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  • Reflections on Open Research – a PI’s perspective

    As part of the Open Research Pilot Project, Marta Teperek met with Dr David Savage and asked him several questions about his own views and motivations for Open Research. This led to a very inspiring conversation and great reflections on Open Research from the Principal Investigator’s perspective. The main points that came out of the discussion were:

    • Lack of reproducibility raises questions about scientific rigour, integrity and relevance of work in general
    • Being open is to work in a team and be collaborative
    • Open Research will benefit science as a whole, and not the careers of individuals
    • Peer review remains a critical aspect of the scientific process
    • Nowadays, global collaboration and information exchange is possible, making the data really robust
    • Funders should emphasise the importance of research integrity and scientific rigour

    This conversation is reported below in the original interview format.

    Motivations for doing Open Research

    Marta: To start, could you tell me why you are keen on Open Research and why did you decide to get involved in the Open Research Pilot Project?

    David: Sure, but before we start I wanted to stress that when I make comments about science, these are very general comments and they don’t apply to anyone in particular.

    So my general feeling is that I am very concerned and disappointed about the lack of research reproducibility in science. Lack of reproducibility raises questions about scientific rigour, integrity and relevance of work in general. Therefore, I am really keen on exploring ways of addressing these failings of science and I want to make a contribution to solving these problems. Additionally, I am aware that I am not perfect either and I want to learn how I can improve my own practice.

    Were there any particular experiences which made you realise the importance of Open Research?

    This is just the general experience of reading and also reviewing far too many papers where I thought that the quality of underlying data was poor, or authors were exaggerating their claims without supporting evidence. There is too much hype around, and the general awareness about the number of papers published in high impact journals which cannot be reproduced makes the move to more transparent and open approaches necessary.

    Do we need additional rewards for working openly?

    How do you think Open Research could benefit academic careers?

    I am not sure if Open Research could or should benefit academic careers – this should not be the goal of Open Research. The goal is to improve the quality of science and therefore the benefit of science to the public. Open Research will benefit science as a whole, and not the careers of individuals. Science has become very egotistical and badge –accumulating. We should be investigating things which we find interesting. We should not be motivated by the prize. We should be motivated by the questions.

    In science we have far too many people who behave like bankers. Publishing seems to be the currency for them and thus they are sloppy and lack the necessary rigour just because they want to publish as fast as they can.

    In my opinion it is the responsibility of every researcher to the profession to try to produce data which is robust. It is fine to make honest mistakes. But it is not acceptable to be sloppy or fraudulent, or not to read enough literature. These are simply not good enough excuses. I’m not claiming to be perfect. But I want to constantly improve myself and my research practice.

    Barriers to greater openness in research

    What obstacles may be preventing researchers from making their research openly available?

    The obvious one is competition for funding, which creates the need to publish in high impact factor journals and consequently leads to the fear of being scooped. And that’s a difficult one to work around. That’s the reason why I do not make everything we do in my research group openly available. However, looking at this from society’s perspective, everything should be made openly available, and as soon as possible for the sake of greater benefit to mankind. So balance needs to be found.

    Do you think that some researchers might want to make their research open, but might not know how to do it, or might not have the appropriate skills to do it?

    Definitely. Researchers need to know about the best ways of making their research open. I am currently trying to work out how to make my own project’s website more open and accessible to others and what are the best ways of achieving this. So yes, awareness of tools and awareness of resources available is necessary, as well as training about working reproducibly and openly. In my opinion, Cambridge has a responsibility to be transparent and open about its processes.

    Role of peer-review in improving the quality of research

    What frustrates you most about the current scholarly communication systems?

    Some people get frustrated with the business model of some of the major publishers. I do not have a problem with it, although I do support the idea of pre-print services, such as bioRxiv. Some researchers get frustrated about long peer-review process. I am used to the fact that peer-review is long, and I accept it because I do not want fraudulent papers to be published. However, flawed peer review, such as biased peer-review or lack of rigorous peer review, is not acceptable and it is a problem.

