Australian funder backflips on controversial preprint ban

“Australia’s major research funding body has backtracked on a rule that banned the mention of preprints in grant applications, under pressure from researchers who decried the ruling as “astonishing” and “outdated”.

The policy adjustment by the Australian Research Council (ARC) comes nearly four weeks after an anonymous researcher behind the ARC Tracker account on Twitter revealed that dozens of applications for early-career funding schemes had been rejected for citing preprints. More than 30 applications, worth Aus$22 million (US$16 million), were ruled ineligible.

Several rejected applicants, who can’t apply again because fellowship-application attempts are limited, told Nature last month that the decision had effectively ended their careers….”

Adjustments to the ARC’s position on preprints | Australian Research Council

“For future scheme rounds, the Australian Research Council (ARC) will allow the referencing and inclusion of preprints in any part of a National Competitive Grant Program (NCGP) grant application. This includes within the Research Outputs list as well as the body of an application.

This adjustment to ARC’s policy position reflects contemporary trends and the emerging significance of preprint acceptance and use across multiple research disciplines as a mechanism to expedite research and facilitate open research, as well as to provide greater equity across disciplines and career stages. …

The ARC appreciates the feedback it has received from the research sector on the issue of the inclusion of preprints within NCGP grant applications. We thank the esteemed academics, learned academies, research institutions and peak bodies that have assisted the ARC to ensure that the broadest range of disciplinary perspectives could be incorporated into this policy decision.”

Concerns about new ARC “no preprint rule”

“The Australian Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Mathematics and Statistics communities express grave concern about a recent change to Australian Research Council (ARC) rules to forbid reference to preprints anywhere in a grant application. We are particularly concerned about the impact on early career researchers whose ARC fellowship applications have recently been ruled ineligible because of a violation of this new rule. We are not aware of any consultation with our scientific communities about this change. We urge the ARC to rescind this rule, as it is unworkable and inconsistent with standard practice in our disciplines. Preprints are vital for the rapid dissemination of knowledge in physics, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and statistics. This is particularly important in fields where there is a long lead-time between journal submission and publication. Citing preprints in publications, reports, or grant applications is an entrenched disciplinary norm in these fields. Experts and referees who encounter such citations know that preprints are not peer reviewed and are experienced in assigning them appropriate weight….”

‘Preprints’ are how cutting-edge science circulates. Banning them from grant applications penalises researchers for being up-to-date

“A sudden rule change by the Australian Research Council — to ban grant applications that cite preprint material — has deemed 32 early and mid-career researchers ineligible to receive critical funding….

The researchers were caught unaware by the rule, which many consider unworkable and unethical. It is out of step with the way science operates….

All these applications were in physics or astronomy. Ten of the disqualified applicants were from the University of Melbourne and Sydney alone — many at make-or-break career points.

In addition to the effect on the applicants themselves, this wasted significant time, effort and resources devoted by university grant administrators, academic mentors and expert reviewers.

Australia’s National Medical Health and Research Council (NHMRC) allows preprints to be used. So do all international funding agencies that we know of, such as the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the European Research Council (ERC)….

To have no mechanism to cite the most up-to-date available knowledge presents an ethical dilemma: how to properly credit the work of others, which either hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed or was never intended for peer review….

The Australian research community has united to express concern about the ARC’s rule. The Australian Institute of Physics, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, the Australian Mathematical Society, and Astronomical Society of Australia have coordinated an open letter, signed by many leading scientists, urging the ARC to rescind the preprint ban as a matter of urgency….”

How the ARC can fix its fellowship red cards – Campus Morning Mail

“Last week our national funder, the Australian Research Council gave 32 fellowship applicants a red card for not sticking to a newly introduced rule. Here there was no yellow card, no time out, just the maximum penalty for an arguably minor transgression. The dismissal of their applications, totalling $22m, doesn’t send them off for the match or even a couple of games, it is for a whole year. Indeed given an average 15 per cent success rate and tight application limits, this could well be the end of the road for many a promising academic career.

Academia is renowned for passionate differences of opinion, so it is most unusual that a single procedural hiccough has united the whole sector. ARCgate has attracted scrutiny, both in the Senate and internationally. It is no coincidence that the red cards were all in the physical sciences, where this citing of preprints is not only common practice but failure to do so can be considered unethical.  Physicists have long known that referencing preprints gives others due credit and communicates cutting edge results quickly while under lengthy peer review. Most international bodies have followed suit, allowing, or even encouraging this. So too has the National Health & Medical Research Council, as COVID-19 taught us the importance of rapid communication.

