How researchers share their findings has hardly changed in 400 years.
There has been effective digitalisation of the process, but the underlying steps and formats would be recognisable to scientists and researchers from the past.
As Jason Priem and Bradley Hemminger argued a decade ago, the present system combines the registration of findings with the dissemination of associated conclusions, which has negative consequences for the research system. In addition, earlier approaches have not scaled with the research system, which is both larger and more complex in 2022. The time is ripe for some real innovation, which is why Research England is supporting the development of Octopus, launched today.
Octopus is a platform to help split the dissemination of findings through journals, from the recording of research work for the benefit of researchers. It aims to be the primary research record for scientific work and, importantly, splits the process of research into eight separate classes of contribution. The eight contributions from which Octopus gets its name are:
- research problems
- methods and protocols
- data and results
- peer reviews
Researchers can record any of these and claim credit for them.
Octopus has the potential to solve some major challenges in the research system.
It will improve access to research so that researchers can build on the work of others. It provides a platform where all research can be freely shared, reducing publication bias and making findings available to anyone who needs them. The intention is not to replace other forms of research dissemination but to make public the primary record for all to use and share.
Octopus will also improve the quality of research. The platform breaks the research process into component parts that can be published separately but appropriately linked together. The separation brings appropriate attention to the quality of all aspects of research, the process and the findings.
It allows specialists in, for example, experimental design or statistical analysis to contribute their expertise and receive appropriate recognition. And because all the components are visible, the platform allows robust external scrutiny. Researchers can review any part of the process, and those reviews are themselves available to read.
Arms around research culture
Furthermore Octopus has the potential to contribute to improving research cultures. It removes hierarchies in access to publication and allows all researchers, whatever their status or career stage, to contribute on an equal and transparent footing. The platform’s modular nature means that researchers can record their ideas or contribute to interpreting data gathered by others. Everyone’s contribution is clearly attributed, and its relationship to the research process is transparent.
At Research England, we are delighted to support the development of Octopus, working in partnership with the UK Reproducibility Network and Jisc. Although originated and developed in the UK, Octopus is a global platform aimed at transforming the recording of research. Following the launch of the platform, the biggest challenge will be to persuade researchers to use it. But the potential benefits certainly make that hard work worthwhile.
The invention of the scholarly journal 400 years ago marked a step-change in research communication. The launch of Octopus could mark the next major shift.