    So how to improve the peer-review process?

    I think that peer-reviewers need to have greater awareness of the need for greater rigour. I was recently asked to peer review an article. The journal had dedicated guidance for peer reviewers. However, the guidance did not contain any information about suitability to undertake the peer-reviewing work. Peer-reviewer guidance documents need to address questions like: Do you really know what the paper is about? Do you know the discipline well enough? Are there any conflicts of interest? Would you have the time to properly peer-review the work? Peer-review needs to be done properly.

    What do you think about the idea of journals employing professional peer-reviewers, who could be experts in their respective fields and could perform unbiased, high quality peer-review?

    This sounds very reasonable, as long as professional peer-reviewers stay up to date with science. Though this would of course cost money!

    I suppose publishers have enough money to pay for this. Have you heard of open peer-review and what do you think about it?

    I think it is fine, but it might be subject to cronyism. I suspect that most people will be more likely to agree for their reviews to be made open as long as they make a recommendation for the paper to be accepted.

    I recently reviewed a paper of a senior person and I rejected it. But if I made my review open, it would pose a risk to me – what if the author of the paper I rejected was the reviewer of my future grant application? Would they still assess my grant application objectively? What if people start reviewing each other’s papers and start treating peer-review as a mechanism to exchange favours?

    The future of Open Research is in your hands

    Who or what inspires you and makes you optimistic about the future of Open Research?

    In Cambridge and at the Wellcome Trust there are many researchers who care about the quality of science. These researchers inspire me. These are very clever people, who work hard and make important discoveries.

    I am also inspired by teamwork and collaboration. In Big Data and in human genetics in particular, people are working collectively. Human genetics and epidemiology are excellent examples of disciplines where 10-20 years ago studies were too small to allow researchers to make significant and reproducible conclusions. Nowadays, global collaboration and information exchange is possible, making the data really robust. As a result, human genetics is delivering really important observations.

    To me, part of being open is to work in a team and be collaborative.

    If you had a magic wand and if you could get one thing changed to get more people share and open up their research, what would it be?

    Not sure… I suppose I am still looking for it! Maybe I will find one during the Open Research Pilot Project. Seriously speaking, I do not believe that a single thing could make a difference. It is the little things that matter. For example, on my side I am trying to make my own lab and institute more aware of reproducibility issues and ensure that I can make a difference in my own environment.

    So as a Group Leader, how do you ensure that researchers in your own group are rigorous in their approach?

    First, I really make them aware of the importance of reproducible research and of scientific rigour. I am also making a lot of effort to ensure that my colleagues are up to date with literature. I ask them if they read important literature and if they are unable to answer I ask them to do their homework. I am also imposing rigorous standards for experiments. In my lab people repeat the key experiments, or those which are particularly surprising, in a blind fashion. It takes a lot of time and extra resources, but it is important not to be too quick and to validate findings before making claims.

    I am also ensuring that my people are motivated. For example, even though everyone helps each other in my group, all PhD students have direct access to me and we have regular discussions about their work. It is important that your group is of a manageable size; otherwise, as a group leader, you will not know all your people and you will not be able to have regular discussions about their work.

    How do you identify people who care about reproducible research when making hiring decisions?

    I ask all prospective applicants to make a short presentation about their previous work. During their presentation I ask them to tell me exactly what their research question was and how confident they were about their discovery. I am looking for evidence of rigorous methodology, but also for honesty and for people who are not overselling their findings.

    In addition, I ask about their career goals. If they tell me that their career goal is to publish in Nature, or have two papers in Science, I count this against them. Instead, I favour applicants who are question-driven, who want to make progress in understanding how things work.

    Role of funding bodies in promoting Open Research

    Do you think that funders could play a role in promoting Open Research?

