Archive for September, 2009

Policy change before peer review: OA needed?

A noteworthy situation has been reported in several recent articles. Public health policy (in this case, about flu shots) is being influenced by a research study that is currently undergoing peer review at an unidentified medical journal.This situation provides an attention-grabbing example of the dilemma in research ethics that must be faced about  preliminary research results of great public interest. Should such results be available for public scrutiny as soon as possible? Or, should concerns about impact on public perceptions (or, misperceptions) justify delays while experts in the field evaluate the results?

One solution to this dilemma has been the recent launch of PLoS Currents: Influenza: “PLoS Currents: Influenza aims to enable this exchange [of scientific results and ideas] by providing an open-access online resource for immediate, open communication and discussion of new scientific data, analyses, and ideas in the field of influenza. All content is moderated by an expert group of influenza researchers, but in the interest of timeliness, does not undergo in-depth peer review“.

Comment: My own preference? The tradeoff between possible risks and possible benefits is a challenging one, but I favor the use of PLoS Currents: Influenza as the less paternalistic route. [See Wikipedia entries about paternalism and soft paternalism]. [See also a previous post in this blog about PLoS Currents].

Examples of relevant articles about this situation:

1) MOH cautious on flu shot fears by Helen Branswell in, September 23, 2009 [Twitter entry][FriendFeed entry]. Excerpt:

Unpublished Canadian data are raising concerns about whether it’s a good idea to get a seasonal flu shot this season.

2) Like several other provinces, BC, PEI, to delay seasonal flu shots for under 65s by Helen Branswell, Canadian Press, September 28, 2009 [Twitter entry][FriendFeed entry]. Excerpt:

British Columbia and Prince Edward Island have joined a growing list of provinces that have announced they will delay part of their seasonal flu shot programs this year, decisions which are partially fuelled by concerns raised by controversial and unpublished Canadian research.

3) More flu programs suspended by Caroline Alphonso, The Globe and Mail, September 29, 2009. Excerpts:

Lead authors, Danuta Skowronski of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and Gaston De Serres of Laval University, have submitted their findings to an unnamed scientific journal and may not comment until it is published.


The findings have yet to be published, but word of it has prompted provinces and territories to revamp their vaccination programs.

4) B.C. announces seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccine strategy by Shane Bigham, News1130, September 28, 2009. Excerpt:

The postponement of the seasonal flu shot is also in response to an unpublished Canadian medical study which seems to indicate that people who have received the seasonal flu shot are more likely to catch the H1N1. The findings of that study are still up for peer review and have not been reported in other parts of the world.


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OA repository launched by ResearchGATE

News release received via email on September 15, 2009 (Subject: Open Access on ResearchGATE):

ResearchGATE launches Self-Archiving Repository

Scientific Online Network ResearchGATE blazes a new route into the world of Open Access

Boston, September 15th 2009. The last few weeks have been big here at ResearchGATE (, the world’s largest online scientific platform. We have only been online since May last year, but already have 140,000 members. Recently, we introduced our international Job Board for Science and Higher Education. But today is set to be even bigger, as we are launching our Self-Archiving Repository. This will make full-text articles available to the public, for free – the first application of its kind worldwide!

Currently, there is no way for researchers to access millions of publications in their full version online. ResearchGATE is now changing this by enabling users to upload their published research directly to their profile pages (a system called the “green route” to Open Access). Our publication index, containing metadata for 35 million publications, will be automatically matched with the SHERPA RoMEO ( data set of journal and publisher’s self-archiving agreements. As a result, authors will know which versions of their articles they can legally upload. Since nine out of ten journals allow self-archiving, this project could give thousands of researchers immediate access to articles that are not yet freely available.

Our Self-Archiving Repository does not infringe on copyrights because each profile page within ResearchGATE is legally considered the personal website of the user (and the majority of journal publishers allow articles to be openly accessible on personal homepages). Therefore, each user can upload his or her published articles in compliance with self-archiving regulations. Our publication index makes every publication identifiable and is searchable. Since each profile is networked to the larger platform, the uploaded resources will form an enormous pool of research for our members. Of course, it’s free of charge, like the all the other resources at ResearchGATE.

