Concerns with the Winnower and Laura and John Arnold Foundation Reproducibility Essay Contest
Authors: Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva
Number of views: 467
On April 26, 2016, an announcement was made for an essay contest to be published in and by The Winnower (https://thewinnower.com), a low-cost open access journal. The contest, which was financially sponsored by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF; http://www.arnoldfoundation.org), aimed to find an answer to the question “How do we ensure that research is reproducible?” In a bid to tackle the reproducibility crisis in science, the contest set out its objectives, as well as the rules for contestants, including a deadline for submission, and a range of word limits (750-1500). As for the submission to a journal, it was expected that all contestants would abide by the rules to be valid contestants. After a delay in releasing the results, an examination of the entries revealed that 12/21 of the essays did not abide by the contestant’s rules, and thus, to be fair, should have been disqualified, as equally as a submitted paper that does not abide by the rules of submission to a journal is equally rejected, or retracted, if the breach of rules is known post-publication. A request was sent to the LJAF and The Winnower CEO, Joshua (Josh) Nicholson, for a more formal explanation and greater transparency. The acceptance of the winning essays, each of which received a $US 500 cash prize, was summarized by a single sentence. This case study examines how The Winnower and the LJAF mismanaged that contest, how the winners remained winners despite breaking the basic rules of the contest, and how no public transparency was offered with respect to contest mishandling, the make-up of the panel of judges, or the qualifications of these judges. Reproducibility begins with trust, accountability and openness, qualities that were not displayed, in this case, by the LJAF and The Winnower.