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Open science publishing strikes a rich seam with ORE publishing platform

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With a goal of making scientific knowledge more freely available to researchers and the public, ORE has spent the first year of its existence establishing its profile and winning over the scientific community.

Launched exactly one year ago, Open Research Europe (ORE) is an open access publishing platform for research coming from Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. All subject areas of research are catered for.

ORE gives researchers a fast, easy and cost-free publishing platform to share their results. This facilitates open, constructive discussions, which are vitally important to the scientific process.

With the EU taking a lead role in redefining how research and innovation is carried out, open access publishing has emerged as an important part of the process.

Collaboration among researchers is all the more important when tackling today’s big research questions. People are more likely to read research which is published in an open access journal.

As a young researcher herself, Professor Mangala Srinivas, Head of Cell Biology and Immunology at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, is passionate about improving conditions for early-stage academics.

She is interested in promoting cultural and systemic changes in academia.

Open science

As the previous Chair of the Young Academy of Europe (YAE), a pan-European initiative of young scientists for networking, scientific exchange and science policy, Prof. Srinivas focuses on issues relevant to younger academics, particularly those with family responsibilities.

This includes open science, an approach that is committed to spreading knowledge as soon as it is available using digital technology.

‘If you speak to younger scientists today,’ said Prof. Srinivas, ‘They wonder, “Why was science ever not open?”’

Prof. Srinivas gives an example of the benefits of the ORE platform using a recent paper she co-authored.

‘We wrote an article (entitled ‘Why science needs a new reward and recognition system’) that was published in Nature,’ she said.

‘It was based on a survey of how academics are affected by the pandemic.’

Sharing data

Although the article in Nature was quite short, the researchers had all the data from the survey.

‘We thought it would be nice to share that,’ said Prof. Srinivas, ‘So we put a data note on ORE and we linked to it from the main publication, so it would be found.’

Apart from the importance of providing open access to the data, Prof. Srinivas points out that there aren’t that many places you can publish this type of data for it to be easily discovered.

‘And I hope that other people will use the data I published there, because I’m not a social scientist and none of the authors on the paper were social scientists!’

As the views and downloads of the data increase, Prof. Srinivas is convinced that ORE and other open access publishing platforms are changing the landscape of the publishing industry for the better.

Another strength of the ORE platform is the breadth of the formats it supports. Scientists, scholars and clinicians can publish anything, from papers and reviews to methods and data notes.

‘Highly subjective’

She describes the traditional publishing process as ‘highly subjective.’

Normally, in many cases, a journal’s editor has the power to decide whether to accept a paper, or not. The effect is noticeable, especially for journals with a leading reputation. ‘Often, editors rule out 80-90% of the applications that come in, just based on their own reading of them and what they think the impact of the article will be in terms of citations for their journal, which is highly subjective,’ she said.

On top of that, sometimes researchers must pay a fee to have their results published in a journal. If not, in many cases, published content is hidden behind a paywall. This prevents other researchers and society-at-large, from accessing the findings that, in many cases, were in receipt of public funding. Remember that articles are peer-reviewed by other scientists who are also not paid for their time.

No paywall

The role of Editor-in-Chief in charge of selecting papers is done away with by ORE. ‘Instead, everything goes out for peer review,’ said Prof. Srinivas. In this approach, all the peer reviewers’ comments and the author’s responses are visible to everybody. The drawback here is that manuscripts that are later rejected will also remain online and accessible, which could be misleading to readers without a strong scientific background.

Crucially, there is no paywall to impede access to the research.

ORE’s in-house editorial team checks that article submissions are complete, are not plagiarised and meet ethical standards.

Editors also ensure the quality of the peer review process. For example, they must ensure that suggested reviewers are qualified for the task, have relevant experience and won’t bring any biases to the process.

According to Prof. Srinivas, open access publishing of this kind is a great resource, especially for younger researchers. They may struggle with getting published in the more established and traditional journals because of the competitive screening process and the publication costs.