It doesn’t help to dwell on how or why the rule was implemented, or its misalignment with modern publication culture. The important issue now is for the ARC to deal with this problem quickly….”

Physicists lose in ARC pre-print shambles | Campus Morning Mail

“On instruction of the Senate, the Australian Research Council reported yesterday on grant applications ruled ineligible for breaking the rule against including any reference to pre-prints

17 Future Fellowship applications were excluded out of 675 and 15  out of 996 were cut from consideration for the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award.

All excluded applications were either in astronomy/space science or (mainly) from four FoR categories of physics….

As Danny Kingsley points out (CMM August 23) physicists have been using pre-prints for 30 years. “Why were the serious implications of this requirement only noticed at the point where applications were excluded?” she asks.”

Preprint ban in grant applications deemed ‘plain ludicrous’

“Australia’s major research funder has ruled more than 20 fellowship applications ineligible because they mentioned preprints and other non-peer reviewed materials, sparking an outcry from scientists who say the move is a blow to open science and will stymie careers.

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the use of preprints to the fore, researchers say the stance by the Australian Research Council (ARC) — which limits applicants’ ability to refer to the latest research — is out of step with modern publishing practices and at odds with overseas funding agencies that allow or encourage the use of preprints.

In the past week, researchers have taken to Twitter in outrage, calling the blanket ruling “short sighted”, “plain ludicrous”, “cruel”, “astonishing”, “outdated” and “gut-wrenching”….”

ASAPbio open letter to ARC – Google Docs

“The Australian Research Council (ARC) does not allow researchers to cite preprints in their grant applications and recently disqualified a number of applications for this reason.  

 
Preprints advance scientific discovery and are encouraged by many funders, including Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council. Citation of any source, regardless of its peer review status, is essential for proper attribution of ideas, and prohibiting the citation of preprints prevents applicants from discussing and building on the latest science. Further, listing preprints as evidence of productivity allows reviewers to develop an accurate picture of an applicant’s research outputs.

 
On August 31, we will send the list of signatories below to the ARC along with an offer to provide more information about preprints in the life sciences that can inform their review of their policy. We are also happy to support Australian researchers, librarians, editors, and other stakeholders in having conversations about preprints. Please get in touch with Jessica Polka (jessica.polka@asapbio.org) if you would like assistance in hosting an event for your community. You can also sign other open letters: one drafted by Australian researchers to encourage the ARC to reconsider its preprint policies, and a second encouraging the same as well as eligibility extension and policy simplification. …”

Allow preprint citations in ARC grant applications to maximise the value from publicly funded research

“Open Letter to Professor Sue Thomas (CEO of the Australian Research Council) and The Hon Alan Tudge (Minister for Education and Youth)

The signatories of this letter argue that it is in Australian taxpayers’ best interests to allow preprint citations in ARC grant applications. The ARC currently prohibits citations to preprints (see appendix https://tinyurl.com/vjewcp83 for definition) in grant applications (e.g. DP22 funding rules 2.1 “Pre-print publications should not be included in any part of the application form.”). But preprints are an essential and growing part of many fields of research.

Allowing the citation of preprints in ARC grant applications has many benefits:

* It improves our ability to judge and compare grant applications
* It allows for the inclusion and discussion of the latest science
* It speeds up research progress and discovery (such as the COVID-19 pandemic)
* It improves the accuracy with which we can evaluate researchers’ track records
* It establishes priority of discoveries and ideas
* It brings us in line with other major national and international granting bodies (see appendix https://tinyurl.com/vjewcp83)

Referencing preprints is essential for assessing the quality, novelty, benefits, feasibility, and value of any research proposal. It also contributes to assessing the track records of researchers themselves. The ARC is tasked with apportioning $775.3M in public funding every year. Citing preprints will improve the value that Australian taxpayers get for this significant investment. This is common practice by many national and international funding agencies already….”

‘Devastating career event’: scientists caught out by change to Australian Research Council fine print | Research funding | The Guardian

“Researchers have been deemed ineligible for critical career grants by the Australian Research Council as the result of a rule change that has been described as punitive, “extraordinary” and out of keeping with modern scientific practices.

Researchers are devastated and angry after being ruled out for Australian Research Council (ARC) fellowships because of a new requirement that bans preprint material from being cited in funding applications, with several saying it spells the end of their careers in academia or Australian universities.

 

Guardian Australia has spoken to six researchers at four universities, in the fields of astronomy, computer science and physics, whose applications were deemed ineligible as a result of the technicality….”