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Busting the top five myths about open access publishing

Rather than lock up knowledge in costly journals, increasingly universities and governments are recognising that publicly funded research should be open to all. This past year has seen new open access…

There are plenty of myths about open access – are any of them true? Open lock image from www.shutterstock.com

Rather than lock up knowledge in costly journals, increasingly universities and governments are recognising that publicly funded research should be open to all.

This past year has seen new open access policies in the United Kingdom, the United States and from the European Commission. In Australia too, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) now both have open access policies.

Despite this activity, there remains a large amount of confusion about open access, with many misunderstandings persisting in the academic community and in universities.

So in order to put this confusion to rest, here are five of the top myths about open access publishing and why they’re wrong.

Myth 1 – open access journals are not peer reviewed

In reality the majority of open access journals reflect the majority of subscription journals and have a strong peer review process prior to publication. In almost all of these cases peer review and editing is being done for free by the academic community – in both subscription and open access journals.

There are, of course, some open access journals that are not peer reviewed but this does not distinguish them from the many subscription journals (particularly ones put out by industry associations) which are not peer reviewed.

Researchers who are unsure about the peer review status of an open access journal can consult the Directory of Open Access Journals which contains over 9,400 journals, all of which must exercise peer-review or editorial quality control to be included.

After all, it is up to the researcher submitting work to any journal to determine if that journal suits their needs. Does it reach their target audience? Is it peer reviewed? Will it distribute the work in a way to afford the prestige desired for career advancement?

These questions relate to the way the journal engages with the wider community rather than how it is administered. The funding model of a journal does not determine its quality.

Myth 2 - all open journals charge publication fees

In reality many open access journals do not charge publication fees at all. For example the vast majority of open access journals published by Australian universities are fully open access and do not charge publication fees.

Even for the open access journals that do charge publication fees, the cost is often lower than expected. A study analysing over 100,000 articles published during 2010 in open access journals that do charge fees found the average fee was US$906. Many open access publishers will waive fees for researchers in financial difficulty.

Many subscription publishers now offer an option to publish a particular article as open access within a subscription journal. These “hybrid” journals are costly to the sector as they still charge libraries for subscriptions to the journal but individual authors also pay a fee to publish open access within that journal.

Hybrid journals tend to charge more per article than fully open access journals as this figure from a recent paper by open access scholar Theo Andrew dramatically demonstrates.

A journal article with low impact is more likely to cost authors more. Theo Andrew

Myth 3 - you must choose between prestige and going open

This myth is incorrect for two reasons. First, many open access journals are prestigious. The Public Library of Science publishes several high impact open access journals. Their multidisciplinary open access journal PLOS ONE was established in 2007, and by 2010 was the world’s largest journal.

Second, researchers can publish in their preferred journal and then place a copy of it in an open access repository. All Australian universities have an institutional repository. This method of making research available – often referred to as “green” open access – is now also mandated by both the ARC & NHMRC.

Myth 4 - open access is ok for second-rate work, but not first-rate work

This is an odd myth – why would a researcher publicise poor work by making it available and keep their top work hidden behind subscription barriers? Making work available means that more people are able to see the work and citations rise accordingly. Indeed the benefits of open access are many and varied.

As it turns out the opposite to this myth is true. Recently published research shows that high quality work benefits from being published in open access journals, it is the poor to average work that is disadvantaged. The reason for this appears to be that the competition online for the reader’s attention means high quality work will win out.

Myth 5 - post-print archiving violates copyright

Most publishers allow a version of work to be made open access. There is a useful website which provides information on what publishers allow.

What matters when depositing work in a repository is understanding there are different versions of the work. The version that is sent to a journal or conference for review is called the “Submitted Version” or pre-print. In some disciplines such as physics it is standard practice to share these with colleagues through a subject-based repository called ArXiv.

The “Accepted Version” or post-print is the final peer reviewed version of the work sent to the publisher for publication. This is the best version to make open access. Generally publishers do not allow the published version to be made available (although a small number do).

While copyright compliance can become confusing, in practice when an author submits material to a repository or archive, whether subject based or run by an organisation, generally assistance is available to deal with licence and copyright issues.