Widely available

ORE makes the latest research and data more widely available. It allows doctoral graduates and high school students alike to access the latest frontiers of scientific discovery and innovation. For decades, such insights have been hidden behind paywalls.

‘It’s really important that it’s the European Commission that’s behind ORE, because that gives it legitimacy,’ said Prof. Srinivas.

‘Historically, prestigious journals like Nature have been considered more attractive to be published in because of the way academics were, and still are, assessed. If you publish your paper in a high impact journal, then it’s considered a “better” paper. But this is changing.’

No impact factor

Thanks to the backing and promotion of international and well-renowned granting bodies such as the European Commission, publishing your results in open access journals no longer means that they are less valuable than research which is published in a top journal. Indeed, ORE does not and will never seek to have an impact factor.

Instead, ORE takes a broad view, that it is the intrinsic value of what is published, shared and re-used that’s important, as opposed to the journal it appears in.

Getting submissions

With around 180 published research articles and more than 80 articles which have passed peer review, ORE has come a long way in its first year.

‘The platform has had quite a lot of submissions, and many of them are good. I think that’s a huge achievement for such a new platform,’ said Prof. Srinivas. With a large number of journals publishing for so many fields of research, it can be difficult to stand out. ‘Keep in mind that ORE is not yet indexed in major scientific search engines,’ said Prof. Srinivas, ‘And that has limited its visibility’.

‘If you start something new, getting submissions is the hardest part,’ said Prof. Srinivas.

ORE has also been awarded the seal of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), an award that recognises quality assurance in research.

Most recently, in March 2022, ORE was accepted by INSPEC, a leading bibliographic database for physical sciences.

Search milestone

One of the next milestones for the platform is to become indexed in scientific search engines.

‘That’s really a key step,’ said Prof. Srinivas. ‘Once you see papers that are published in ORE showing up when you perform a search in PubMed or Google Scholar (databases relevant to the medical and biomedical fields that search across journals), that’s when people will start noticing it and wonder “Hey, what is this and can I publish here?”’

To learn more about the ORE platform, follow the links below.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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‘Immensely bleak’ future for Afghanistan unless massive human rights reversal

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Women in a waiting room of a clinic in Afghanistan. © UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

The international community must dramatically increase efforts to urge the de facto authorities in Afghanistan to adhere to basic human rights principles, a group of UN independent rights experts said on Friday. 

“The future is immensely bleak for Afghans if more is not done by the international community to ensure the Taliban changes its modus operandi and complies with its human rights obligations,” they said in a statement

The experts recalled that following the Taliban takeover last August, they had appealed for the international community to take “stringent actions” to protect Afghans from violations such as arbitrary detention, summary executions, internal displacement, and unlawful restrictions on their human rights. 

Failure to deliver 

“One year later, we reiterate this call,” they said. “Despite making numerous commitments to uphold human rights, the Taliban have not only failed to deliver on their promises, they have also reversed much of the progress made in the past two decades”. 

Moreover, the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan, which has already caused immeasurable harm to millions, shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it is predicted to worsen, they added, partly due to the interruption of international assistance and the freezing of Afghan assets abroad.  

Attack on women and girls 

The experts said the Taliban have committed a “plethora” of human rights violations, with the virtual erasure of women and girls from society, as well as their systematic oppression, being particularly egregious.  

“Nowhere else in the world has there been as wide-spread, systematic and all-encompassing an attack on the rights of women and girls – every aspect of their lives is being restricted under the guise of morality and through the instrumentalization of religion. Discrimination and violence cannot be justified on any ground”. 

Regrettably, there is little indication that the human rights situation is turning a corner, they said. 

No confidence 

“Indeed, the daily reports of violence – including extra-judicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, heightened risks of exploitation faced by women and girls including for the purposes of child and forced marriage, and a breakdown in the rule of law – gives us no confidence that the Taliban has any intention of making good on its pledge to respect human rights.”

