Campaigning for change: Bullied Into Bad Science

Early-career researchers are hoping to reform the research and publication environment.

The Bullied Into Bad Science campaign was established by early-career researchers at the University of Cambridge after efforts to discuss their disappointment at the terms of the deal signed in 2016 to provide UK universities with subscriptions to journals owned by the publishing giant Elsevier appeared to be unwelcome. The aim of the campaign is to establish a fairer, more open and ethical research and publication environment. Since launching publicly in May 2017, over 100 early-career researchers (ECRs) have signed the campaign’s letter. However, as Laurent Gatto and Corina Logan explain, there is still a long way to go.

Left: Corina Logan investigates behavioural flexibility in invasive species at the University of Cambridge. Photo credit: Dieter Lukas. Right: Laurent Gatto in Paris. Photo credit: Caroline Termonia.

What are the biggest publishing issues facing early-career researchers?

An outstanding track record of good research articles is an essential condition for an academic career. However, the journals in which these articles are published shouldn’t interfere with how researchers are judged. We also want researchers to be rewarded for openly disseminating their research outputs in venues that don’t drain huge amounts of money from public funds.

How can these issues be addressed?

We propose eight actions that researchers and institutions should follow:

  1. Sign the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), that will make hiring and promotion criteria explicit and highlight that the content and quality of research outputs are more important than the venue they are published in.
  2. Positively value the commitment of open research and publishing practices when considering candidates for positions and promotions.
  3. Endorse immediate open publishing, favouring publications in journals that are 100% open access.
  4. Endorse posting of preprints in recognised preprint servers to avoid publishing delays that are detrimental to career progress for ECRs.
  5. Endorse, support and promote the open publication of data and other scientific outputs such as software.
  6. Educate researchers about publishing practices via public statements, mandatory courses, and inductions that cover open research/data/access, mandates, the hidden costs of traditional publishing and how to protect ECRs from exploitative publishing practices.
  7. Report to the public how much institutions pay for research to be published, to raise awareness about the significant drain on public funding.
  8. Make all postdocs and ECRs full voting members of their institutions to increase diversity and stay connected to the changing needs of this underrepresented group.

Corina has outlined how she implements these actions in a blog post.

What has been the biggest frustration you’ve encountered while running the campaign?

A big source of frustration is the lack of engagement of senior academics. It is hard to want to make a positive change when, all too often, those that are in power are either agnostic to the current situation or have vested interests and prefer to keep the status quo. That said, it’s important to highlight that there are established academics who support our efforts. The actions that many of them are taking are inspirational and show that things can change.

And what are you most proud of achieving so far?

As ECRs, our careers are at stake, and yet we also have to fight for change. We are proud that we provide a venue for ECRs to express their dissatisfaction with the current state of publishing, and that we give concrete points for institutions to begin to shift academic culture.

Other than supporting Bullied Into Bad Science, how can ECRs make a difference?

We need to make the open and ethical publication of research outputs mainstream. Get involved in grassroots efforts (such as OpenConCam) to educate researchers and other stakeholders in academia. Being part of a community, online or offline, is important for learning from the efforts of others and keeping the motivation alive.

How can readers support Bullied Into Bad Science?

To help this movement grow, researchers can connect with influential people to discuss whether they would be willing to use their position to implement some of these actions.

Visit to learn more about the campaign. If you are an ECR, you can sign the petition and join this growing effort to change academic culture. If you are not an ECR, you can sign the supporters’ letter and let us know how you are supporting ECRs in hiring/grant decisions. We are working on disseminating the campaign internationally, and thanks to volunteers, we’re currently translating the campaign materials into Portuguese, German, and French. If you are a native speaker of a different language and could help to translate, please let us know!