Join the conversation

39 Comments sorted by

  1. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    I am quoting someone else's comment elsewhere, but worth repeating:
    "It’s actually a lot worse than I thought. According to Wikipedia, PLOS One published 23,468 articles in 2012. At $1350 a pop, that’s well over $31 million.

    The phrase “vanity press” comes to mind. How can this model not lead to a conflict of interest?"

    In this era of electronic publishing perhaps it is time to take a step back, think about what task scientific publishing is supposed to perform and how the most cost effective way to achieve this is.

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  2. Jeffrey Wilson

    Fellow of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University

    "Myth 3 – you must choose between prestige and going open".

    Kingsley is correct in pointing out there are increasingly some open access journals (the PLoS offerings a key example) - but fails to acknowledge the availability of these options is highly variable by discipline. In some areas, there are simply no quality open access journals to publish in; and many disciplines often feature a small set of existing 'key' journals which researchers need to be in to establish their presence in the field…

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    1. Danny Kingsley

      Executive Officer for the Australian Open Access Support Group at Australian National University

      In reply to Jeffrey Wilson

      Hi Jeffrey,

      You are correct about disciplinary differences. Word limits prevented me from discussing that aspect of the open access landscape in this story. But I have done a quick check of the journals you mention on the Sherpa RoMEO website - http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/search.php

      Review of International Political Economy - published by Taylor & Francis - allows you to place the final version of your work into your repository under embargo for 18 months

      International Studies Quarterly…

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    2. David Groenewegen

      Librarian

      In reply to Jeffrey Wilson

      I don't want to single Jeffrey out here, because this is a pretty common comment, but he sums up the reason why OA is still struggling in the margins with the phrase:

      "there is a small range of elite (ERA ranked A or A*) publications that any leading or aspiring scholar will need to publish in for reputational reasons."

      As long as the scholarly community (and those that try to assess them - generally also scholars) clings to the idea that where you publish is a marker for the quality of what…

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    3. Jeffrey Wilson

      Fellow of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University

      In reply to David Groenewegen

      David,
      I entirely agree with many of your suggestions about the difficulties of imputing research quality based on the place of publication, rather than the publication itself.

      But the bare fact is that this is how research achievement is measured and rewarded in Universities - at the institutional level (through the ERA exercise), at the department level (through internal University league tables) and the individual level (through use of a journal ERA ranking as a quality heuristic by colleagues…

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    4. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Jeffrey Wilson

      You can still publish in your top ranked closed journals; just put a version on your institution's repository with a 'request a copy' button if needed. This will soon see open access become the norm.

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    5. David Groenewegen

      Librarian

      In reply to Jeffrey Wilson

      Jeffrey,

      I am in complete agreement with you that the current assessment and reward process in academia makes it very hard, if not impossible, for researchers to avoid publishing in certain places. But most of these processes are set up and perpetuated by researchers as well. If (and this is a BIG if) more researchers stopped using impact factors or "journal reputation" as a metric for assessing each other the system would die. It is frustrating that everyone knows this system is broken, but everyone…

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    6. Jeffrey Wilson

      Fellow of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin,

      Rightly put, but institutional repositories are a second-best option of limited utility for open access purposes:
      - Some publishers copyright agreements do not allow their use at all (i.e. Wiley)
      - Others come with stringent embargoes (Taylor and Francis at 18 months post-publication. Once you add the long lead times for peer review and publication queue, this can add up to an effective delay of three years).
      - Discoverability problems. Those searching for work are far more likely to…

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    7. Henry Franceschi

      Director, NCD Treatment Centers

      In reply to David Groenewegen

      David, I disagree. One of the oldest sayings on the planet is, “Abuse is what we permit.” Those who permit publishers to have their way with them can't say “abuse.” As recently as 3 yrs ago there were but a couple of UK journals offering OA in solid science. OAs were lucky to publish 1-2 articles per issue. Within a year that changed. Well, I’m glad the Brits stuck to values that rose above the “reputational” or the “brand,” and instead took the high road for science, globalized knowledge, and an…

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    8. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Jeffrey Wilson

      Jeffrey

      I agree that these are obstacles. But institutions' read and download figures are very high: QUT's repository has now reached 10 million downloads. So the repositories are serving a most useful purpose. I want the latest publications in my own field, but when I'm reading up on another field I'm not fussed about reading something a few years old.

