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Funders launch curation awards for learned societies


Up to £200,000 per society available for flagging important biomedical research outputs

Two biomedical research funders have joined forces to support learned societies “who want to explore new ways of signalling the significance of published research outputs in an open and transparent manner”.

The United States-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute and UK-based Wellcome Trust—both non-profit organisations—are offering up to £200,000 ($261,000) over up to three years for each of their Learned Society Curation Awards.

“We’re looking for societies who want to rethink the role they can play to improve scholarly communications,” the Wellcome Trust said in its description of the awards, which were launched on 20 January. Applicants must promote professions or disciplines related to the funders’ work.

The funders are asking societies to propose specific ideas, but are particularly welcoming proposals that make peer review reports more useful, for example through standardised summaries, or that develop overlay or curation journals using content published elsewhere, such as on preprint servers.

Ultimately, the funders want to help make more research outputs openly available, and more of the most important research outputs easy to find.

“Because everyone is time-poor, what we really need is people to curate the articles and identify which are the best,” Robert Kiley, head of open research at the Wellcome Trust, told Research Professional News.

This could have benefits for the authors as well as the readers, he suggested. “If there was a way of getting a badge from a learned society to say ‘this was an innovative study’ or ‘great use of data’, then you could reference that in a grant application.”

Projects under the scheme would aim to harness society members’ collective expertise to help readers sort the wheat from the chaff of journal articles. “We’ve always thought the real strength of learned societies is their membership,” Kiley said.

Kiley expects about six grants to be awarded, depending in part on how much money each successful application requests. The awards are intended to be a one-off scheme, but Kiley did not rule out an extension.

“If we are inundated with high-quality applications, I think we could consider extending the scheme,” he said. There may be potential to involve other research funders, he added.

Funding can cover costs including salaries, development and computation. Societies that already publish journals must have published articles supported by one of the two funders within the past two years. They must also offer a publishing option that is compliant with the Plan S open-access initiative, which Wellcome is signed up to.

Under Plan S, funders will require researchers to make their work openly available immediately from 2021. Kiley said on Twitter that applicants must publish a statement indicating how researchers would be able to choose a compliant publishing option once Plan S kicks in.

Applications for the awards are due by 20 April. The scheme is open to learned societies around the world, although the lead applicant cannot be based in China.