Why you may soon be consulting an Octopus about scientific research

Posted on: 13 August 2021 by Alex Freeman (Length: 309 words - Read time: 1 minute, 32 seconds) in Blog posts

Alexandra Freeman

Publishing a scientific paper is a huge undertaking, and often the culmination of months or years of work.

Editors note: Ahead of the National Postdoc Conference 2021 on 24 September, we will be publishing a series of blog posts that reflect some of the sessions that will be on offer for researchers. In this post we hear from Dr Alex Freeman about the new platform Octopus and how it is designed to work as the primary research record for science.

Until a scientific paper out (at least as a pre-print), many researchers feel they have to guard their ideas and their data for fear of someone else publishing it first. The number of papers, the journals they are published in, and an individual’s position in the author list are the main ways in which the quality of a researcher’s work is judged.

This system, born centuries ago in the days of gentleman scientists and the written letter, encourages secrecy and neat storytelling, and discourages detailed protocol descriptions, full data sharing and the sharing of ‘negative results’. It is also very slow, very expensive, and consolidates hierarchies.

On to this stage swims Octopus (@science_octopus), which sets out to take on the mantle of being the primary research record for science. By publishing in Octopus, researchers can get instant recognition for when they did their work, and describe it in full detail: it is free and instant to do so. But rather than saving all their research up until it can be made into a tightly-strung narrative thread from beginning to end, Octopus takes smaller publication units to encourage the sharing of work ‘as it happens’, and also smaller author groups for greater meritocracy and accountability. There are 8 types of publication, each equally important: a Problem, a Hypothesis/Rationale, a Method/Protocol, Data/Results, Analysis, Interpretation, Real-world implementation, and (peer) Review.

It’s a radical remodelling of the scientific dissemination system – so will it take off? Well, Octopus now has the financial and political backing of UKRI and is partnered by the powerful Jisc and UK Reproducibility Network. And you can feed into its final formation, either via the website https://sciencepublishing.org or by attending a workshop, such as the one at the National Postdoc Conference on 24 September (register here).


Octopus: The new primary research record for science

About the author

Alex Freeman is the inventor of Octopus, and also the Executive Director of the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge. Before that she had a career as a science documentary-maker, mainly for the BBC.

Further information

Octopus YouTube video


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