Communicating Science! How to do that?

I have witnessed many times that students, researches, scholars do understand some scientific concepts but for various reasons behave differently or even contrary. Some their beliefs or psychological traits are overwhelming.

That is sometimes a big issue in work of editorial boards, communication with system administrator(s), addressing authors and reviewers.

I believe that system administrators should not be focused only on technical troubleshooting.  They should use their knowledge and inform editorial boards how to use technology to foster the development of efficient ways to communicate science.   In my experience, that was not always easy since many people think that if there is information available people will necessarily change.

That did not work always, I am pretty sure.  That issue is more complex than we by inertia think.  That complexity is difficult, but also an opportunity. We are accustomed to challenges. Aren’t we?  Many people including the scientists are sometimes overwhelmed by various biases.

Some work on that and related topics may be found in publications written by Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, Garry Klein.

We have to find a way how to overcome those biases and to find ways how to communicate science effectively. The National Academies Press published one very interesting public with title: Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda that you can find quite interesting and providing a larger space to address that issue.

Huh, being administrator and work with scientists is not just as easy and simple as it looks like. But, it is potentially more rewarding.


Administrator should take care on technical matters, I will do the science?

Information and communication technologies are very complex and it is not easy for everyone to master all aspects of on line publishing. That is true. Isn’t it!

Surely, there is some sort of division of labor requested too. But, lessons drawn from experience show that only intensive, open and productive communication and collaboration between administrator and editorial board will produce good result. The both work on a common task.  There is no search engine optimization or graphically appealing theme that should do work instead of academic rigor. in addition, if there is academic rigor and hard work and dedication of editorial board, the journal will not be visible if the system is often down. Even, much beyond that polarization of (a lack of ) success only mutual understanding of technology, editorial needs, plans, ambitions is something that creates ground for success.

What should I write in my user profile?

Editorial boards usually do not pay attention what information should user write in the user profile.  There might be different reasons why editorial boards do not pay attention to that very important part.

Actually, some authors really appreciate your journal and they would like to identify themselves with your journal.

Someone may ask: Well, math, chemistry, physics etc. do not have anything to do with someone’s culture.

Although we may argue about that and present a huge amount of information about interrelatedness of science and culture it is good to point that in some cultures middle name, suffix, gender or other personal details may be very important part of someone’s identity.

Do we want to ignore that even if price of that will be that the user (reader, reviewer, author, librarian etc.) might feel neglected, not respected, discouraged or hurt?

When I train users to use the Open Journal Systems I explain them that such fields are very important and that editorial board that takes care about their users should in manuals and other information blocks encourage users to create their profiles in a way that does not push their culture in the backyard.  If someone’s name contains name of mother, grandmother or father and grandfather that should be put inside whatever it is personal cultural belief of member of editorial board.  If author asks editor to take into consideration religious holidays during which author will not be available that should be taken into consideration and the field Comments for Editor should be understood as completed in a legitimate way.

Your users are not genderless, depersonalized entities without culture regardless of scientific research they could be interested in. Encourage them to be open and free to express all cultural characteristics and to contribute where possible to make your journal appreciated to people from different cultures.

Oh, no! Error 500 ruined my server!

I have had many times situation that servers were not properly configured since neither administrators nor journal editorial boards were fully ready and aware what is required to set up in order to meet the needs for some specific journal.  It is always good to learn more about such error although they can happen but without tragic consequences for your work.  Error 500 is one of so-called  HTTP status codes.  The error messages/status codes that begin with “5” indicate cases in which the server is not capable to perform some task. That task should be possible to be performed by the server if some settings could be adjusted.  So, that is it. Nothing is ruined!

Constructive and open communication with hosting company or your administrator will help to identify possible cause of error which will disappear when some setting will be changed.  The most often you will see so called Error 500 Internal Server Error which is generic error indicating that unexpected condition was encountered. No, big deal although does not look nice. Heh!

