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Senator requests audit of ARC over controversial preprint rule

Image: Australian Green [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

National audit office “considering” request to review Australian Research Council’s administration of preprints ban

The Australian National Audit Office has been asked to carry out an audit of how the Australian Research Council brought in and applied its controversial rule on preprints.

Mehreen Faruqi (pictured), Greens senator for New South Wales and the party’s spokesperson on education, wrote to auditor-general Grant Hehir on 27 September to say she was concerned by the “development and administration” of the ARC’s preprint rule.

She said her concerns included that the rule was brought in through “an inadequate process” and applied in an unfair and inconsistent way, which may have resulted in the allocation of research grant funding being “compromised”.

The rule, which was introduced in September 2020, dictated that applications for research council funding should be disqualified if they cited preprint papers, which are papers published on dedicated servers and in journals but not fully peer reviewed. The ARC has admitted that 32 applications, worth A$22 million, were disqualified under the rule. Although the rule has since been removed, several current rounds are still subject to it.

‘Closer scrutiny required’

Faruqi told Hehir that “the ARC’s approach appears unusual and requires closer scrutiny”. She cited objections to the rule at the time it was created from at least one major university.

She also highlighted the way the rule was applied. Responses to a Senate question show that applications were only checked against the rule when peer reviewers raised the issue. 

Faruqi’s letter said that “the ARC’s processes should also be generally reviewed so nothing of this nature can happen again”.

An ARC spokesperson was unable to respond about the audit request in time for publication but said: “The ARC continues to work through the change to preprint requirements. This is an ongoing process. Further information about our progress will be communicated to the sector via email and on the ARC website.”

Faruqi’s letter was published on the audit office’s website, with a note that “the request is under consideration”.