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Funders question Researchfish over controversial tweets


UKRI, NIHR, and CRUK confirm they have contacted service after claims it “intimidated” academics online

Several UK research funders have raised concerns with Researchfish after the academic impact tracker threatened to report researchers to their funders for criticising the service on Twitter.

Researchfish was accused of intimidation and bullying last week after it took issue with tweets aimed at the service, which relies on academics and technology to track research and evidence impact.

For example, to several Twitter users it wrote: “This seems quite harsh and inappropriate. We have shared our concerns with your funder.”

It has since issued two public apologies. In the apology on 20 March, the service said: “We are actively taking steps to revise procedures and improve communication with those across the research community.”

Call for funders to sever links

But some academics have said the apologies do not address all issues raised—such as the service’s use of academics’ data to make those complaints to funders—with some calling for funders to cut ties to the service.

Many funders require academics to report their research outputs to the service as part of their terms and conditions for grants. Researchfish currently lists 158 funders and universities as its “community members”, most of them UK-based.

This includes UK Research and Innovation (UKR), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Wellcome Trust.

When contacted by Research Professional News, Dan Burkwood, director of research operations and communications at CRUK, said the charity was aware of the concerns.

‘Serious issues raised’

“We completely understand and acknowledge the serious issues raised by researchers and we have raised concerns directly with Researchfish,” he said, adding that CRUK had not received any complaints about the scientists it funds to date.

“We note that Researchfish has apologised for the comments it made and has committed to reviewing its policies and procedures. We welcome its commitment to improving communication with researchers and look forward to seeing the outcomes of this review,” Burkwood continued.

“We’re grateful to all of our researchers for taking the time to report the outputs of their work, this data is vital to us and is used extensively by Cancer Research UK, including helping us report back to our supporters on how we’ve spent their donations to drive progress.”

Researchfish discussions a ‘matter of urgency’

A spokesperson for UKRI said the funder was “aware of the concern that that has been raised regarding tweets posted by Researchfish”.

“We understand and acknowledge the serious issues raised by researchers and we will be discussing these with Researchfish as a matter of urgency,” it said.

However, it would not confirm whether it had received any complaints about researchers from the service.

A spokesperson for the NIHR also declined to confirm whether it had received any complaints, saying: “We are aware of the online discussion regarding Researchfish and we are discussing with them, and other funders, the issues raised.”

Meanwhile, the Wellcome Trust confirmed that it had contacted Researchfish to discuss the matter.

A spokesperson for the Academy of Medical Sciences was not immediately available for comment.

Public apology

A spokesperson for Researchfish’s parent company, Interfolio, told Research Professional News: “We have revised our social media policy regarding social media engagement and follow-up”.

It also pointed to a 20 March public statement in which the company apologised “for how we responded on Twitter”.

In that statement, Researchfish said it was “truly sorry” for how it dealt with the negative posts and added that it understood the concerns it caused among researchers.

“We take full responsibility for how we responded and we are actively taking steps to revise procedures and improve communication with those across the research community.”

Researchfish added that it was “dedicated to researcher success and the advancements they make to further society”.

“Providing information through Researchfish—while sometimes time consuming—greatly helps the funding community’s ability to further invest in important, essential research.

“On behalf of the entire team, we remain committed to supporting the productive and impactful work of researchers. We will learn from our mistakes and be better. Again, we sincerely apologise.”

CORRECTION 23/03: Deleted a reference to the Institute of Cancer Research, which is not a funder.