Appearance of that message can be expected but prior to entering any deal about web hosting plan detailed conversation with experienced administrator who will help you to precisely articulate your technical requirements that should be met by your IT department or hosting company.  That is it! Some experimentation will not ruin anything on your server!

My server exploded. Everything is gone! Aaaarghhh!

I guess many times administrators, people involved in technical support on forums have been faced with such outbursts of despair and anger.

Well, it is stress to everyone. But, server never exploded and it is very rare that everything is gone forever.  Appearance of blank screen, error message or that program is stuck does not mean that your server exploded or that you lost your work.

When you experience that kind of difficulty it is important to stay calm and to have handy information that will help your administrator, hosting company/IT department people, community support participants on support forum to look for solution.  Well, often solution is correction of code, adjusting settings on server, but in any case your work is the most probably neither damaged nor gone.

You should always have handy information on your infrastructure, browser, operating system of your server and context within which issue happened.  People who want to help you often free of charge need to reproduce the problem in order to identify the point at which problem occur.

Support people at ATutor set up their forum in  a way that the user is by default provided with hints that will help to write post in a way that will be helpful.  We have to be oriented towards solution! So, do not panic! Be calm, concentrated and focused on providing sufficient information in order to find solution. It is not shame to describe sincerely and completely what you have done. That will help you and many others. Asking for help is support to yourself and to many others.

I found helpful hints on support pages of several OA software packages.

The rule is: Do backup often, be calm, sincere and helpful to yourself, people who want to help you and others who might be in trouble as you are now.

Here it is how people from ATutor made it:

  • Beginning of message:

If you are asking for help, provide lots of detail so problems can be reproduced.

Things to describe:
Operating system ATutor is installed on –
ATutor version –
Patch #s applied –
ATutor theme name –
PHP version –
MySQL version –
Webserver & version –
Copies of error messages –
Changes to default settings –
Web browser being used –
…and anything else relevant –

  • End of message.

We do not have server. How we can test on line publishing?

Many journals do not have resources to purchase web hosting plans. Before they make decision to move forward, check what is good for them, what to put in the project proposal to donors it is highly recommended to check web platform such as OJS on your local computer.

You can use one of popular prepacked and configured platforms such as XAMPP which will let you install OJS and check it how it works.  You can download OJS  and install it. There is a plenty of resources on using XAMPP on YouTube.

Install it and ask people on forum to help you to learn more about the system. I know people who have had positive experience with checking some platform locally before going fully on-line.  When I work with editorial boards I always suggest and help them to install it locally and then with better insight and proper planning to conceptualize their OA publishing policy.

People who planned on line use of ATutor and/or OJS in my experience benefited a lot from checking those applications locally.  Do not be shy, move forward and ask for help.  Asking is not shame. That is core of community support!

Accessibility and Open Access

I have experienced many times that people avoid implementation of accessibility guidelines.  Some governments and individuals dedicated a lot of time and effort to develop legal, technological and educational regulations and incentives for implementation of accessibility guidelines.

Software packages such as OJS and ATutor implement accessibility guidelines.  But, accessibility is not just another set of technical specifications that we have to learn on top of all our duties. It is continuous process because social interaction is ever evolving and inherent to the humans.  Dedicating effort to accessibility is sign of your willingness to respect other participants in the learning process having easier access to open access publications. Thus, OA is not something that should be narrowly understood as a practice that is focused only on helping researchers to gain more citations and increase scores for professional and career advancement.

Ask your students, colleagues, NGOs of persons with disabilities to assist you in testing and adjusting your content so the persons with disabilities can easier access and use the content you publish on line.  By doing so, you will attract a number of individuals who will support your effort and give you precious suggestions how to attract more readers. There are numerous resources on the web that can help you to understand that disability is not exclusively linked to clinical and traumatic experience. Commitment to disability issues is profoundly important for all of us. Disability can affect anyone in various contexts. So, Open Access should be ready for use and interaction with as much as possible users.

