If you want to go far, go together.

It seems that if you are a researcher based in industry these days, you are in a tricky space. You may have spent a career contributing to research that you may have believed to be valuable, but that may not be how others see you?

Alan Levine “Let’s walk this together” Flickr CC-0

Having transversed from academia to industry (7 years), to academia (15 years) and back to industry (going on 2 years), I can see the benefits and limits of being a researcher in academia and industry from both sides. What I think is disappointing, is the closing down of conversations that I’ve experienced recently. That isn’t just disappointing; I think it is worrying from the perspectives of having a good old fashioned healthy debate.

But industry is biased!

I completely understand that published articles that are sponsored by industry are problematic – and have concluded such in a poster recently the need for more non-commercial research in some areas for a more balanced evaluation of available evidence. The pharmaceutical industry has withheld important results in the past with actions that are morally questionable. Publication bias from commercially-sponsored research is higher than that funded by other means.

I’d would add that publishing is problematic full stop. Journal editorial boards have favoured the publishing of positive results for far too long, and I once myself tried to publish negative findings on the use of fish oils on inflammatory bowel disease, and had a paper regarded ‘not novel’ enough. Two years of postdoctoral research was unpublishable.

Authors declare conflicts of interest which helps readers weigh-up the limitations and potential biases of any paper, although I also know of academic researchers on systematic reviews who have not fully declared their funding origins on published articles. The system is a mess.

To dismiss all industrial research as biased and unworthy is a worry; we would encourage our students to be healthily critical and weigh up the evidence before them, not dismiss all research outputs at point blank range.

So why are industrial partnerships encouraged?

Most governments encourage university – industry partnerships. The UKRI benefits from co-investment from industry, and along with other philanthropic and charity partners; this totalled around £500 million in 2019 for universities. I don’t see universities turning the money away because it was unscrupulously derived from company profits. A university nearby to me didn’t think twice at trying to hose an event for military arms dealers on their campus.

The value of these partnerships of course is in the sharing of expertise, resources and providing university students with career-enhancing and enriching opportunities. The Office for Students in 2018 endorsed the need to “encourage even greater collaboration between universities and business” … for the benefit of student employability.

Enough said.

How about academic bias?

While I’m here, and having worked in public and private sector, I would suggest academia is not perfect either. Academics are pressured by the system to aim for high impact journals and anser the question “are you REF-able” at interviews, and the professional reward structures perpetuate this. Many have argued the system is not fit for purpose. I’ve also seen it written that the net societal impact of university research funding and the advancements to humanity are much slower than one would expect.

Let’s not go into retractions, plagiarism and the fact that a great chunk of research in some academic subjects is not reproducible anyway.

So I’m not having a go – I’m just saying that academic research structures aren’t perfect either and does not command the moral high ground.

What to do about research?

  1. Joober in 2012 writes about a system that needs to change with more journals encouraging negative results and:

    “Divorcing the publication process from all financial constraints (and hence the tyranny of the impact factor) would go a long way to help negative findings emerge from the dark recesses of researchers’ data books into the light of publication”.

2. Let’s cut the crap! Let’s cut the quantity of scientific publications. I spend a vast proportion of my life writing systematic reviews, and a recent one has identified duplicate reviews in many areas that were practically identical to each other. Journal editors and review panels need to be far more scrutinizing. Detatching research outputs from league tables is greatly over-due.

3. Open science. There are some great initiatives these days encouraging the sharing of protocols for systematic reviews #Prospero; #ALLTRIALS encouraging the publishing of all clinical trial data; #OPENSCIENCE and #OPENDATA initiatives encouraging the sharing of data and research workings.

I would stick my neck out and say again this needs to be policy-driven and mandatory for all research. Open access publishing should not just viewed as another hurdle that academics have to jump through to be REF-able (in the UK). 

As an researcher from within industry, I don’t have to comply with any of this, but me and my company choose to do so. We share data openly on #Figshare, I contribute to open reviewing, I can’t afford Gold open access publishing routes, but fully encourage university partners to share pre-prints via their repositories.

We are all in it together, aren’t we?

I might have been your last academic collegue. I might be your next one (you are in for a treat). I know so many people who move between academia and industry, and from an educational perspective this is a huge asset to learning and teaching. It seems disingenuous to quarantine researchers whilst they are in industry and invite them to give their souls just because they join academia.

