3 easy ways to honour your professor

Recently, the great Dave Whynes retired from the University of Nottingham after 40 years of service. I will probably be his last PhD student. Over the years, Dave has nurtured many budding health economists who have gone on to achieve great things. It’s natural for those people to venerate Dave and his work and to want to ensure that current and future health economists are also able to learn from Dave’s teachings.

Chances are that your prof doesn’t have much of an online presence. Here I’m going to set out a few easy ways in which you can help ensure that future generations of researchers are able to see a particular academic’s contributions, and understand where they fit within the field. It’s also kind of a to-do list for myself, to which you can all contribute. The focus is on how you might do this for an [health] economics professor, but much of it applies to other fields.

1. Create and maintain Wikipedia coverage

Wikipedia is the go-to reference point for digital natives. It aims to be “the sum of human knowledge”. Despite this lofty purpose, not everyone should have a Wikipedia article about them. Simply having been a good professor is not sufficient. Wikipedia has specific notability criteria for academics to help you figure this out. Being highly cited is usually enough.

At the time of writing there is no Wikipedia page for David K. Whynes, but I will create it. If you’re going to add your prof, an important step is to have a look around Wikipedia to see which other articles might link back to the one you will create. In relation to this it is also important to maintain a Wikidata item and you could even add relevant images to Wikimedia Commons.

In some cases you might also like to create or maintain articles relating to your professor’s research, such as specific theories or named objects.

2. Add to bibliographic databases

The main output of most academics is their writing. There are now a number of publicly editable databases or wiki-style websites for books. See if your prof has an author page on Goodreads. Dave does. The same goes for Open Library. On both sites you can edit author pages to make sure all the information is accurate and up to date.

The sites also allow you to create editions of books that are not yet listed, so dig out that dusty old first edition and add its data to Goodreads and Open Library. You can do the same on the relatively new websites BookBrainz and Bibliogs. In fact, you could even add journal articles to Bibliogs if you wanted to start a major project.

If you want to go a step further and make your prof’s papers more accessible to non-experts, you can write open access summaries for them on AcaWiki.

3. Become an academic genealogist

Professors and their students are like parents and their children; there is an academic genealogy to be explored. You can create family trees to identify lineage and ancestry. There are a growing number of websites to support this. People from all fields can use PhDTree, and most fields can participate in The Academic Family Tree. If you’re an economist then you can also contribute to the RePEc Genealogy.

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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10 steps to open access success

Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svgIt’s Open Access Week! For a lot of people, ‘open access’ (OA) is a synonym for ‘more work’. Advocates often don’t appreciate that this is a genuine concern. There’s also a lack of appreciation for the perceived risks of sticking your neck out with an OOIDH (open or it didn’t happen) position.

So here is some advice – based on my own experience – on what you as an individual should do to become an open access author and advocate. No grand commitments, boycotts, costly APCs or threats to your career progression – I promise.

Take the following 10 steps in turn and then climb upon your open access advocate high horse. If you do, we’ll be 10 steps closer to a genuinely open access world of scholarly publishing.

1: Learn the basic principles

Get to grips with some of the basic terminology such as green, gold, pre-print, post-print and Creative Commons. If you know it all, jump to the next step. If you’re still unsure then do a little reading. Wikipedia is always a good place to start. If you work at a university, you will likely find people in your institution who are eager to help you to get started. Go to your institution’s website and search “open access”. For the University of Nottingham (my own institution) I can find an introductory pamphlet, FAQs and a training course.

2: Get to know key services

There’s a big infrastructure out there to support the open access agenda. Familiarise yourself with SHERPA/RoMEO for details on journals’ copyright and open access policies. Similarly, visit JULIET for funders’ policies. Have a look at the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Try out some novel apps such as the Open Access Button. If you have the time, explore the Open Access Directory.