    Funders could definitely contribute to this. The Wellcome Trust is a particularly notable example of a funding body keen on Open Research. The Trust is currently looking into the best ways to make Open Research the norm. Through various projects such as the Open Research Pilot, the Trust helps researchers like myself to learn best practice on reproducible research,and also to understand the benefits of sharing expertise to improve skills across the research community.

    Do you think funder policies to mandate more openness could help?

    Potentially. However, policies on Open Access to publications are easy to mandate and relatively easy to interpret and implement. It is much more difficult for Open Research. What does Open Research mean exactly? The right scope and definitions would be key. What should be made open? How? The Wellcome Trust is already doing a lot of work on making important research results available, and human genomic data in particular. But making your proteomic and genomic data publicly available is slightly different from ensuring that your experiments are rigorous and your results honest. So in my opinion, funders should emphasise the importance of research integrity and scientific rigour.

    To close our discussion, what do you hope to achieve through your participation in the Open Research Pilot Project?

    I want to improve my own lab’s transparency. I want to make sure that we are rigorous and that our research is reproducible. So I want to learn. At the same time I wish to contribute to increased research integrity in science overall.


    Marta Teperek would like to thank SPARC EUROPE and Dr Joyce Heckman for interviewing her for the Open Data Champions programme – many of the questions asked by Marta in the interview with Dr David Savage originate from inspiring, open questions prepared by SPARC EUROPE.

    Published 22 June 2017
    Written by Dr Marta Teperek

  • Like being in the captain’s chair of the Starship Enterprise

    The last of the Frontier Fields â Abell 370, FlickR, Hubble ESA
    used by CC 2.0

    By the time that you read this post I will have left my role as Junior Library
    Assistant at the Divinity Library, although beyond the end of term I
    will be loitering for a few weeks, assisting with the annual stock check
    and the reclassification project.

    I’ve always felt that sitting at the Divinity Library’s issue desk is like being in the captain’s chair of the Starship Enterprise, surveying the crew (well students) around me, then out to the brave world of learning in Sidgwick Avenue and West Road, and then onto the universe beyond. While not having boldly travelled very far, I have loved my time here, first temping and then staying on as Junior Library Assistant and I will be tremendously sad to leave.

    Clemens and Matthew have been so generous and kind from the outset, and I’ve learnt so much while here, thanks to their patience and their enthusiasm for their work. Their dedication to developing and improving the library and to listening to how it can best work for its users has been inspiring. I know I leave the library in good hands! The previous Library Assistants, Jane and Gillian, were encouraging and friendly, helping me to settle in quickly before running off to enjoy the leisure of their well-earned retirements. University staff have been friendly and it has been really touching to see new undergraduates and research students quickly settle in and those getting to graduation making plans for their next challenge. As mentioned in a recent Varsity post, the Divinity Library is a lovely, modern and calm environment. As Violet noted in her review, ‘The design of the library is a dream and the view is wonderful.’ I do agree.

    I’ve also been welcomed into the larger Arts & Humanities library community, and been able to take part in away days and even a trip out for a guided tour of the UL – which I would never have found my way around on my own.

    Having said all this, I’m not going too far (geographically or intellectually), only 2 minutes up the road to the Philosophy Faculty Library as Library Assistant. I’ll therefore be able to continue to take advantage of the wider joys of working here – walking through Selwyn Gardens, or getting a morning cuppa in the ARC Café.

    So much has happened in the wider world since I began here – from the EU referendum, to Trump’s election and a UK general election – that it can feel that years have passed. Still, I’ve had a great time within the
    Divinity Library community and perhaps Philosophy will help me make sense of it all.

    Amanda Hawkes (former Junior Library Assistant at Divinity Library)

  • Global Environment

    New on ejournals@cambridge A-Z :  Global Environment

    From the Ingenta Connect website for the journal:

    “The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.”

    This journal is published by White Horse Press.

    Now available to the University of Cambridge electronically from volume 10 (2017) to present.

    Access  Global Environment via the ejournals@cambridge A-Z or at this link.