Most researchers I know – wherever they are situated – are driven by the passion for what they do, by wanting to achieve their best, and for the most part, wanting to share their knowledge with others, which includes supporting enthusiastic learners.

Aren’t we facing some quite big global problems?

The world is approaching crises – whether we are discussing the peril of our natural environment, antibiotic resistance, or the unsustainable nature of our food sources. I was at a recent conference where a panel were discussing “planetary health” and the need to bring multidisciplinary teams of biologists, nutritionists, ecologists and agriculturalists together. In the next breath it was argued that they didn’t want to involve industry. We did not have the right business models. The speaker clearly did not have any understanding of the nature of many businesses today, for example, the growing number of B Corps that balance business and profit (over 3000 companies across 64 countries, and growing). The Guardian joined them last week.

It seemed ironic that in most of the university courses that I’ve taught on  – nursing, healthcare science –  we used to drum home and have entire modules on interdisciplinary working, and the need to work together across boundaries. Build onto that, the need for diversity in decision making. I was surprised at this event to have the doors shut to me regarding conversations about nutrition and people’s health by people who will be teaching classrooms of students next week.

My plea

“Open your hearts and open your minds” said the wonderful poet Lemn Sissay. Let’s understand each other’s differences. I’ve seen before the dangers of closing down conversations before they have begun. You might just find people from different sectors with similar values and hopes.

After all it is said:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

Alternative views of open #OpenEd19 Panel with Kim Grewe

OpenEd19 Panel led by Kim Grewe

(For accompanying YouTube video: https://youtu.be/XHjrZBSaWIY)

How is open evolving and who is evolving it?

Open Image

CC BY-NC-2.0
“Open” via remediate.this

I’m Viv and I worked in higher education as an open educator for many years. I now head up herbal research for a tea company called Pukka Herbs and am more engaged in open science. I’m going to aim to explore the question of how open is evolving, and who is evolving it.

I’m not going to go into the debate of ‘what is open’ – in Irwin de Vries recent paper he provides references to definitions of access, resources and practice. Rather, I’ll think about the ‘open movement’ in its entirety through looking at our research and publication habits.

If we go back in time for a moment and think about the open sharing of knowledge – that isn’t at all new. We could go back thousands of years to when for example plant medical knowledge used to be passed down the generations. The advent of the silk roads and trading routes from the Far East to Europe brought with it new knowledge and new plants. Consider the humble stinging nettle, brought to the UK by the Romans, – people used to whip their legs to relieve arthritis; ingesting the leaves and roots are a diuretic – used for cleansing and flushing the kidneys – when cooked hugely nutritious rich in vitamin A and C. The knowledge however became valuable and powerful – books were published and professions built up around the knowledge that were expensive to access…so ultimately our traditional use of herbs and plants dwindled.

Going back to the question – how open is evolving. One way looking at it is to review the published literature. Any subject area or community of practice is defined by shared history of that practice surely? And our publications are our legacy to future generations – as projects / initiatives come and go subject to funding, sometimes the only thing left are our papers.

In OpenEd2016 I reviewed the open education published literature to look at how critical we were as a field of study. In doing so I came across historic works from the 1960s and 1970s that were exploring open pedagogies and practices in schools (Rolfe 2016, SLIDE 11). There were references to an open education movement, the teacher as a facilitator of learning with the children having access to the resources to direct their own learning. I was surprised as I hadn’t come across this before – maybe others had, but they hadn’t referred to it.

I did a citation analysis of ‘open’ education papers – I looked at who was citing who, in what subject areas, geographical areas and what journals etc. I found subjects tended to stick together, not referencing works from other areas…and even worse, citing papers from within the specific journal in question (which we know is often encouraged at the point of reviewing!)

In Katy Jordan’s work from 2018, she uses more advanced techniques than manually plotting citations like I did in 2016; she identified 8 different sub-areas of ‘open’ that had emerged over time, and as I’d found, earlier bodies of work were separated from recent research. (See figures 4 and 5). Also these sub-areas of open work emerged as ‘islands’ without the tendency to refer between them. Katy says an “absence of shared knowledge”.