3: Make yourself personally accountable

This is the most important step if you’re going to succeed. Create a spreadsheet. In the first column list all (and make sure it really is all) of your published articles, book chapters, monographs – whatever. One row per publication. In the second column (which might be headed ‘Gold’) enter “YES” if the article is published in an open access journal or “NO” if it isn’t. Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to see what proportion of your publications are open access in the ‘gold’ sense. Seeing this is really important. That list of NOs is the start of your OA to-do list – your goal is to turn all of those NOs into YESes. On your journey to OA nirvana you’ll be adding some more columns to this spreadsheet.

It’s also important to make sure you’re personally accountable in terms of the time you dedicate to making your publications open access. You need to check your spreadsheet regularly. As you proceed through the steps below you’ll see a growing (but entirely manageable) list of actions. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to OA. In the first instance, why not set aside a weekly recurring 30 minute slot in your calendar? Or alternatively you could set a target for the number of NOs you wish to turn into YESes per month.

4: Make yourself publicly accountable

This could be the real clincher. Once you’ve made sure you’re personally accountable, you should make yourself publicly accountable. Open up your spreadsheet to scrutiny. In the first instance you could just share your OA percentage. Tweet it! (#myOAlevel?) There are also other services you can use, such as ImpactStory, which will share this information.

Have a look at my own example where I list all of my publications along with accessibility for 6 different locations, shown by either a  if it’s open access, a £ if it’s paywalled or a  if it’s just not there. I’m 69% .

5: Upload to your institutional repository

This will probably be the most time consuming step, but it’s also the most fundamental: actually making your articles OA. Most universities have an institutional repository – find yours via your institution’s website or via OpenDOAR. This is a place where you can share your articles via the ‘green’ route. Check SHERPA/RoMEO to see what you’re allowed to upload. There will usually be staff behind the service checking what you submit, so you needn’t worry so much about getting things wrong.

Add another column to your spreadsheet headed ‘Institutional Repository’. Again, you want to add a “YES” or a “NO” for whether your article is available via the repository. You might find that some of your co-authors or university staff have already added your paper to the repository, in which case you can add a “YES” and move on. But there will probably be a lot more NOs. You might also find that there are entries for your papers but without actual PDFs that can be downloaded – these count as NOs.

6: Upload to other services

Open access isn’t just about having a PDF available in one place. It’s about making your article easily accessible to as many people as possible. This means adding more columns to your spreadsheet. Add as many different services as you can, prioritising those which you believe contribute most greatly to the accessibility of your article. Services to consider are ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Mendeley, PeerLibrary, Zenodo and ImpactStory. Add a column for each to your spreadsheet.

7: Start sharing working papers

A great way to make your research open access is to do so before publishers can get their hands on the copyright. Publish working papers or ‘preprints’ for free at a subject-specific repository, such as arXiv, PhilPapers, RePEc or SSRN. If you don’t have a good repository in your discipline use a generic repository like Zenodo, or just use your institutional repository. If you think sharing your article before peer-review is a bad idea, you’re probably overstating the value of pre-publication peer review.

8: Share other types of output

If you’re becoming a bit of a green OA pro, move on to other types of output. Your data and conference posters – in fact, any of your output – can be published online. Familiarise yourself with services like DRYAD and figshare.

9: Explore gold OA funding options

For your future publications, consider gold OA. Unfortunately you’ll probably need some funds available to do this. Ask your institution if they’ll pay. Ask your funder. If all else fails, there are now some low cost gold OA publishing options. PeerJ currently charge just $300 for unlimited lifetime gold OA publishing.

10: Be an advocate

Now that you are an exemplary open access advocate you can use your moral high ground to persuade your colleagues to do the same. Lobby your institution, your government, your professor. Maintain pressure and let them know that open access is important to you. Attend an open access event. And be sure to take part in Open Access Week!

Paperpile: a reference manager that works

If you’re anything like me, you spend a fair chunk of your time finding and organising journal articles. And perhaps even reading a few. It’s often seen as a way to feel like you’re being productive when you’re not. Actually, I think it helps maintain a good awareness of the literature and developments in your field. But anyway, whether or not you think it’s a good way to spend time you probably can’t avoid doing it. So you’ll want a good reference manager.