      I suggest that the 'Request a copy' function avoids most publishers' embargoes. These mimic the previous practice of sending off prints to people who might be interested or specifically request an offprint and so publishers have not (yet) prohibited authors agreeing to pdfs of published versions being automatically sent to people who click the request button.

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    9. David Groenewegen

      Librarian

      In reply to Henry Franceschi

      Henry,

      I'm not sure we are disagreeing. I think your principles are admirable. To really achieve open access there need to be more researchers like you for whom access is more important than the brand.

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  3. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Without reasonable and inexpensive access to "Prior Art" how do we know whether or not "wheels" are being re-invented?
    How does anyone do original research or develop new intellectual property when so much knowledge is obscured?
    How about all that high powered anti-terrorism surveillance software and hardware being turned to solving this immediate problem?
    Or the vast computing capacity used to write the Human genome being applied to the classification of old and new knowledge?
    There is bit of…

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  4. Mark C. Wilson

    Computer Science, University of Auckland

    Thanks for the useful summary. Unfortunately, "legacy" commercial publishers seem to be fighting back against self-archiving of post-prints. I published with Oxford University Press recently, and there is a 2-year embargo against doing that. There may be perfectly legal ways around this, such as signing the copyright transfer form after having uploaded the paper to arXiv. But it is clear that they aren't going to give up without a fight. Springer has recently tightened up, for example. In fact, Danny herself wrote about this: http://aoasg.org.au/2013/05/23/walking-in-quicksand-keeping-up-with-copyright-agreements/

    So green OA is still possible, but vigilance is necessary.

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  5. Henry Franceschi

    Director, NCD Treatment Centers

    Thank you for the much-needed coverage on publishers’ retrograde way of advancing scientific knowledge. In today’s globalized world, it’s time professional journals also globalized via open-access. It’s time to end:

    1. Prices for professional journals that are outrageous. If you don’t have a hospital or university library to make them available, you can’t access the journals. You have to get in your car, 1950 fashion, and drive to the library, to find that the issue you wanted is out.
    2…

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  6. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    I add my thanx for this most useful piece. It is true that the commercial publishers are fighting open access, including by extending embargoes. But surely this is a reprise of book publishers' attempts to prohibit photocopying and record companies' attempts to prohibit tape recording and will soon be made irrelevant by our learning how to obtain the great benefits offered by the new technology.

    Very few journal publishers prevent or impose an embargo on authors lodging on their institution's repository the version of their manuscript they submit for peer review, so at least this version should be made available on repositories.

    Institutional repositories should also include on embargoed versions of papers a 'Request a copy' function which also avoids publishers' embargoes. This gives an example from QUT, a world leader in institutional repositories

    http://eprints.qut.edu.au/54602/

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    1. Mal Booth

      University Librarian

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I agree with many of the commenters above and thank Danny for this piece. I think James Hill hits the nail on the head in suggesting that entrenched self-interest is behind the continuation of the current model in which many scholarly publishers exploit academics who are both the creators and consumers of such published research.
      I think universities in general need to do much more to support their institutional open access publishing initiatives, mostly within their libraries. Ultimately this helps to solve this increasingly unacceptable situation.
      My view is that when individual reputations, institutional prestige and competition for rankings are more important than advancing and sharing knowledge, we've probably lost the plot in our universities.
      Oh & a nod to Gavin too: the "request a copy" function is indeed a necessity in institutional repositories. We are implementing ours right now at UTS.

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    2. David Groenewegen

      Librarian

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I hate to sound cynical or jaded, but should the much vaunted "Request a Copy" function ever gain any real traction it will be specifically prohibited in author agreements so fast it will make your head spin.

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    3. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to David Groenewegen

      I agree that publishers will probably prohibit <request a copy> if it becomes effective. But by then hopefully publishers' attempts to block open access will be decreasingly effective and their justifications will seem decreasingly credible.

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  7. Jan Velterop

    Advocate of ubiquitous access to scientific knowledge

    It's not the publishers who slow down open access. They just cater to the demand from the academic community. Let's not lose sight of the fact that it is authors who ask publishers for a service, even a favour. Namely to be published in their journals. And they pay for it. If not with cash (APCs), then with transfer of copyrights (with all the disadvantages of the latter for knowledge sharing). If the insight that it is the academic community that needs to change its attitude fails to take hold, ubiquitous access to scientific and scholarly knowledge fails to take hold.