Citizens now have no means for redress as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has been abolished, along with other independent oversight mechanism and institutions.  

The administration of justice has also been compromised. The applicable law is unclear, and judges and other officials have been replaced, which has especially affected women. 

Peace prospects dim 

The experts pointed to other violations, such as the curtailing of press freedom, and the rise in attacks on religious and ethnic minorities, some of which were claimed by the ISIL-KP terrorist group. They also and highlighted how journalists, activists, academics and artists have either left the country, quit their work, or gone into hiding.

Furthermore, in the absence of an inclusive and representative government, prospects for long-lasting peace, reconciliation and stability will remain minimal.  

“The de facto authorities seek international recognition and legitimacy. Regrettably, they continue to abuse almost all human rights standards while refusing to offer even a modicum of respect for ordinary Afghans, in particular women and girls,” said the experts. 

Most recently, the Taliban appeared to have been harbouring the leader of Al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed last week in a US drone strike, which the experts said also raises concerns of a violation of international law.  

“Until it demonstrates significant steps towards respecting human rights, including by immediately reopening girls’ secondary schools and restoring their access to a quality education, they should not be on a path to recognition.” 

Action by the authorities 

In addition to honouring their international obligations, the experts have called for the Taliban to fully implement human rights standards, including respecting the rights of women and girls to education, employment and participation in public life.   

The de facto authorities should immediately open all secondary schools for girls, and lift restrictions on women’s mobility, attire, employment and participation. The rights of minority communities must also be upheld. 

The Taliban are also urged to “respect the general amnesty and immediately stop all reprisals against members of the former government’s security forces, other officials and civil society, especially human rights defenders, including women”. 

Furthermore, human rights monitors and humanitarians should be allowed free, unhindered access throughout the country, including to sensitive locations such as detention facilities.

They also called for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, bar associations, and other relevant unions, to immediately be reinstated and allowed to operate freely and independently. 

International appeal

The experts also outlined steps the international community should take. 

They include insuring civilians have equitable access to humanitarian aid, and supporting ongoing initiatives by Afghan women towards a strategy to promote the rights of women and girls, with clear benchmarks and expectations. 

Countries are also urged to maintain and/or adopt sustained and robust humanitarian exemptions within sanctions regimes to ensure compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.  

“Such measures should be fit for purpose, ensure that sanctions measures do not interfere with protected humanitarian action under international law, and function to remediate the current humanitarian crises and to prevent sanctions from continuing to exacerbate the humanitarian human rights crises being faced by the Afghan people,” they said. 

Role of UN experts 

The 20 experts who issued the statement were all appointed by the UN Human Rights Council

They include Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, and other Special Rapporteurs who monitor and report on issues such as the situation of human rights defenders worldwide. 

These independent experts receive their mandates from the Council and operate in their individual capacity. They are neither UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. 

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IAEA: ‘Very alarming’ conditions at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

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image made from a video released by Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

The situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has deteriorated rapidly to the point of becoming “very alarming,” Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi warned the Security Council on Thursday afternoon.

“These military actions near such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences,” Mr. Grossi said at the meeting requested by Russia, which was marked by resounding calls to allow the Agency’s technical experts to visit the area amid mounting safety concerns.

IAEA has been in frequent contact with both Ukraine and Russia to ensure that it has the clearest picture possible of the evolving circumstances.

Europe’s largest nuclear plant shelled

Providing an overview, the IAEA chief said that on 5 August, the Zaporizhzhia plant – Europe’s largest – was subjected to shelling, which caused several explosions near the electrical switchboard and a power shutdown. 

One reactor unit was disconnected from the electrical grid, triggering its emergency protection system and setting generators into operation to ensure power supply. 

The senior UN official said that there was also shelling at a nitrogen oxygen station.  While firefighters had extinguished the blaze, repairs must still be examined and evaluated.