I used to use Mendeley, but their app was so clunky and always falling over that I probably spent as much time complaining on their forum as I did actually using it. I tried Zotero and ReadCube, but wasn’t satisfied. Then I discovered Paperpile.

Why is it so good?

For me, a good reference manager is one that doesn’t encourage too much maintenance effort. I want a simple interface. I want to be able to add items really quickly, and for these to be automatically organised and easy to retrieve. I want the reference manager to behave as if the Internet actually exists. Paperpile satisfies all of my needs.

I won’t be able to do it justice in this blog post, but it totally takes the pain out of reference management for me. Papers can be added in 2 clicks using their Chrome extension. The automatic updating of citation information is the best I’ve seen, and isn’t totally dependent on DOI or PubMed identifiers. The web app is fast and stable. Items link out to the DOI and PubMed and even show you articles that have cited it in Google Scholar. Your PDFs are stored in Google Drive, so you can access them anywhere and there’s no need to pay for extra storage. There are plenty more features that you can read about on the Paperpile website. And there’s more to come. Soon they’ll be rolling out a native PDF annotator that does everything you might hope (I have been beta testing).

Who is Paperpile for?

If your online universe is Google, Paperpile is the best reference manager for you. If it isn’t, then perhaps not. You need to sign in with a Google account and you need to use Chrome.

Paperpile’s citation manager doesn’t work in Microsoft Word. That’s good – Word is a problem. If you use LaTeX, it’s very easy to export citations or entire folders in BibTeX. If you do still enjoy WYSIWYG word processing then Paperpile can format your citations in Google Docs very effectively.

My favourite thing about Paperpile is the Forum, and the presence of the Paperpile staff. They are very quick to react, and even some of my own feature requests have been followed-up. This is possible because you actually have to pay for Paperpile! This is what really sets it apart from its competitors, and is a key strength. There’s a 30 day free trial and if you use the coupon code CHRIS_25 you can get 25% off – forever!

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Peer-reviewing peer-review: Publons edition

On this blog and elsewhere I have discussed some of the problems with academic publishing; whether it be determining what actually counts as an academic publication or thinking about an alternative model. I will be continuing to prod at our decaying system of scholarly publishing in my new role as a Publons Advisor. As my first act I would like to advise all of you academic types to join Publons!

What is it?

Publons is a website where you can record and share your peer-review activity. Each time you review a paper – whether it be pre-publication or post-publication – you should tell Publons about it. Publons also provides a place for you, as an expert, to discuss published literature. If you want more detail about Publons and the ideas behind it, you can read a paper published by the founders.

Why do we need it?

Peer-review is in crisis. There is no evidence that – in its current form – it actually does any good. As such we need better approaches to the assessment of the quality of scholarly output. Peer-review still has an important role to play; it’s vital that experts in any given field assess the quality of reports on research findings. Furthermore, the quality of these assessments should also be assessed. Yet in the vast majority of cases, peer-review continues to be a secretive affair. Rarely do we know how good the peer-review process actually was. Publons can solve this problem by linking a paper with its reviews, and ideally these reviews will be free for anybody to evaluate.

Why should I sign up?

Academics spend a lot of their time contributing to the public good; doing things for which they receive little or no personal benefit. Peer-review is the prime example of such unrecognised labour. Publons makes it possible to get credit for your peer-review activity. Your Publons profile provides proof of your activity as a reviewer and even the quality of the reviews you share. In the age of metrics, Publons gives you a score indicative of the quantity and quality of your review work. You can take a look at my stats page to get an idea of the kind of supporting information that Publons can provide.

I hope you’re convinced. Adding a review to Publons takes less time than it took you to read this blog post. You can get the credit you deserve and improve scientific discourse at the same time. Visit the Publons website to sign-up, and if you have any questions please leave me a comment below.

Priorities in academic publishing: quality vs quantity

A recent Twitter exchange got me thinking about academic publishing again. It seems to me that much of the current debate about peer review, publication bias and open access boils down to a conflict between quantity and quality, and I have a favourite: quantity.

