Open science will be one of the priorities of the Dutch presidency of the European Union in 2016.
As a concept, it’s a natural extension of the open access and open data policies which are already being embedded in UK science practice. Open access seeks to make the results of research generally available; open data promotes sharing and access to one of the key inputs to research.
What is open science? And why support it?
Open science promotes the sharing and access of all the inputs, products and processes of the scientific process: software, methods, lab notebooks etc.
With stories such as Nature’s recent article on positive clinical trial findings ‘vanishing’ when a requirement to set out their methodology came into play emerging, it’s a hot topic, and one that science can’t afford to ignore.
Five clear motivations behind the open science movement are set out in the book Opening Science: The Evolving Guide on How the Internet is Changing Research, Collaboration and Scholarly Publishing, edited by Sönke Bartling and Sascha Friesike, and are listed below.
1. Making knowledge freely available for everyone
This is the argument for democratic access to science for all – in a world where we can now share work instantaneously, open science can take science to more people, without barriers. Open data and open access are both examples of democratising scientific knowledge.
So-called ‘Climategate’ is one notable, international and far-reaching example of ‘closed’ science, using research not shared in the public domain, contributing to serious public mistrust of science.
2. Making science accessible for citizens
Public funds support scientific endeavour; so we should support efforts to make the results widely available to that public. Making science publicly accessibly supports interest in science in the long term, recruits scientists for future work, and publicises the work scientists do. It can also offer solutions to genuine problems.
There are plenty of examples of successful and popular ‘citizen science’ crowd-sourcing research projects:
- Galaxy Zoo, where users help to classify galaxies
- Old Weather invites people to help reconstruct the climate by transcribing old weather records from ships’ logs
- Fold It, where people play online games to contribute to research into protein structure, for the development of future drugs
- Whale FM and Bat Detective, both Zooniverse projects to organise recordings of their respective creatures for research
Tim Gowers, Royal Society Professor at the department of pure mathematics and mathematical statistics, at the University of Cambridge, kicked off a famous and successful series of crowd-sourced mathematics projects with his blog post Is massively collaborative mathematics possible?
Related projects have since solved all kinds of mathematical conundrums. He has said of crowd-sourcing research:
“It’s like driving a car, whilst normal research is like pushing it.”
3. Creating openly available platforms, tools and services for scientists
Improving the infrastructure that supports science allows scientists to do better work. This argument for open science is perhaps most intuitive to scientists: it will make ‘doing science’ more efficient! There are a number of initiatives to support this such as Open Science Commons.
4. Opening up the process of knowledge creation
There are pragmatic benefits to working collaboratively. Two heads are better than one and there is a great benefit to working with other experts on all kinds of projects. Scientists have shared lab notebooks for centuries: open science is a natural extension this way of working.
A large-scale study that had led to massive deworming programmes in the developing world recently offered up its data sources for scrutiny, only for the findings to be thrown into question. In Scientists are Hoarding Data and it’s Ruining Medical Research, Dr Ben Goldacre argues:
“[w]hat happened next has every right to kick through a revolution in science and medicine”.
5. Developing an alternative metric system for scientific impact
It is generally felt that the current means of accessing scientific impact and researcher reputation do not scale to today’s digital science, and scientific contributions today need alternative measurement of impact. Opening up the scientific process provides new approaches and mechanisms for alternative and faster impact measurements such as altmetrics.
We should note that proponents of open science may not subscribe to all the schools of thought listed above. The different schools will appeal depending on your role within the research lifecycle - funders, professional researchers, amateur researchers, tool providers, etc. will probably all have different views.
The European Commission (EC) is a key supporter of the open science movement and recently consulted on how to build on the move to open science and ‘Science 2.0’.
Open science forms the foundation of the EC vision for its H2020 research programmes and the research related aspects of the Digital Single Market for Europe. They are already running pilots for two aspects of open science:
- Open access
The EC are supporting open access publications of results from Framework Seven projects through the OpenAire project. Jisc is a partner of OpenAire, and is the UK national open access desk for the UK supporting the EC open access policy.
- Open data
This makes underlying research data readily available. The data behind much research is hidden, and kept personally – typically, on a USB stick in a desk drawer. Open data seeks to encourage scientists to make this data available alongside their results. Within H2020, the EC are encouraging the creation and execution of data management plans within project proposals as part of its open data pilot. Jisc is also a partner of EUDAT2020, which will provide the supporting infrastructure for this pilot.
At Jisc, we’ve already been heavily involved in both open access and open data within the UK, promoting the benefits of these approaches as well as providing infrastructure, tools and guidance to enable universities and researchers to meet the open access and open data policies of the research and funding councils.
We’re also working to further open science through a number of projects such as equipment.data, a portal that lists UK research equipment with the aim of improving efficiency and collaboration across the sector, and Kit-Catalogue, a website that organisations can use to catalogue, record and locate equipment such as lab equipment, workshop machines, ICT and specialist tools.
Open science in the UK: a matter of course
In a recent speech on ‘One Nation Science’, Jo Johnson, minister for universities and science, set out the government’s plans to support UK research.
Much of the focus of the new government’s strategy is on increasing the productivity and impact of research funding, and tailoring research to exploit local strengths and resources.
Whilst not explicitly mentioned, open science will be an underpinning foundation for their plans to encourage growth in the sciences across the entire country, and to increase efficiency in research; open science will just be expected as a matter of common practice, rather than a key initiative.