No immediate threat

He said that the preliminary assessment of IAEA experts indicate that there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of the shelling or other military actions. 

However, “this could change at any moment,” Mr. Grossi cautioned.

Overarching goal

He recalled his recent address to the ongoing Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, where he outlined seven indispensable pillars that are critical for nuclear safety and security.

These included aspects dealing with the physical integrity of the plant, off-site power supply, cooling systems, and emergency preparedness measures. 

“All these pillars have been compromised if not entirely violated at one point or another during this crisis,” flagged the IAEA chief. 

“Any nuclear catastrophe would be unacceptable and thus preventing it should be our overarching goal”.

He asked both sides to cooperate with the UN atomic agency. 

“This is a serious hour, a grave hour, and the IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission in Zaporizhzhia as soon as possible”.

Trading Blame

Presenting his case, the Russian delegate said Ukrainian forces used heavy artillery against Zaporizhzhia on 5 August, shelling the plant during a shift change to intimidate staff – their own citizens. 

He upheld that on 6 August, those forces attacked with cluster munitions, and on 7 August, a power surge occurred, blaming. 

The Russian Ambassador blamed Kyiv for refusing to sign a trilateral document issued by IAEA, stressing that Moscow strictly complies with the IAEA Director General’s seven principles. 

In turn, Ukraine’s representative said that the withdrawal of Russian troops and return of the station to the legitimate control of Ukraine is the only way to remove the nuclear threat at Zaporizhzhia. 

The Ukrainian Ambassador insisted on the need to send a mission to the site and has negotiated modalities with the Agency. 

“Despite their public declarations, the occupiers have resorted to manipulations and unjustified conditions for the site visit,” he said. 

Given the militarization of the site by Russian armed forces, such a mission must include qualified experts in military aspects.

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Dozens missing after migrant boat sinks in Aegean Sea

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Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file) © UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson

Dozens of people are said to be missing after a boat of migrants and refugees sank in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday off the Greek island of Karpathos, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

“Very sad news from the Aegean: Dozens of people are missing after a boat sank off the island of Rhodes this morning (Wednesday),” UNHCR’s office in Greece said in a tweet.

News media reported that the vessel sank at dawn after setting sail from southern Türkiye yesterday, heading for Italy.

29 rescued

A major search and rescue operation is underway,” said UNHCR.

According to news reports, the Greek Coast Guard said that an air and sea rescue operation saved 29 people, all men, from the waters between Rhodes and Crete.

The media also cited the Greek authorities in reporting that the rescued are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

The wrecked boat had sailed from Antalya, located on the southern coast of neighbouring Türkiye.

Still searching

News media quoted a Greek Coast Guard press official who said that those rescued affirmed that the voyage began with 80 people on board – so up to 50 are still missing.  

UNHCR confirmed the number of missing.

Deadly route

Since the beginning of the year, UNHCR has said that more than 60 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean.

Aegean Sea crossings between the Greek islands and Turkish coasts are often perilous – taking the lives of many migrants and refugees who travel on makeshift boats with hopes of arriving in Europe.

Since January, 64 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean, and 111 in 2021, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The last shipwreck in the Aegean Sea, which took place on 19 June, took the lives of eight people off the island of Mykonos, according to the IOM.

Every more deadly crossing

While the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe is lower than in 2015, the journeys have become increasingly more deadly.

Throughout last year, the UN counted 3,231 migrants and refugees dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea, and 945 people so far this year.

Successful voyages

At the same time, 70,325 migrants did manage to reach Europe, of which 65,548 individual crossings were reported in the Mediterranean, according to UNHCR.

Since the beginning of the year, Italy received the largest number of arrivals – 43,740, followed by Spain – nearly 17,000, Greece – 7,261, and Cyprus – 2,268.

Last year there were 123,300 arrivals, and in 2020, 95,800. Previously, 123,700 crossed the Mediterranean in 2019, and 141,500 in 2018.

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