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    1. Björn Brembs

      Professor at University of Regensburg

      In reply to Jan Velterop

      That's a very crucial point, IMHO. Publishers will of course do all they can to prevent serious reform. But in the end, if their customers just walk away, there's nothing they can do. If we decide they're out of business, they're history.

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    2. Jan Velterop

      Advocate of ubiquitous access to scientific knowledge

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      The whole idea of authors offering their papers to publishers for free ("giving away") is a red herring of the first order. Authors want to have a 'label stitched onto their paper': the Journal Title. This is also known as 'career advancement'. It's not for nothing that it's commonly called 'submission' rather than 'donation'. Authors could of course just publish their papers in any of the free open repositories (e.g. arXiv). Now *that* would be 'giving away'. Again, if this insight fails to take root, nothing will change in a hurry.

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    3. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Jan Velterop

      Authors', referees' and editors' providing their services to commercial publishers without cost is highly relevant to their excessive profits. Commercial publishers are parasitic on public spending and institutions.

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    4. Jan Velterop

      Advocate of ubiquitous access to scientific knowledge

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      So who's clever and who's stupid (or at least naïve) here?

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  8. rory robertson
    rory robertson is a Friend of The Conversation.

    former fattie

    Danny,

    I'm interested in "Myth 4 – open access is ok for second-rate work, but not first-rate work". My question is where should third-rate work be published, so that determined authors can publish whatever nonsense they please as scientific fact without the inconvenience of proper quality control?

    I think it was Dr Evil in the movie Austin Powers who claimed with a straight face that his bizarre childhood was "pretty standard really". That claim, however, is more credible than the University…

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    1. Danny Kingsley

      Executive Officer for the Australian Open Access Support Group at Australian National University

      In reply to rory robertson

      Hi Rory,
      Anyone can post anything they like on the internet of course. But that doesn't mean that other people should take any notice of it. Your question relates to quality and how to measure it. Currently we use the Journal Impact Factor (flawed as it is) as that proxy in many of our assessment systems. This would automatically eliminate any 'quality' being bestowed on an independently uploaded article. There is a move to using article level metrics which values the article itself rather than the place it has been published. There are advantages to this system but we willl need to ensure there are always multiple metrics used that get pulled together to avoid gaming. We are well aware of the level of gaming that already occurs with citations and therefore JIFs.
      Danny

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    2. rory robertson
      rory robertson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      former fattie

      In reply to Danny Kingsley

      Thanks for coming back, Danny. I agree with you that "Anyone can post anything they like on the internet of course". The trouble in this case is that an incompetent paper that would never have been published in a real journal with real quality control was published in a obscure OA journal with no competent quality control (see Sections 1-10 in http://www.australianparadox.com/ ).

      Of course, it wouldn't matter if this were just another case of obscure academics publishing nonsense on the internet…

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    3. Jan Velterop

      Advocate of ubiquitous access to scientific knowledge

      In reply to rory robertson

      Rory, do you really think this is possibly an OA issue? What about non-OA, peer-reviewed journals like the American Journal of Homeopathic Medicine (http://homeopathyusa.org/journal.html)? Would you be sure always to recognise a "real journal with real quality control" out of the many thousands of journals around?

      Would the absence of OA have helped?

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    4. Björn Brembs

      Professor at University of Regensburg

      In reply to rory robertson

      "incompetent paper that would never have been published in a real journal with real quality control"
      Oh, you mean this incompetent paper would have never been published in a real journal with real quality control:
      http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/despite-refutation-science-arsenic-life-paper-deserves-retraction-scientist-argues/
      Or, to remain fair and balanced, this incompetent article would never have been published in a real journal with real quality control:
      http://blogarchive.brembs.net/comment-n519.html

      The fact is, that beyond a very basic measure, what you refer to as 'quality control' fails every empirical test we have thrown at it:
      http://www.frontiersin.org/Human_Neuroscience/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291/full

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    5. rory robertson
      rory robertson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      former fattie

      In reply to Jan Velterop

      Jan, since you asked, one of the ways that we can recognise a "real journal with real quality control" (RJWRQC) is that such a journal does not allow obviously faulty papers to be self-published, with the lead author operating as Guest Editor.