    Image credit: Gratisography –

  • Early tea cultivation in India and Sri Lanka

    Calcutta on arrival, S.R. Fever, RCMS 365_5_18

    Talipot palm shelter, S.R. Fever, 1983, RCMS 365_5_20

    The Royal Commonwealth Society Collections are very grateful to former planter John Weatherstone for another donation of beautiful artwork to add to his collection of archives relating to the history of early tea and coffee cultivation in India and Ceylon [Sri Lanka].  Weatherstone had worked upon tea plantations during the 1950s, and later wrote two books examining the industry’s first establishment and later development in India and Ceylon.  They document the experience of the pioneering planters and discuss all aspects of the industry from harvesting and processing to transportation, finance, marketing and changing patterns of consumption.

    Gauhati, S.R. Fever, 1983, RCMS 365_5_21

    Weatherstone’s books were splendidly illustrated with a rich variety of historical and modern prints, photographs, plans and maps.  They featured specially commissioned works from the artist Sidney Fever.  The latest gift from Weatherstone includes seven more items, including five original works by Fever.  A sketch dramatises the arrival of one of the many young men from Britain who were recruited to work on the Assam tea plantations in the late 1840s.  A watercolour illustrates a rough talipot palm hut, which often was the only shelter from the elements and wild animals enjoyed by pioneer planters before a more comfortable hut or log cabin could be built.  There is also a recreation of one of the Assam Company tea store-houses established at Gauhati along the river route to north-east Assam during the 1840s: a government official converses with a company agent, while tea is being loaded onto a steamer in the background.

    Tea factory, Ceylon circa 1890, S.R. Fever, RCMS 365_5_22


    Other watercolours illustrate carts pulled by Indian humped bulls in Ceylon, which provided transportation before the advent of the railway, and a reconstruction of an typical tea factory on the island circa 1890.

    These exciting new acquisitions have been added to the on-line catalogue of the John Weatherstone collection, RCMS 365.

    Tea carts, Ceylon, F. de la Poir, 1896, RCMS 365_5_19



  • A gift from Lehigh. Part II.

    Last week I explained how Sir Arthur Bliss came to compose a fanfare for an American college football team, Lehigh University, who were desperate to defeat their old rivals, Lafayette. Jonathan Elkus, then director of Lehigh’s Concert Band discovered that the … Continue reading →
  • Nelson Mandela Archive

    The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory has created an online portal for the exploration of archival material relating to Nelson Mandela.

    It is possible to view the site as an online exhibition where the digitised exhibits are interspersed with explanatory text. Clicking the digitaised images gives access to the item within the larger collection and gives access to a detailed description to each item.

    By browsing the archive you can also watch videos and read digitised versions of primary sources, which include diaries, letters and drafts of speeches.

    The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory delivers the core-work of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation established in 1999 to support its Founder’s ongoing engagement in worthy causes on his retirement as President of South Africa. The Foundation is registered as a trust, with its board of trustees comprising prominent South Africans selected by the Founder.The Centre of Memory was inaugurated by Nelson Mandela on 21 September 2004, and endorsed as the core work of the Foundation in 2006. The Centre focuses on three areas of work: the Life and Time of Nelson Mandela, Dialogue for Social Justice and Nelson Mandela International Day.

    Transcripts for videos are available in the the details section on the portal.


