Always make research proposals and the identity of reviewers public.

Always make research proposals and the identity of reviewers public.

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October 12 2022 | Making all research proposals public is the next step towards open and transparent science. Researchers from Vrije Universiteit and Aarhus University argue that ratings and the identity of reviewers should be made public. This increases trust and credibility in research funding processes while at the same time providing more opportunities for collaboration.

Photo: Mines CERSE

Because of the widespread movement toward open science, the flag is becoming increasingly transparent. For example, research funders are increasingly demanding open data or open access Publications. However, this is not enough for researchers from Friyi University and Danish Aarhus University. They advocate “open” publication of research proposals (awarded or non-awarded), evaluation of the quality and relevance of these proposals, as well as the decision-making process.

Making all research proposals and their evaluations public is part of an open system for research funding, write researchers. They also call for announcing the identity of the reviewers and committee members who considered the proposal.

Publishing research proposals increases the chance of collaboration

The researchers argue that making research proposals public increases the potential for collaboration and the use of ideas in contexts that were not originally intended. For example, it can lead to cross-pollination of ideas for research and stakeholders not initially involved or interested parties can still join if they become familiar with the research proposal.

However, anyone who submits an unapproved research proposal risks having someone else run off with the plans. The writers acknowledge that. That is why they made several refutations. For example, submitting a research proposal can serve as ‘proof’ that the submitted scientist was the first to come up with this plan.

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Organization of recognition of research proposals

In addition, publishing an unapproved research proposal can lead to other parties or funders of the proposal seeing and having ideas to enrich it or provide funding. Moreover NWO . Open Science Fund It builds on this reasoning, according to the researchers, who also see the benefit of a new platform where funders can easily access research proposals.

Despite these arguments, the authors understand some trepidation in their argument. “Academic work is largely based on competition between researchers. Therefore, some researchers will not be able to publish their rejected research proposals.” To win souls for this plan, it is necessary to give the necessary recognition to the proposers. Even if the researcher or research group actually continues with another plan, it will always be clear who came up with the actual idea.

No sign of less important reviews

The authors realize that the call to cite the identities of the reviewers and committee members can also be met with objections. For example, young researchers may be tempted to be less critical of certain research proposals out of fear for their future career. However, various studies have shown that this kind of transparency actually leads to better feedback, the authors wrote. So far, no indication of less significant ratings has been observed.

The authors also put forward arguments for publishing assessment reports and decision-making processes. For example, it provides researchers with opportunities to learn from the situation and can contribute to improving future research proposals. In addition, this transparency will make decisions about research funding more understandable and more acceptable. Ideally, it even provides the opportunity to check whether procedures have been followed correctly and whether the evaluation process is fair.

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This invitation is not new

“This increased transparency will likely add credibility to the way research proposal review and research funding allocation works,” the authors wrote. More transparency, credibility and clarity above all would not be an unnecessary luxury, according to their arguments. Calling for more openness in research funding processes is not new. Quite in line with their own argument, the authors point to German research by Daniel Michen from 2014, in which roughly the same appeal is made as their research.

Since that call, there has been some progress, but little, the authors say. For example, another 2014 study found that only a small minority of 27 major research funders provided information about reviewers. Information about research proposals is almost never exchanged. In fact, nine of these 27 research funders have not even published summaries of the funded research proposals. Now, eight years later, six of those nine still don’t.

Research funders play a major role

From their central position in the research ecosystem, research funders have the opportunity to improve knowledge production. The authors stress that “research funders in particular have the opportunity to set research agendas and direct standards and practices toward the required transparency.” Some research funders, such as the NWO with the Open Science Fund, are already moving in the right direction, but initiatives to increase transparency are rare and often local. That’s why it’s time for the next step, according to the authors.

Previously, these researchers suggested allocating funds for research by lottery. This was even discussed with Marcel Levy, president of the NWO. However, he didn’t want to hear about this plan, ScienceGuide was told. However, Levy seemed interested in proposing to make all research proposals, whether approved or not, publicly available.

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