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September 2018
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Leading Biomedical Funders Call For Open Peer Review Of Academic Research

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Techdirt has written many posts about open access -- the movement to make digital versions of academic research freely available to everyone. Open access is about how research is disseminated once it has been selected for publication. So far, there has been less emphasis on changing how academic work is selected in the first place, which is based on the time-honored approach of peer review. That is, papers submitted to journals are sent out to experts in the same or similar field, who are invited to comment on ways of improving the work, and on whether the research should be published. Traditionally, the process is shrouded in secrecy. The reviewers are generally anonymous, and the reports they make on the submissions are not made public. Now, however, the idea of making peer review more transparent as part of the general process of becoming more open is gaining increasing impetus.A couple of weeks ago, representatives of two leading biomedical funders -- the UK Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute -- together with ASAPbio, a non-profit organization that encourages innovation in life-sciences publishing, wrote a commentary in Nature. In it, they called for "open review", which, they point out, encompasses two distinct forms of transparency:

'Open identities' means disclosing reviewers' names; 'open reports' (also called transparent reviews or published peer review) means publishing the content of reviews. Journals might offer one or the other, neither or both.In a 2016 survey, 59% of 3,062 respondents were in favour of open reports. Only 31% favoured open identities, which they feared could cause reviewers to weaken their criticisms or could lead to retaliation from authors. Here, we advocate for open reports as the default and for open identities to be optional, not mandatory.
The authors of the commentary believe that there are a number of advantages to open reports:
The scientific community would learn from reviewers' and editors' insights. Social scientists could collect data (for example, on biases among reviewers or the efficiency of error identification by reviewers) that might improve the process. Early-career researchers could learn by example. And the public would not be asked to place its faith in hidden assessments.
There are, of course risks. One concern mentioned is that published reviews might be used unfairly in subsequent evaluation of the authors for grants, jobs, awards or promotions. Another possibility is the 'weaponization' of reviewer reports:
Opponents of certain types of research (for example, on genetically modified organisms, climate change and vaccines) could take critical remarks in peer reviews out of context or mischaracterize disagreements to undermine public trust in the paper, the field or science as a whole.
Despite these and other concerns mentioned in the Nature commentary, an open letter published on the ASAPbio site lists dozens of major titles that have already instituted open reports, or promise to do so next year. As well as that indication that open reports are passing from concept to reality, it's worth bearing in mind that the UK Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute are major funders of biomedical research. It would be a relatively straightforward step for them to make the adoption of open reports a condition of receiving their grants -- something that would doubtless encourage uptake of the idea.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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And Now Comes The Pushback As One ROMs Site Is Challenging Nintendo's Takedown Of ROM Sites

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Over the past few weeks, we've discussed Nintendo's tortured relationship with fans of its retro offerings. As a starting point, after years of pretty much ignoring the demand for retro games offered for earlier versions of its consoles, Nintendo finally produced an offering for retro consoles loaded with some but not all of the games from the eight and sixteen bit eras. Before this official offering, Nintendo's ignoring the market had for years produced a wide range of websites that allowed gamers to engage in their nostalgia by playing old games no longer available via emulators and ROMs of those games. Nintendo's retro consoles successfully competed with these free games by producing a great product. Despite that success, Nintendo has since gone on a campaign against some of the highest profile ROM sites out there, suing some and allowing that lawsuit to serve as enough of a threat to simply get other sites to voluntarily take Nintendo ROMs down. These sites, which had essentially served to compile and record video game history that Nintendo refused to do itself, suddenly began disappearing.There was always going to be some kind of a backlash to this. And, now, one site is signaling that its ready to fight Nintendo, going so far as to taunt the company with a forthcoming offering for retro game ROMs.

While these decisions are understandable, not everyone is equally impressed by the show of legal force. The niche pirate site ‘Good Old Downloads,’ for example, sees the ROMs controversy as a good opportunity to expand its catalog. With retro games. The new section is “coming soon” according to the site’s homepage. While no further details are listed, it is now linked to a Tweet which makes it rather clear what motivated ‘Good Old Downloads’ to add retro-titles. The tweet embeds a video showing recent press coverage of the Nintendo lawsuit and the related shutdowns. Towards the end, it shows a clip from “Age of Ultron” where Thanos’ face is replaced by the site’s logo.“Fine, I’ll do it myself,” he says.
Now, let's be clear about a couple of things. First, Good Old Downloads is absolutely a site for pirating video games. It's unambiguous in that. Nothing in this post is to suggest that what the site is doing is legal, or even morally okay. It isn't. What should be clear is that the site's move comes as the we're still waiting for a settlement between Nintendo and the ROMs site and in the immediate wake of other sites taking their own ROMs down. In other words, this is the first but almost certainly not the last site to dig its heels in and challenge Nintendo's takedown efforts.Which is ultimately the point of this post: Nintendo's focus on putting a genie back in the bottle when that will never happen is both futile and pointless. Pointless because Nintendo is already successfully competing with these ROM sites. And futile because these files are still available roughly everywhere on the internet.
That said, ROMs haven’t been particularly hard to find through traditional pirate sources. For example, shortly after Nintendo announced its lawsuit, one Demonoid user uploaded torrents featuring thousands of ROMs to the site, including tiles belonging to the Japanese game giant.
This isn't even whac-a-mole. It's more like trying to fill up the ocean with all the grains of sand on the beach. There's a great deal of work to be done to keep you busy, but you'll never achieve your goal. So why bother?

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