Skip to main content

Opening Science

Open Science (OS) is the movement to make scientific research, data and their dissemination available to any member of an inquiring society, from professionals to citizens. It impinges on principles of scientific growth and public access including practices such as publishing open research and campaigning for open access, with the ultimate aim of making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge. From development to dissemination of knowledge, several concepts belong under the umbrella term of ‘Open Science’.

By broadening the principles of openness to the whole research cycle, OS fosters sharing and collaboration, bringing a systemic change to the way scientific research is done. The transition towards a comprehensive, effective open science is not an easy one; albeit challenging, a multifaceted cultural change remains essential to ensure scientific efforts have a real-world impact.

The Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research (FOSTER), a European-funded project, has developed an OS taxonomy tree in an attempt to map the open science field.

Paths to openness

Paths to OS focus on its value in improving research quality and transparency, the public ownership of science, data and resource sharing, and the policies to put in place to support the EU in this scientific revolution. We are heading for an increased OS policy: new journals with contemporary, innovative editorial formats, more effective data mining and plagiarism detection tools, embracing of best practices and ethics, improved data management, sharing practices, and social sharing.

Open Access -Publishing Open Science

Replacing the current scientific publishing model is a major goal of OS. New organizations and not-for-profit research and educational institutions are experimenting and adopting the open access paradigm: the Public Library of Science (PLOS) supports a library of open access journals and scientific literature, arXiv provides electronic preprints across many fields, from computer sciences to quantitative biology, F1000Research is a platform offering immediate publication of life sciences articles and other research outputs with no editorial bias, and bioRxiv is a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences.

Open data – Open Science Cloud

A key step in making science open and transparent is open access to research data, also known as open data. As research is more and more data-driven, progress in scientific knowledge becomes intimately tighten to data availability. Open data policy enables researchers to make use of existing knowledge in innovative, complementary ways.

By the year 2020, the European Commission envision that all European scientists will be granted access to a virtual repository wherein data from publicly funded research will be hosted. The 'European Open Science Cloud' is intended as a safe and reliable virtual environment to store, process, and access research data, ultimately endorsing interdisciplinary research and reproducibility while limiting duplication and data wastage e.g., of clinical trial data. The initiative will encourage best practices of global data management according to the Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Re-usable (FAIR) guiding principles with emphasis on integration and analysis of available resources.

Considerable value lies in other elements of research such as data, methods, and code for which an analogous rationale applies. Since these resources are publicly funded, they should be publicly available under a creative commons (CC) licence, a public copyright license that relieves a user from copyright infringement.

Under the guiding principle of “Public funding, Public Knowledge”, a compendium of computer resources (open research computation) acts in support of OS as researchers require software in order to process data and information. These frameworks include tools as the Open Science Framework, a cloud-based management that assists open collaboration in science to manage project information and data archiving; a computing platform such as Ibercivis which permits to utilize unused CPU time for computationally intensive tasks e.g., scientific simulations; and services like Experiment.com, a website that provides crowdsourced funding for scientific research projects. In an attempt to remove barriers, the open-source software movement supports the use of open-source licenses for a conspicuous number of software packages, as a part of the broader notion of open collaboration.

Open Research

Reproducibility

A fundamental principle in scientific research, reproducibility yet remains one of the main challenges. From low quality to vague methodology indications, validating a research method can be gruelling and can only be achieved if independent researchers can replicate results. An answer to this reproducibility issue is sharing research data and other science practices. The open research approach contributes to overcome low reproducibility by making science more reproducible. Several influential journal publishers as Nature, PNAS, PLOS, and Science already have data sharing policies and guidelines.

In "A manifesto for reproducible science" academics discuss the goals of open research measures and how they can be implemented in an effective fashion.

Increased Quality and Impact

Sharing research work is a great incentive to ensure high-quality work as it exposes results to open scrutiny and allows third parties to verify and validate conclusions, overall increasing the quality of scientific output. The benefit of open research data is not limited to the scientific community but goes beyond profiting investigators: under traditional scientific metrics i.e. h-Index and Impact Factor, OS has proved to outperform traditional pay wall versions.

Transparency and Rigorous evaluation

Open Research strives for an open evaluation and rigorous peer-review which relies upon values of indisputable evidence, intellectual and ethical rigor, and credibility in and within the scientific community. It helps to identify errors while promoting multifaceted perspectives; in terms of ethical misconduct, it acts as a deterrent for scientific fraud.

The #arseniclife controversy is an exemplificative case study of the novel, powerful role of media in post-publication peer review, as an informal way of complementing the traditional peer review process. Accessible to the whole community and not just restricted to scientists, this new participatory tool has implications for future conduct and transparency of peer review.