To learn more about ResearchGATE and its many features, visit and sign up for a free profile. Also, feel free to contact me directly or our team at

To learn more about Self-Archiving, visit

Hannah Elmer

Marketing & PR

Excerpt from the Self Archiving webpage:

Self-archive with ResearchGATE

Self-archiving over a ResearchGATE profile page offers many advantages. The ResearchGATE search engines will display your publications among their results and the ResearchGATE semantic matching tool will recommended your articles to other users. These unique resources promote your work to the thousands of researchers who use the site daily. Additionally, publications archived on ResearchGATE are easily found by Google and other external search engines, so they are still retrievable through more traditional means. Since the publications are linked to your personal profile, all traffic they attract will be directed over your site, which further improves the visibility both of you as a researcher and of your other projects.

Comment: No confidentiality statement was attached to the email message, which was sent to members of ResearchGATE. However, so far, this news release doesn’t seem to have been cached by Google. ResearchGATE’s approach to self-archiving differs from that of Scholas. The latter site is intended for “Social File-Sharing for Academics“. For a brief commentary about Scholas, see: SCHOLAS: OnLine Academic Sharing Service, DE Tools of the Trade, August 31st, 2009.

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What’s next for PLoS Currents?

The launch of PLoS Currents: Influenza begins a novel and interesting experiment in OA publishing. See: A new website for the rapid sharing of influenza research, Harold Varmus, PLoS Blog (August 20, 2009) and the PLoS Currents FAQs. An excerpt from the answer to one of the FAQs:

There are currently no publication charges for PLoS Currents. However, it is possible that we will introduce a small publication charge in future to cover the running costs.

The launch of the first PLos Currents has generated a number of commentaries, including:

Introducing PLoS Currents: Influenza, Coturnix (Bora Zivkovic), A Blog Around the Clock (August 21, 2009);  Finally a Good Use for Google Knol: Sharing Information About Flu Research, Frederic Lardinois, ReadWriteWeb (August 20, 2009);  Varmus Gets His Preprint Server, Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider (August 21, 2009);  E-Biomed 2.0? Richard Poynder, Open and Shut? (August 22, 2009);  Science publishing on the fast lane, plus optionally in journals, Daniel Mietchen, Fund Science blog (August 30, 2009) [FriendFeed entry][Twitter entry];  PLoS Currents Uses Google Knol Collections Feature for Swine Flu Reports, Barbara Quint, Information Today (August 31, 2009).

An excerpt from the post by Harold Varmus (in PLoS Blog and in The Official Google Blog): “PLoS Currents: Influenza is an experiment and a prototype for further PLoS Currents sites“.


If the first experiment with PLoS Currents: Influenza is a successful one, there will be further PLoS Currents sites. I’ve seen no speculation about the probable research theme for the next site. What might be some appropriate criteria for the selection of an appropriate research theme? Criteria that appear to be met by the first research theme (influenza) are:  #1) The research field is a very active one; #2) The research field is recognized to have important practical applications; #3) A substantial amount of translational research is already under way; #4) A credible board of expert moderators can be assembled; #5) Some outstanding researchers in the field will agree to submit contributions for inclusion in the launch site. [See also this FriendFeed entry (WebCite cache)].

Another five criteria could be added to this list: #6) There is much public interest in the research field; #7) The research field is neither so large that it yields an unmanageable numbers of contributions, nor so small that it yields very few; #8) The problems addressed by the research field have implications for large numbers of people;  #9) These problems are (or potentially are) global in their reach; and, #10) Most of the methods used  in the research field are well-established ones that experienced moderators are able to evaluate.

It will be of interest, when the next PLoS Currents is launched, to see how many of these proposed criteria are met. One biomedical field that merits consideration is “Regenerative Medicine”. See, for example, these two Gratis OA editorials in the journal Regenerative Medicine, 2009(May);4(3):329-331 and 2007(Jan);2(1):11-18.

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