So to summarise, so far I’ve highlighted two potential problems relating to how the open movement has evolved:

  • It has evolved by limited reflections on its past history – we might have learned from why the 1970s open movement died?
  • The perspective I’ve taken suggests it has evolved through remaining entrenched within geographical and subject boundaries.

But there are further consequences to remaining an island – whether this is the open community or any subject community.

As an open education community – or any research community – the poor searching and citing of the literature is one of several factors behind the creation of inequalities in knowledge production, which we see between richer and poorer countries, as discussed by Laura Czernowitz in 2016 (SLIDE 5 and onwards globe resized according to country of origin of papers on Web of Science).  We tend to cite others we know and from their locality. We all know how citation has become a currency for promotion – failure to cite the work of others hinders people in other areas from getting their research off the ground.

(The problematic use of citations in this way is being addressed by the SF DORA declaration – “the need to eliminate the use of journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, in funding, appointment, and promotion considerations” (SFDORA 2019)).

In another piece of research I’m doing right now I’ve analysed citations and publishing habits within the field of Ayurveda – a traditional Indian medicine system that partly involves the use of which is popular in around the globe. (This is as yet unpublished). Three key points again relating to remaining an island when it comes to research:

  • Scientists – whether east or west – don’t tent to cite or read beyond their communities. Many botanical and medical details are therefore omitted altogether.
  • Open access publishing is making this more problematic. Many non-western scientists did not publish openly – and we know that openly available papers tend to be more cited. I would suggest this isn’t helped by ‘gold route’ publication fees now upward of 2 thousand dollars / pounds.
  • Many relevant eastern journals not indexed on western bibliographic databases. In herbal research, many relevant papers are from China and India and I have to come up with totally different search strategies to find them.

In Andy Nobes excellent 2017 blog post in which he reflected on OpenCon 2017 in Berlin and the work of Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou and Florence Piron, he describes how open access perpetuates a “one-way knowledge exchange” rather than  “genuine reciprocal exchanges of research knowledge”. Andy Nobes quoted Florence Piron saying “open access can instead become a neo-colonial tool” – (Nobes 2017). 

So two more points to summarise here that are not just relevant to the open community:

  • Island thinking creates knowledge gaps and global inequalities. It also reduces the quality of our research.
  • Open access drives a further wedge restricting knowledge exchange in areas where it would be of most benefit.

So what can we do? As an open community, how to we assist the free flow of knowledge? I know this paper has limits in that it has only looked at behaviours within our publishing, and we do have fantastic conferences and initiatives that bring communities together (OpenEd, OER, OpenCon, Virtually Connecting). But our research is an important reflection of our community and it is often how others see us.

As Momodou Sallah said in our 2018 OER conference held in Bristol – we are open resources. We can all start by reflecting on our own practice and then model our behaviour for our students and others. We must have open debates from the centre to the periphery (which are possibly the more innovative fringes) of our communities (I have just returned from a nutrition conference where industry was blocked out of conversations on the future of nutrition and planetary health). We need to understand each other’s differences and not retreat onto our islands. Surely the evolution of an open movement that is fair and inclusive is the most valuable legacy to leave to future generations.


Czerniewicz L (2016). Knowledge inequalities: a marginal view of the digital landscape. In 11th Open Repositories Conference (pp. 13-16).

De Vries IJ (2019). Open Universities and Open Educational Practices. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(4). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i4.4215

Nobes A (2017). Must we decolonise Open Access? Perspectives from Francophone Africa. December 8, 2017. http://journalologik.uk/?p=149

Rolfe V (2016). Open, but not for criticism? #opened16, Richmond, Virginia, USA, November 2016.

Sallah M (2018). Pedagogies of Disruption as Resistance: Developing Counter Narratives Through Open Educational Practice. 

SF DORA (2019). https://sfdora.org/read/

Weller M, Jordan K, De Vries I, & Rolfe V (2018). Mapping the open education landscape: Citation network analysis of historical open and distance education research. Open Praxis, 10(2), 109-126.

Herby book list

I thought I’d keep a list of all the books I have that have inspired my journey into understanding herbs and their relevance to human health.

Herb Books

Aarathi Prasad (2017) In the bonesetter’s waiting room, Wellcome Collection. A fascinating tour around ancient medical traditions in India and how many are brought to life still today. Plus the integration of Western and traditional medicine within India.