Quality (the problem)

This is why we have peer review, to ensure that only the good stuff gets published. Clearly this doesn’t work, but I do still feel there is a place for peer review; not in the selection of the ‘best’ papers, but in the filtering-out of erroneous work. In the UK, the REF, and by extension universities, encourage quality over quantity. I have often heard school heads and research group leads trumpet the need for fewer, higher-quality papers. No wonder, if that’s what brings in the money.

Quality is important, for sure (even if our ways of defining quality are weak). However, in my opinion, these incentives are totally unnecessary for ensuring quality. The reason an economist might give half their right thumb to publish in American Economic Review over any other journal is not simply because of quantifiable career benefits and employability. No doubt the prestige gained (or the envy induced) is a sufficient incentive.

Quantity (the solution)

Isn’t this what current campaigns are striving for? We want to reduce publication bias through the publication of uninteresting or negative results. We want datasets and detailed methodologies made available. Yet academics are encouraged not to waste their time on these things and instead strive for that publication in AER/Science/Nature/NEJM. We want academics to stop prioritising prestigious journals with unscalable paywalls, yet this is exactly what they are currently incentivised to do.

Incentives for quantity should be appended to my previous suggested solution to the problems of academic publishing. The REF should reward quantity instead of quality, for example. Some research suggests that academics face a quality/quantity trade-off, while others suggest that the two may go hand-in-hand; no doubt this depends on the field of research. Nevertheless, a re-alignment of incentives towards quantity and away from (self-sustaining, immeasurable) quality would surely be better for academia as a whole.

doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.1138635

Reddit for academics

I’ve finally figured out reddit, and it’s a great tool for academics. You should really give it a try.

Over the past few years I’ve dabbled in reddit, failing to really ‘get it’. I thought it was just a place for silly GIFs and celebrity AMAs (Ask Me Anything), but I was wrong. It’s a place to share links to interesting internet stuff, but more importantly it’s a place where these links can be discussed. So if like me you’ve tried it before and failed to grasp it, or if you fancy giving it a go, here’s my suggested route in.

  1. Read this.
  2. Sign-up. Choose a username. You can remain anonymous if you wish.
  3. Go to reddit.com/subreddits and unsubscribe from any stupid subreddits to which you’ve been automatically subscribed.
  4. Go and find some subreddits to join. For academics I suggest academicpublishing, DepthHub and Scholar. And if you’re a fellow health economist, try academiceconomics, Economics, healthcare and HealthEconomics.
  5. Have a look at your homepage. By this stage it should be full of articles that interest you. Follow the links. Vote-up the ones you like. Join the discussion by commenting on them.
  6. Take a look at your preferences. They can alter the experience somewhat.
  7. Head over to metareddit.com to find more subreddits you might like.
  8. If you use Chrome, download the reddit companion.
  9. Start submitting your own links and comments to subreddits and watch the discussion unfold. You can submit links to academic papers, blogs, silly pictures… whatever you like!

A word of warning. DO NOT use reddit exclusively as a means of self-promotion. You will be Shadow Banned, as I have been. Stick to the rule of thumb of no more than 1 in 10 of your link submissions being some way self-promotional. The number of links you can submit is, in some secretive way, defined by your ‘karma’. You get karma by posting links and comments that other people like. Just be helpful and nice and you won’t fall foul of the reddiquette police.

#100wordreview – Quack Policy. Abusing Science in the Cause of Paternalism (Jamie Whyte) [Book]


I found this IEA publication very difficult to read, because almost every paragraph is flawed; sometimes logically, often evidentially and at times morally. The book takes what any undergrad might learn in Econ101 and applies it to current challenges and policy responses in health and climate change. All with gusto and arrogance. Whyte has little regard for the policy context, or for much of economic thought from the last 40 years. Most arguments depend on false analogies, which are painful to read. In the author’s own words: “Science progresses by ignoring mere opinion, expert or otherwise”. Thank goodness for that.