departments in Cambridge to publicize the contract and give the academic community a chance to understand and discuss the situation. Our efforts were met with varied levels of enthusiasm, from vigorous support to complete lack of interest. The University committee that was responsible for discussing the Elsevier deal locally was also rather unwelcoming. It was difficult to get any official support from institutions when it involved challenging the status quo.

We decided to try a different angle: to change academic culture for ECRs at Cambridge. With Stephen Eglen, Ross Mounce, and Adrian Currie, we spent a few months drafting what is now the Bullied into Bad Science petition and an implementation plan. We emailed it to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, asking him to help us implement these actions and to sign the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) on behalf of the university. Later, I (Corina) met with the Pro-VC. He said he couldn’t sign DORA or implement our actions on behalf of the university because he didn’t have the power, and suggested we implement our own actions instead.

“I was never pressured to publish in particular journals but I was asked by senior colleagues to keep track of “impact factor” of the journals I am interested in publishing just to make sure I am not sabotaging the reputation or my own career opportunities. I was even intimidated by being perceived less serious and credible the moment I advocate for open practices.” – Dr. Vinodh Ilangovan

ECRs go national to put pressure on universities

After encountering local opposition we took this issue to the national level, which we hope will put pressure on decision-makers at universities. Our approach is two-pronged: from the bottom through ECRs and from the top through the media. Our colleague Peter Murray-Rust suggested that the ECR angle was the most compelling because ECRs are a particularly vulnerable group: we are usually on temporary contracts and most of us won’t get permanent jobs in academia. We are also the largest academic group so our values and choices matter and can have a large influence.

“I have been constantly harassed by superiors to modify data in order to provide better agreement with known experimental values in order to make the paper look better for publishing at prestigious journals.” – Anonymous ECR

The Bullied Into Bad Science campaign grew from OpenCon interactions

We (Corina and Laurent) met in early 2016 when Corina joined OpenConCam, a great place to learn from knowledgeable OA advocates and plan how to implement effective action.

The day after OpenCon Cambridge 2016, I (Corina) got an email from my department with the new JISC/Elsevier contract we were expected to sign. My blood boiled at how badly it exploited researchers and the university, and I was outraged that the university would even consider signing it. Inspired by the amazing people at OpenCon Cambridge, I started campaigning. Joe MacArthur and Nick Shockey (SPARC/OpenCon) gave us a platform to share how we activate at Cambridge and they, with Gary McDowell (Future of Research), gave us ideas for how to take the campaign forward. A few months later, Bullied Into Bad Science hit the scene in full force!

What now?

We want people to take actions to help us change academic culture, one person at a time. I (Corina) outlined several actions that ECRs, non-ECRs, institutions, and publishers can take in a PeerJ blog post.

Many senior researchers and other non-ECRs have endorsed the campaign. Most listed actions they are taking right now to help change academic culture.

This campaign is for everyone! We are focused on the UK because this is where we are based, but interest in the campaign is global. We hope others will use the petition to lobby decision-makers at their institutions to help change academic culture wherever they are.


Featured Image: Petition by Nick Youngson, licensed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


ECR/open science advocacy organizations

Bullied into Bad Science

Future of Research



Articles about open science and ECRs

Time for Elsexit? Gowers’s Weblog. 11/19/2016.

What actions can we take to push for publishing reform and incentivise open publishing practices? Corina Logan. PeerJ blog. 7/14/2017.



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