How to start open access publishing?

laptop with headphones

Many people asked me how to start open access publishing.  My answer was often like this: Let’s go! Do it!

Indeed, I still think the same. But, I would add to that answer:  The preparation is more than 70% of work.

Huh! What does that mean?, someone may ask.

Since I have been many times involved in fixing issues caused by bad or missing preparation I will list below important questions that you should take into consideration before you start. Well, that preparation will be more than start!  Time that you spend in preparatory activities is not lost if preparation is well done.  The points that I am listing below will help you to do that properly.

Do we have sufficient information on web platform that we will use for publishing?

Note: Web platforms for publishing are not “sites” with static pages. If you need site with a plenty of information maybe you should consider creating a separate site.

Should we use OJS, E-Prints or some other? Are they made for the same purpose?

Note: You should list the standard specifications that your platform should comply with and check what is the main purpose of what you want to do.  It is better to ask several people than use something that you do not need and later on do a huge work twice.

Do we have good quality information with one or more hosting companies/IT department of our institution?

Note: You should take into consideration that web applications developed for storage of a large number of files use a lot of space out of public_html folder and that some hosting companies/IT departments are not willing/prepared to create account for you that will store out of public_html 20GB of data and just 100MB within public_html.  Prepare list of questions to hosting company/IT department and carefully read their replies to your questions before making any decision on hosting your web platform for OA.

What kind of control panel hosting company/IT department will prepare for you?  Are you skilled and trained to use them?  Do they give you sufficient control?

Note:  Some control panels are not sufficiently known and many people do have difficulties using them. For example, I found that many admins did have difficulty setting up Sentora to give sufficient permissions for storing data outside of public_html safely. Or, hosting companies do not give you right to modify that part of your account.  That could be troublesome and you may need additional skills to handle that safely.

How many articles we plan to publish on line?  Do we have thousands of articles or just we want to start with issues we published last year?  Note:  You have to bear in mind that many systems make two or more copies of your files/articles in the system during review process. Consequently, 530MB of data that you have got will take much more space on the server.

Are those articles scanned or we have them as recently produced .pdf files or in some other format? Are the scans of good quality?  Can we read math, chemical or other scientific symbols? Are there articles with announcements and advertisements in the middle of text?  Do we have articles that are continued on some other pages?  Are their pieces put together?  Do we have available software to handle those files?

Do we want to enable our riders to pay subscription on line? Do we want to let authors to pay publication fee on line?  Do we have communication with our partner bank and clear instructions how to do that? Are there any costs for that? Is that defined in our legislation?  Can we provide invoice to authors that need to document their expenses to supporting agency?

Do we have people who are trained or willing to be trained to set up properly web application that we will use and to upload files and complete all necessary forms for metadata, about authors and contributors?  What time they will need to do that?

Note: Lessons drawn from experience often say that it is needed more time than we think at the beginning since it is very important to do the job properly. If metadata, authors names and affiliations etc. are not done properly the readers can be confused and misinformed which is contrary of what we want to do.

Are we able to pay those who will enter all data and upload files? Are they really able to volunteer and do a huge work properly?  Did we check our printed issues in the last couple of years to determine what information should be entered in web application? What are the names of sections?  Who are the section editors? Can we contact them? Do we want to write a list of instructions that will be given to those who will enter data? Do we have a person who will supervise and check accuracy of entered data?   Can we expect some legal actions if  some data is not entered properly?

Note: It is normal that journal in their history change  names, editorial policies, copyright policy, topics, supporters etc.  Sometimes journals do have different names for the same topic/section in journal. I have found several times that there is section Errata, Erratum, Corrigenda which actually describe the same thing or that publisher was changed.  Is there decision how to enter data in those cases?  Do we have consensus on that?

Do we want to have some other applications on account on server? What kind/version of infrastructure they require? Can we make that to work easily?  Do their requirements create conflicts with our open access publishing application?