This is a guest post by Dr Alex Freeman, Director of Octopus Publishing CIC
2022 is the year that Octopus is finally going to launch, designed to change the face of science forever.
In case you haven’t heard of it, Octopus is a new platform that sets out to be the new ‘primary research record’. Jisc is building the platform, it has funding from UKRI, and we’re working in partnership with the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN).
Instead of using journals as a place to record what we researchers have thought of, what work we’ve done, and when, we can use Octopus.
Benefits by design
With no fees, no word limits or formatting, and no gatekeeper journal editors, the platform is structured to remove the pressures that lead to publication bias and poor reproducibility.
Octopus does more than that, though. It also aims to break up the traditional ‘article’ structure, which encourages authors to think about ‘storylines’ through their work. Rather it encourages researchers to think about every aspect of the research process as equally important and worthy of publishing alone, and to do that, it has 8 possible publication types, ranging from a Problem to a Real World Implementation, via all the intervening stages.
This restructuring of the way we publish should also allow us to rethink how we approach research.
Firstly, it allows people to think of themselves as specialists at one area of research (such as analysis, or protocol design) and publish their work independently, linking to the work of those who specialise in other areas (perhaps meticulous data collectors, or those who come up with radical new theoretical approaches).
Secondly, it frees people up to consider the value of a hypothesis or an idea without knowledge of data that might or might not support it; and to consider the quality of data without worrying about what it says about a hypothesis.
For those familiar with the Registered Reports format, it’s a bit like taking that concept to its ultimate conclusion, except that although publications in Octopus are all linked to each other (with Results publications always having to be linked to Method publications, which in turn have to be linked to Rationale/Hypothesis publications etc.), they can all be published by different authors.
Another innovation of Octopus is treating peer reviews like any other kind of publication (‘Review’ is one of the eight publication types). Not only is review open and post-publication but, rather than being solicited from researchers, it is simply incentivised the same way as any other type of work. Octopus recognises reviewing as a skill within research just like any other, and rewards it in the same way. That is: every publication an author writes is displayed on their individual page, publicly, for all to see – alongside data on how their peers have rated each piece of work, according to three pre-set criteria for each publication type, carefully chosen to help reflect best practice (such as clarity and detail of description of a method, or how well data is presented to allow others to analyse it).
This is designed to create a virtuous incentive system – rewarding what we think of as genuine quality, and incentivising good practice publicly. Equally, poor quality work can be more easily filtered out, and is disincentivised. Egregious errors or behaviour can be called out using a ‘red flag’ system, and authors can reversion their work as a result to correct the research record.
Preparing for launch
Octopus has been available as a prototype, garnering user feedback, for the past 2 years at octopuspublishing.org.
Now it’s starting to take on its final form. We’re releasing an early new version in a few days– firstly in skeletal form (a difficult thing for an invertebrate like an octopus!), but more features will be added iteratively over the weeks as it moves towards a full launch in June this year.
The ethos behind Octopus is for all of us to work as a community to ensure that the platform serves the needs of science (and possibly social science, arts and humanities as well); that it creates a virtuous circle – incentivising the qualities we want to see in research, and through that, creates a research culture that is more meritocratic and rewarding.
For Octopus to do that, it needs to reach critical mass relatively quickly. And to do that, it needs all of us to help shape it, and to help spread the word.
So, throughout this time there will be intense user-testing, in partnership with UKRN.
We’ll be looking for researchers of all disciplines; those who work in hypothesis-driven research and observational research; those who work in qualitative and quantitative methodologies; those who work in industry, NGO and government as well as in educational and research institutions; those who work in countries all over the world and for whom English is not a native language.
And we’ll also be looking for those who work in publishing, funding, knowledge transfer and librarians to help us make sure that Octopus works for you.
We’ll be demo-ing the new release on Wednesday 16th March at 13:30. Register to attend if you’d like to hear more about the project.
If you’d like to get hands on with the platform, you can also see the planned user testing events on our community space.
For general updates you can also follow us @science_octopus on Twitter.