A scientific report of extraordinary importance appeared in one of the world's top scientific journals: a NASA-funded team of astrobiologists presented evidence supporting the existence of arsenic-based life (Wolfe-Simon et al., Science 2010). NASA's claim that such astrobiology finding "will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life" was met with severe criticism by the scientific community and ignited a global debate. Unprecedentedly, much of the scientific critique took place on the social web, where both scientists and community members voiced their support or scepticism and debated fiercely. While researchers rushed to their benches to corroborate such a groundbreaking finding, commentaries thrived on the public forums, often accompanied by the Twitter hashtag #arseniclife. The open-research repository arXiv first hosted a draft of a scientific report contradicting the NASA team's findings. Outside traditional academic spaces, studies refuting the arsenic life hypothesis appeared on science blogs which served as a platform for public analysis and scrutiny. As time went by, the “#arseniclife” affair became less and less about life science than about how science is done and delivered, raising questions about the peer review process, reproducibility, and science communication.

Open Science policy

A clearly defined policy is required to support EU science in its global leading role, guide different stakeholders through decisions-making, and implement procedures and protocols in the realm of OS.

The Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) aims to set up an Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP) to develop a statement of intent through a structured discussion. By engaging different actors such as research funding bodies, universities, research performing organisations, and OS platforms e.g., Citizen Science, OSPP will strengthen the dialogue within stakeholders and constitute an opportunity for developing, guiding, and monitoring OS.

Shared Vision, Shared Mission

OS is a necessary tool to tackle complex questions of societal importance. Unthinkably challenging by any one individual, these investigations rely on a network of stakeholders to be accomplished. By addressing uniquely complex questions, the nature of these investigations contribute in making OS "big science“.

Working as a community to accomplish what we cannot do alone

For an effective change to take place, communities and organizations need to establish a shared vision and implement processes to accommodate interdisciplinary work. Scientists are seldom aware of effective strategies to design and manage such coalitions. An answer to this lack of social and technical infrastructure can be found in consortia, collaborative enterprises which lead a transition from a policy top-down approach to performance, essentially bridging initiative to practise. A key attitude for co-evolving communities is selflessness. Under this principle, consortia build up interdependence while recognizing their members' independence, convey differences in community’s strength, and foster empathy and respect across different disciplines. Successful consortia acknowledge the vast diversity in different actors’ interests as well as in their research methods and design. The establishment of enduring connections among different scientific fields and their stakeholders e.g., researchers, funding agencies, industry, and publishers requires commitment and participation and is achieved through constructive communication. An open dialogue and a dynamic exchange of ideas accelerates scientific progress and societal changes that would, otherwise, be lengthy. By empowering each different contributor in a community setting, consortia maximise stakeholders’ efforts and make major community challenges accessible.

Open Science projects

Many OS projects focus on gathering vast collections of data. The Allen Institute aims to answer some of the biggest questions in neuroscience and accelerate research worldwide through public releases of new data, knowledge and tools. The Allen Brain Atlas maps gene expression in human and mouse brains as a part of a project dedicated to answer some big questions in neuroscience; the Encyclopedia of Life is an online encyclopedia intended to document all living species; the Galaxy Zoo is a crowdsourced astronomy project belonging to a set of citizen science initiatives named Zooniverse in which members of the public assist in the morphological classification of large numbers of galaxies. Other projects are organized around completion of projects that require extensive collaboration. The Polymath Project is a collaborative project among the mathematicians’ community to find the best route to the solution by enabling faster communications within the discipline of mathematics. The Collaborative Replications and Education project (CREP) is a crowdsourced project which recruits undergraduate students as citizen scientists by offering funding.

Advocating Open Science

Many organizations also provide education in the general principles of OS and social movements encourage its implementation. Starting from the pioneering Budapest Open Access Initiative conference in 2001, following with Panton Principles, a set of values to promote OS first drafted in 2009 at the Panton Arms pub in Cambridge, new statements are continuously released.

The Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science, presented to the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2016, is a recent document that advocates for "full open access for all scientific publications" and support data sharing as a default approach for publicly funded science.

Other advocacy initiatives focus on educating scientists on available OS software tools. Education is available in the form of training seminars: the Software Sustainability Institute, a UK-based facility, is involved in the Software Carpentry project for building better software and in the Data Carpentry workshops wherein researchers are taught basic skills for research computing using specific training materials examples from their type of work. Teaching materials for graduate classes are also available e.g., the Open Science Training Initiative (OSTI) a programme of lectures and exercises fitting around a subject-specific training course in an academic environment.