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PLOS launches policy to weed out ‘helicopter science’


Journals could ask authors to explain lack of local contributors

Open access publisher PLOS has published guidelines for authors and reviewers that it hopes will help root out “helicopter research”.

PLOS defines helicopter research as “when researchers travel to under-resourced communities, conduct their research, and leave, often with little or poor understanding or involvement of the communities they studied, and few direct benefits to local participants”.

The policy, published on 27 September, says that authors may be asked via a questionnaire to explain why their research does not include local authors. Replies will be shown to editors and reviewers during peer review to assess whether the research meets the journal’s ethics and integrity targets.

The questionnaire could be required if researchers have travelled to a different country for their research, if their research uses samples collected in another country, if research was on Indigenous peoples or lands, or if it was carried out on cultural artefacts, PLOS says.

“Researchers travelling to another country solely to use laboratory equipment will not normally be required to complete the questionnaire. However, the questionnaire can be requested at the journal’s discretion for any submission,” it notes. The completed questionnaire could be included with the published paper.

PLOS said it will not change its existing authorship guidelines, but that it will deal with issues arising from the new policy on a case-by-case basis. “We hope the policy will improve awareness of the concerns related to global research, laying foundations for future development of additional policies in this area,” it said in a statement.