David Kennedy (2014) Plants and the human brain, Oxford University Press. A detailed and scientific look at plant phytochemical and their brain interactions. The book looks at different phytochemical groupings (i.e. phenols, alkaloids) and the scientific basis of their function, whether they are interacting with the human central nervous system, acting as stimulants, hallucinogens, deliriants, relaxants or cognitive enhancers.

Biren Shah and AK Seth (2017) Textbook of pharmacognosy and phytochemistry, CBS Press. More of an overview of how plants are turned into pharmaceuticals. Values of different plant families, phytochemical groups, collection, adulteration, quality screening.

Amritpal Saroya (2017) Contemporary phytomedicines. CRC Press. This book was well-referenced but was more of a set of notes on active plant compounds and their chemistry. I thought aspects were poor – for example a chapter on clinical research did not provide useful advice. Good as a reference source.

Peter Wohllenben (2016) The hidden life of trees. William collins. I love this book. I’ve learned so much about our own human-microbe interactions by reading about how these vital communities keep trees alive, and are integral to how they communicate.

Elizabeth Williamson (2003) Potter’s herbal cyclopaedia. Daniel. An update to a previous compendium of around 700 plant species and their medicinal use. An A to Z of botanical species, parts of plants used, medicinal use and references.

Elizabeth Kemf (1993) Indigenous peoples and protected areas. Earthscan. Such an important record of people and their relationship with the earth. Some insight into use of plants but more about cultures and changing lives. This book interested me as we over-emphasise Chinese and Indian approaches to plant use, and there are richnesses within many other populations.

Claire Loewenfeld and Philippa Black (1974) The complete book of herbs and spices. BCA. General information on herb sourcing, storage and use, plus an A to Z of many herbs and spices with emphasis on medicine and culinary use.

Virgil J Vogel (1970) American Indian medicine. Oklahoma. In-depth look at the natural medical practices of Indigenous North American People, including the impact of later settlers to these areas. Well researched look at the use of plants and contribution to medicine and pharmacology.

Peter Frankopan (2016) The Silk Roads. Bloomsbury. Wonderful book carefully crafted into digestible chapters on the history and tribulations of trading between East and West. Details on how spices, materials, animals, religious practices and much more were fluidly exchanged over the last two thousand years or so, and impact of climate crises (e.g. rising sea levels) one thousand years ago. Lots of fighting of course as well signalling the fall and rise of civilisations.

Dietmar Aichele (1980) A field guide in colour to wild flowers. Octopus. I loved this book when I received it as Christmas present in 1981 and I love it now for identifying wild plants in my back garden and out and about. Gives botanical details of the plant and medicinal use.

*Andrew Pengelly (2004) The constituents of medicinal plants. CABI. The one book I would absolutely not do without. It discusses major plant compounds and relates their chemistry to the plant medicinal use, and it does so simply and clearly.

Matthew Wood (2016) The Earthwise Herbal Repertory. North Atlantic Books. This book is for herbalists so takes a historic view on the use of plants, and then relates their use to each body system and common ailments. I probably understand this book least of all right now as it relates the approaches used by herbalists and alternative ways of classifying tissues and disease.

Albert Coffin (1845) A botanic guide to health and the natural pathology of disease. Scholar’s choice. A reprint of Albert’s collection of notes relating to the traditional medical practices of Indigenous American people. Following Albert’s philosophical approach to life, the human body and disease, the book focuses on characteristics of herbs (e.g. astringent, tonic) and then individual plant species. A historical reference piece.

Jekka McVicar (2007) Jekka’s complete herb book. Royal Horticultural Society. As it says on the tin, the book covers cultivation, modern-day varieties and mingles with culinary and medicinal use of all the herbs we love today.

Midwifery Open Educational Resources

Here is a spreadsheet containing OER (variety of content from video to textbooks) suitable for midwifery training. The basic science resources should be relevant to early stage midwifery training, whilst obviously the more practical and clinical learning would need to be recontextualised to meet the requirements of different healthcare providers and national standards.

Link to Excel spreadsheet:
Midwifery and Nursing OER Oct2018

Do use the comments or Twitter to suggest OER.