The Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable, a student-led organization with a stated affinity for industry and a long list of industry sponsors, has posted an open access survey on its website. The preamble to the survey suggests that this is a survey conducted by this student-led organization for its own purposes, while the fine print at the bottom of the survey clearly indicates that this a survey sponsored by an unknown entity. The reason that this is problematic is that when research is conducted in this manner, the sponsoring entity could then easily present the results as the "student viewpoint". This would be as simple as copying and pasting from the preamble. I have no way of knowing whether this is intent of the industry sponsor or whether OBR deliberately markets their services in this way. However, this is a problematic survey and OBR should take steps to at minimum correct the preamble to reflect the industry sponsorship.
The relevant sections:
Thank you very much for taking part in this study on European trends in Open Access Publishing by the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable, a UK-based student-led organisation. It should take ~7 minutes to complete. Your answers will help us to gain valuable insight into the Open Access use among academics in your field.Fine print at the bottom of the form:
Our sponsors pay a fee to OBR for gathering, aggregating and collecting the data as well as for preparation of a Summary Report of the data compiled. In participating in this survey, the participant recognizes that the information provided in this survey will be used in an industry aggregate report and therefore grants OBR unrestricted use of this information.As universities increasingly get involved in industry partnerships, addressing the kinds of questions brought up by this survey will become increasingly important. This research which looks like it is being done by students, but actually is sponsored by industry, does not appear to have gone through a research ethics process. This is an opinion survey; even here, opinions based on this kind of "evidence" can inform public policy. A more critical question, because OBR works in the area of biotech, is whether this approach would be considered suitable in more sensitive areas such as health research. Kudos to these students for creating this innovative company - I very much encourage them to actively participate in this discussion.
Second update April 6: thanks to Tom Morris (status and affiliation unknown) on the open science list for pointing out that the fine print on the bottom of the survey form indicates that this is commercial research undertaken by this organization for pay. Here is the language on the form: "Our sponsors pay a fee to OBR for gathering, aggregating and collecting the data as well as for preparation of a Summary Report of the data compiled. In participating in this survey, the participant recognizes that the information provided in this survey will be used in an industry aggregate report and therefore grants OBR unrestricted use of this information" from the survey form. This statement contrasts with the preamble which speaks to the "student-led organization" and the comments of Daniel Perez and Mehmet Fidanboylu who are emphasizing their student credentials. Like Tom, I would appreciate clarification of who the sponsor of this research is. Tom's post to open science and my reply will be added below.
Update April 6: Daniel Perez on the Open Science list and Mehmet Fidanboylu (see comment below) are with OBR and object strenuously to my characterizing their organization as not being student-led. Daniel points out that he started the organization while a student, and Mehmet points to the Executive Committee, which is composed of students. I was aware of this list when writing this post.
Neither Daniel nor Mehmet has provided information about who is conducting and/or sponsoring the survey. If the survey is being conducted by a "student-led" organization, then the survey should include the name(s) of the students responsible for the survey, with links to the names of their academic supervisors and research ethics clearance. Until these questions are answered, the origins of this survey remain opaque.
Daniel's comments bring up some important questions about the importance of academic freedom and independence. For this reason, I will post both Daniel's comments and my response below.
In brief, this discussion illustrates the need for academic freedom / independence. Academic freedom is far more than a nice perk for academics - it is a critical need for society as a whole. For example, one of the sponsors of this group is GlaxoSmithKline. If academics are aligned with, and funded by, GlaxoSmithKline, then this has a strong probability of making it difficult or impossible for academics to do research that is critical of this sponsor or its products. Good health information requires independent academic research.
Another question I raise in response to Daniel's comments is, considering that this group has posted a survey claiming to be conducted by a "student-led organization" without addressing traditional academic protocols such as noting authorship, sponsorship, and research ethics - does this group consider itself beyond such protocols? If so, this has some interesting and important implications, especially since this is a biotech-oriented group, so would be very likely to be involved in medical research.
I encourage both Daniel and Mehmet to actively engage in this discussion as an opportunity to consider these questions.
Thanks to Peter Suber for the tip about yet another misleading open access survey. Following are my comments. In brief, this appears to be a curious case of two layers of smoke and mirrors about who is behind the survey that could make for an interesting question for a research methods class. The survey preamble says that this is a student-led organization. The about page claims that this is the health care and life sciences industry. The description of gold and green OA reflect the biases of the toll access scholarly publishing industry, which are at odds with those of the health care and life sciences industry. Who are you really, OBR?
The preamble starts with:
Thank you very much for taking part in this study on European trends in Open Access Publishing by the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable, a UK-based student-led organisation.
About OBR says
OBR’s mission is to engage our academic and industry communities on-campus to foster a conversation about the health care and life sciences industry. We seek to create a global network of academic innovators from across disciplines, to connect them with each other and the industry resources necessary to move ideas forward.Comment: what a way to start off a survey - lying about your organization. This is clearly an industry organization, not a student-led organization.
The background of this survey is misleading about Open Access.
OBR: Gold model: Authors pay article processing charges (APC) to the journal for publishing the paper and making it freely available upon publication.Comment: as Peter Suber points out, article processing charges is just one of the business models for open access journals, and one that is used by only about half of open access journals.
OBR: Green model (self-archiving): the author deposits his/her post-peer reviewed article (but not the published record) in an OA online repository (e.g. institutional or subject-based repository).Comment: the green model can involve posting a number of versions of works, from preprints to post-peer-reviewed postprints to the final published version.