  • “Not so much as a loin-cloth”

    The World Naked bike ride comes to Cambridge for the third time on Saturday and this prompted me to think about how differing attitudes to nudity across Europe would be reflected in the University Library’s collections. Further research revealed that our … Continue reading →
  • Library Survey 2017: Book availability (Set/reading list texts)

    Covers of 3 set texts/reading list titles

    In this year’s library survey the answers to the question ‘If you could change one thing…’ repeatedly mentioned the desire for more copies of set texts and reading list books. Some of the responses on this subject were as follows:

    • ‘More than one copy of reading list books, especially for papers with primary/set texts (whether literary, philosophical etc.)’
    • ‘Ensure multiple copies of every reading list items’
    • ‘Availability of reading list books’
    • ‘More copies of core text books’
    • ‘Increase number of copies of primary texts in the reading lists’

    The provision of a sufficient number of set texts and reading list titles for each course is a very important part of the support for teaching and learning provided by the faculty libraries. The availability of such texts in this and other university libraries is monitored throughout the year and new acquisitions made as necessary. In order to continue to improve the Divinity library’s collection in this regard we will place even more emphasis on the development of our holdings of works in high demand over the coming years.

    Here are some examples of the recent acquisitions of set texts or reading list titles in multiple numbers which have been made at the Divinity library recently and which will hopefully help students studying on the relevant courses:

    For A2 (David: Israel’s greatest hero?)

    • 3 copies of Robert Alter, The David story: a translation with commentary of 1 & 2 Samuel (Norton, 2000)

    For A3 (Jesus and the origins of the Gospel)

    • 2 extra copies (bringing library total to 4) of Gerd Theissen & Annette Merz, The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide, (SCM, 1998)

    For B8 (The Great Theologians):

    • 5 copies of Julian of Norwich, Revelations of divine love, trans. B. Windeatt (OUP, 2015)
    • 4 copies of Elizabeth Johnson, Ask the beasts: Darwin and the God of love (Bloomsbury, 2015)
    • 3 copies of Augustine, Confessions, trans. M. Boulding, (Ignatius, 2012)

    For MPhil: Christian Theology:

    • 5 copies of Athanasius, On the Incarnation, trans. J. Behr, [English & Greek] (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011)

    We regularly monitor borrowing statistics and holds placed to inform the acquisition of extra copies. Throughout the summer we will review the library’s holdings of set texts in particular and make further acquisitions as required.

    It is not always possible to anticipate the exact level of demand for a particular text however; so please do always let us know if you are having difficulty getting hold of a set/reading list title and would like us to acquire more copies by emailing with the details.



  • Ikebana: the Japanese art of flower arrangement

    Rare early illustrations of the Japanese art of flower arrangement, now known as ikebana 生花, will be on display in the University Library Entrance Hall from 12 June to 1 July 2017.

    In Japan, ikebana has strong ties to poetry, religious traditions, courtly culture, and even traditional architecture. Early ikebana masters passed on the secrets of their art in manuscripts intended only for the eyes of their successors. One of the earliest extant examples of such a manuscript of secret transmission is the 1544 Yuishinken kadensho 唯心軒花伝書. The scroll, depicted at the head of this post, is the most recent major addition to the University Library’s excellent Japanese collections. It was purchased this year with the support of Art Fund and the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund. Also on display will be a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century manuscript album of full-colour flower paintings, Ikenobō rikka no zu 池坊立華図, as well as woodblock-printed books of ikebana from the Seizan 青山 and Mishō 未生 schools.

    Cambridge University Library possesses one of the largest and finest collections of early Japanese books in Europe. Professors Nozomu Hayashi and Peter Kornicki published a detailed catalogue of the Japanese collections in 1991: Early Japanese Books in Cambridge University Library: A Catalogue of the Aston, Satow and Von Siebold Collections. As the title suggests, many of the early books came from the collections of William George Aston (1841-1911), Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929), and Heinrich Baron von Siebold (1852-1908), all pioneers in the Western study of Japan. Aston, Satow, and Von Siebold travelled to Japan soon after the country established relations with the West in the latter half of the nineteenth century. They collected old and new books and manuscripts both for the books’ artistic merits and for their window into the country’s rich cultural heritage. Aston’s History of Japanese Literature and Satow’s Diplomat in Japan helped to bring this knowledge to a wider audience.

