ARC answers on its pre-press citation stuff-up

And yet there are still questions

The Australian Research Council dropped funding applications for the high-crime of breaching a new and obscure ban on referring to pre-prints.

Cue outrage from applicants who were caught by a rule they knew not of and astonishment from researchers who wonder what the ARC had against pre-prints, a research foundation of open access (ten CMM stories, starting August 20).

The ARC was quick to reverse its rule, which did not explain why it was adopted or how it was applied.

So, Senator Faruqi (Greens, NSW) asked officers, who have now replied to her questions on notice.

The ARC states it only checked funding applications where “peer reviewers raised potential eligibility issues” – there were 15 such for Discovery Early Career Researcher Award funding and 17 for Future Fellowships.

As to where the idea came from; “the ARC did not consult externally prior to publishing updated instructions that strengthened its handling of preprints.”

And why it was imposed; “The ARC implemented the change with the aim to ensure consistency and fairness across all disciplines and all applications.”

The ARC also repeats its “we told people” defence. “the ARC held a webinar and updated the sector on the new requirement. Research office staff members from all 42 universities attended that webinar and the ARC did not receive widespread feedback from the sector about this adjustment at the time.”

So that’s all right then. No it’s not. For a start, some research officers got the message but others obviously didn’t. Perhaps the ARC could have got the message out earlier and wider – particularly to researchers in disciplines where pre-prints have been widely used for years – say physics, All excluded Future Fellowship applications were in astronomy, space science or fields of physics.

And as for the ARC only checking applications raised by peer reviewers – were there any apps which cited pre-prints that weren’t noticed and thus avoided exclusion?

And if so, were any funded?