Both of these definitions are suspicious, suggesting that this survey was written by a traditional scholarly publisher with a vested interest in toll access. This interest is not shared by the health care and life sciences industry. For this industry, toll access is an expense and a barrier. This suggests two levels of smoke and mirrors in this survey - pretending to be student led while the "about" page suggests the health care and life science industries while the bias in the initial question page suggests a toll access publisher.
As David Solomon notes in a comment on Suber's post, a survey like this just posted to the web which can be answered by anyone is not very meaningful, to put it mildly.
I haven't gotten into the questions per se, but would like to note that if whoever is behind this survey wants this "research" to be taken seriously, they really should come out of the closet and tell us who they are.
This survey could make an interesting question for a research methods class.
Daniel Perez' comments to the open science list (April 6, 2013)
Dear Heather – I just read your paranoid notes below (and blog) about the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR), a student led organization - instigated by our act of conducting a survey into Open Access Publishing (how dare we?) and not living up to Paul Zuma’s standards of scholarship?
Heather: you asked: “Who are you really, OBR?” (In what appeared to be a McCarthy-esqe tone.)
Look, if you were capable of even the bare minimum of research into OBR and looked at our executive committee you would see we’re led entirely of PhD students and post-docs: http://www.oxbridgebiotech.com/about-obr/executive-committee/
As the founder and President of OBR (and PhD student at Oxford) I do not take exception towards Zuma for finding our survey methodology imperfect (when it comes to OA he’s beyond biased, but obviously raised good points).
I do, however, take exception that you then pursue some whisper campaign maligning our character and even claiming we’re not really student led.
We were founded in Oxford in June 2011, then opened a chapter in Cambridge, then London and since we’ve grown to nearly 8,000 members with additional chapters in Manchester, Glasgow (Scotland), and San Diego, Los Angeles and SF-Bay. Our goal is to foster a conversation between academics (from across disciplines) and industry experts. Look Heather, we actually don’t think “industry” is an ugly word. We welcome commerce, the commercialization of science, and the jobs and innovative products that comes from it. For you to suggest we’re just “smoke and mirrors” is border-line slanderous and I highly encourage you to avoid these Holier Than Thou witch-hunt campaigns.
But as OBR's mission is to educate, here are two simple steps to avoid repeat episodes like this:
1) Research your facts
2) Remove the tin-foil from around your head
ps. Ok I’ll admit it: we have some post-docs on our exec committee. We really are out to get to you.
Daniel A. Perez
CEO & Founder, Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable
+4407583873540 | @danperez610
DPhil Student, Biochemistry, University of Oxford
My reply (April 6, 2013)
Thank you for your response. To clarify, are you doing this research as a student? If so, can you point me to your academic supervisor for this study and your ethics clearance information?
In academic research it is important to state such matters as who sponsored a study, declare conflicts, etc. Look at the author guidelines of a reputable publisher such as Nature, PLoS, BMC for the kinds of information academic critics should have access.
Alternatively, perhaps you think your group is beyond such academic protocols as research ethics? If so, this has interesting implications, particularly in biotech which presumably includes medical research.
I would be interested in hearing your perspective on academic critique. What constitutes an appropriate response to critique of your approach?
Looking forward to your response,
Tom Morris (gmail account, status & affiliation unknown) post to open science (April 6, 2013)
Heather - It says right on the survey page that it's paid for by sponsors, so I don't think there's much mystery as to whether it's a commercial or academic survey. You can find their corporate registrations here: http://opencorporates.com/companies?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=oxbridge++roundtable&commit=Go
Daniel - Congratulations on building your company to this scale at such a young age. Since the focus of this thread is open access, can you tell who's paying for the survey? That should help provide insight into it's construction and administration.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious about your funding in overall, so if you'd like to share a more general revenue picture, that'd be awesome.
My reply (April 6, 2013)
Thanks, this is a good point. However, this indicates a contradiction in the information provided on the survey form.
The preamble says: "Thank you very much for taking part in this study on European trends in Open Access Publishing by the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable, a UK-based student-led organisation. It should take ~7 minutes to complete. Your answers will help us to gain valuable insight into the Open Access use among academics in your field".
This presents the survey as one conducted by a student-led organization.
The fine print at the bottom of the page says: "Our sponsors pay a fee to OBR for gathering, aggregating and collecting the data as well as for preparation of a Summary Report of the data compiled. In participating in this survey, the participant recognizes that the information provided in this survey will be used in an industry aggregate report and therefore grants OBR unrestricted use of this information".
Both Daniel Perez and Mehmet Fidanboylu in comments here and on my blog are emphasizing their status as students and listing their academic affiliations. This is deceptive.
Mehmet says: in a comment on my blog:
May be worth taking a look at these faceless execs shamelessly posing as students?
Daniel Perez, CEO - "dual-doctorate at Lincoln College, Oxford and The Scripps Research Institute in California (DPhil, PhD)"...
Mehmet Fidanboylu, CMO - "completing a PhD in neuropharmacology at King's College London"
It is not appropriate to conduct a survey posing as students at these institutions when you are actually undertaking commercially sponsored research.
While we are on the broad topic of transparency, could you explain who you are and what your interest is, Tom? It's hard to tell from a gmail account.
I am a professional librarian and scholar, having recently completed a doctoral dissertation on the topic of scholarly communication and open access. My interest in this is finding out who is really behind this survey and what their motivations are.
I've updated my blogpost on this topic and am encouraging Daniel and Mehmet to actively engage in this discussion as I think it gets at the heart of the very important topic of the societal need for academic freedom and independence.
The post can be found here:
I'll update with this information.
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics
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