    The Japanese collections grew through both donations and purchases. Von Siebold’s step-daughter, Davida Carpenter, donated 721 Japanese books from his collection to Cambridge University Library in 1911. Later the same year, the library purchased much of Aston’s collection from his estate, and books Aston had previously acquired from Satow also entered the library at that time. Ikenobō rikka no zu, which will be on view in this exhibition, is among the books acquired in 1911 that belonged to both Satow and Aston. Subsequent gifts from Satow himself contributed to building the Cambridge Japanese collections. The collection attracted the interest of then Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan, when he visited England in 1921, and Hirohito donated hundreds of additional volumes from the Japanese imperial library. In 1937, the library acquired over two hundred volumes from the estate of Sir James Stewart Lockhart (1858-1937). Eric Ceadel (1921-1979), who served both as University Lecturer in Japanese and as University Librarian, established Japanese studies as an academic discipline in the university while also building the library’s modern Japanese collections and contributing to its Japanese rare books. Continuing in the tradition of scholarly engagement with the library, Dr Laurence Picken (1909-2007) donated his own collection of Japanese manuscripts related to traditional music in 1976. The acquisition of Yuishinken kadensho in 2017 marks a return to collecting Japanese rare books. With its digitisation, the scroll joins a growing Japanese digital collection accessible far beyond Cambridge. Yuishinken kadensho was purchased with the support of Art Fund and the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.

    Dr Kristin Williams, Head of Japanese Section

  • Laval théologique et philosophique

    New on ejournals@cambridge A-Z: Laval théologique et philosophique

    From the Érudit platform for the journal:

    “Laval théologique et philosophique is published three times per year by the Faculty of philosophy and the Faculty of theology and religious studies at Laval University in Quebec City. The journal’s mission is to disseminate the work of researchers, provide a synthesis of major questions relating to theology and philosophy, and to open new lines of investigation and research in these fields.”

    Now available to the University of Cambridge electronically from the Érudit platform from volume 1 (1945) to the present.

    Access Laval théologique et philosophique via the ejournals@cambridge A-Z or at this link.

    Image credit: ‘Shadows of Theology’ by Justin Kern on Flickr –

  • A gift from Lehigh. Part I.

    Kate mentioned at the end of her tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, last week, that we had a copy of the album – a gift from Lehigh University Concert Band. The record (an American edition on a Capitol label) … Continue reading →
  • Result! What will the future bring?

    Two repeated themes of comments, Library Survey 2017

    I’m writing this as we have an idea of how the parties fared in yesterday’s General Election… however, I’m not really talking about that result, but the result of our library survey, and what you, our readers and borrowers at the Divinity Library have expressed! There are two were clear messages in our Library Survey 2017:

    1. You do not want – as one of you wrote – ‘disembowel’ your bags at the entrance of the library, but would prefer to take your bags to your desk.
    2. Some of you aren’t happy to have to shelve books when returning them.

    Unlike some politicians who make promises, and then often don’t deliver, we will make changes over the summer which will mean that latest from 1 October 2017, you will

    1. be able to take your bags into the library – whether you will stay here for longer periods of work, or want to return, or pick up a book quickly.
    2. not need to reshelve books on your return; at least we will trial in Michaelmas Term 2017 whether the small team of librarians can manage to shelve all books. During term time the returns can average 80-100 books a day, and we do not feel that using the wheelchair user stair lift to the mezzanine level is a good means of getting books to the higher level, as it would block the stairs for all users whilst we “just” transport books; 80-100 books might not sound much, but on top of that we also might need to move 20-30 books from processing in the staff area to the right shelf, i.e. new books, or books which have been reclassified/relabelled.

    Obviously, we are not “just” basing our actions/changes on the Library Survey responses,  but also on the reactions we get from first-time library users, or borrowers from other Faculties; some of them are genuinely puzzled about our requests to shelve the books on return, or having to leave their bags opposite the Issue Desk area.

    Anyway, we will hope that you will all be pleased with the above changes and promises; at least we hope that those of you returning to Cambridge in October will be happy about the above.

    Have a good summer!