      So when we find an incompetent paper full of errors and a false conclusion based on falsified data, Jan, we all can agree that the journal involved is not a RJWRQC, OA or not.

      I have only ever focussed on one such paper, Jan. Awkwardly, it was the…

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    6. rory robertson
      rory robertson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      former fattie

      In reply to Björn Brembs

      Professor Brembs,

      Thanks for your thoughts. My basic vision for "real quality control" in journals - OA and otherwise - starts with the lead author of the paper being published and the Guest Editor of the publishing journal being two people rather than one (Section 2 in final link below).

      Further, my ultimate rule on quality control would be as follows: “If a paper’s major conclusions are shown to be wrong we will retract the paper”: http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/if-a-papers-major-conclusions-are-shown-to-be-wrong-we-will-retract-the-paper-plos

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    7. Björn Brembs

      Professor at University of Regensburg

      In reply to rory robertson

      "Further, my ultimate rule on quality control would be as follows: “If a paper’s major conclusions are shown to be wrong we will retract the paper”:"

      This entails that virtually none of the existing journals have "real quality control", as one can probably find at least one paper that ought to be retracted in every single journal on this planet. The more prestigious the journal, the more of them. The two examples I linked to show that neither Nature nor Science satisfy your criterion.

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    8. Jan Velterop

      Advocate of ubiquitous access to scientific knowledge

      In reply to rory robertson

      Rory,

      Papers with erroneous or false conclusions appear everywhere. Conclusions are arguably only reliable if experiments can be, and have been, repeated, replicated and reproduced (see slide 16 of this set: http://www.slideshare.net/carolegoble/ismb2013-keynotecleangoble).

      As for your questions:
      (i) My preference would be to be able to annotate a faulty paper with clear comments and reasons why it is faulty, for the benefit of subsequent readers. IMHO, the cardinal sin of journals – OA or non-OA – is not to facilitate or allow comments.
      (ii) The growth rate of new OA journals has naturally been larger than that of new non-OA journals, for two reasons: growth of OA journals was from a very low base (practically non-existent), so even a 100% growth rate results in very little, and secondly, there simply were virtually no OA journals a few decades ago, so the niche started to fill up. There was nothing like a similar niche for non-OA journals to grow into.

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    9. Jan Velterop

      Advocate of ubiquitous access to scientific knowledge

      In reply to rory robertson

      The real problem here, it seems to me, is that a national public debate can be so easily mislead. By a single self-published article denying the role of sugar in diabetes, in the face of thousands of scientific articles demonstrating the role of sugar in diabetes, no less. Were there no scientists of undisputed reputation participating in the public debate? I would take the moderators of the public debate to task.

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    10. rory robertson
      rory robertson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      former fattie

      In reply to Jan Velterop

      Jan, thanks for confirming that the rapid growth in OA journals and their revenue streams - rapid growth in both absolute and relative terms - has been unaccompanied by an appropriate standard of quality control. You say, "Papers with erroneous or false conclusions appear everywhere". I do not doubt it.

      All the more reason, Jan, why scientists, research entities and journals - OA and others - all should be required to lift their standards. Taxpayers should not be required to fund all the clownish…

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    11. rory robertson
      rory robertson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      former fattie

      In reply to Björn Brembs

      All the more reason, Professor Brembs, why scientists, research entities and journals - OA and others - all should be required to lift their standards. Taxpayers should not be required to fund all the clownish research both you and Jan insist is being published here, there and everywhere.

      As I explained to Jan, a few well-deserved and high-profile retractions of seriously faulty papers would be just the ticket in terms of "nudging" scientists, research entities and journals in the direction…

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    12. rory robertson
      rory robertson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      former fattie

      In reply to Jan Velterop

      No, Jan, the problem is that the obviously faulty Australian Paradox paper - with a spectacularly false finding based on falsified data - has over the past 18 months been publicly defended as flawless not only by its undersupervised authors, the University of Sydney's Dr Alan Barclay and Professor Jennie Brand-Miller; and the Editor-in-Chief of Nutrients, Professor Peter Howe; but also by University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence and his Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), Professor Jill…

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