What is Open Science?

Our next OA Week posting comes from Michael Peper, Librarian for Math and Physics at Duke:

We’ve discussed openness in terms of publications and data, but this same spirit can apply to the research process as well.  Science in some ways is necessarily a shared and collaborative process.  Scientists work together in labs, they share equipment, materials and human resources and share results in publications.  In many cases, however, there was much about the practice of science that has been kept in the dark.  Scientists would not share methods, data, preliminary results, etc. until publication, if ever.  Recently, however, there has been great interest in trying to answer big questions and solve big problems by joining forces to accomplish work that could never be done by one isolated researcher.  Improved cyber infrastructure makes the opportunities for sharing even greater.  Many believe that Open Science should not just be adopted for its admirable ideals, but also because open science also holds promise of being better science.

The title of this post, however, is ‘What is Open Science?’ so perhaps I should actually attempt to answer that question.

The boundaries of Open Science are difficult to define because this idea encompasses other issues related to openness.  Transparency, across the entire practice of science, is what defines Open Science.  Both Science Commons and the Open Science Project lay out their principles of this idea in an attempt to provide it some limits.  The spirit of these principles is that there should be transparency to the methods, observations, data collection, data access, communication, collaboration and research tools.  Instead of limiting the sharing of the practice of science to publication of selected results, the entire scientific process should be exposed to potential users, collaborators and extenders of the work.

There are a growing number of projects that have embraced these ideals and we can point to a few of them here.  Cameron Neylon keeps an open notebook for his work in the biological sciences on producing antibacterial compounds and also writes for the blog Science in the Open.  The Synaptic Leap is another open lab notebook project to create a way for biomedical researchers to collaborate.  The collaborators include Thomas Kepler at the Duke University Medical Center.  A final example is the UsefulChem project which is the brainchild of Jean-Claude Bradley who uses his background as an organic chemist to develop new anti-malarial compounds in an open environment.

For more information, see the Open Access at Duke web site.Open Access logo, designed by PLoS

One thought on “What is Open Science?”

  1. What an amazing concept. It is also great to read about specific examples. I didn’t think this was possible. I have been in biological research for almost 2 decades and have seen more and more shielded research the longer I was in the lab. I even worked in groups on the same project where coworkers shielded their results from each other.

    I am not sure if open science will be possible or ’embraceable’ by scientists as long as the current funding system remains the same. What has been true for long is still true in probably most academic settings: “publish or perish” (perish=no papers=no grants=no salary).

    My father in law (a scientist) had a good suggestion for changing funding and reviewing methods: 1. Don’t let the reviewing of grants in the hands of potential competitors but leave it to senior researchers which have achieved what they set out to achieve, and because they can remember how things used to be when they were in the applicant’s shoes, they will have less interest in basing their decision on anything but their good judgment, hopefully, they will also be wiser than their younger peers, and 2. Reward grants that have promise, and not only those that are backed by a sufficient number of, maybe not so great, publications.

    Even some reviewers of manuscripts are automatically anti-open science when they require the removal of negative data before acceptance (I saw this myself). This requirement hides research that has been done and thus another researcher may spend time repeating the same because previously acquired knowledge was not considered as publishable.

    Well, 20 years after receiving my Ph.D., I founded a business where I hope to contribute positively to our society while using my training as biologist. Interestingly, I find many similarities between the situations in academia and the business world (which doesn’t speak well for the current prevalent academic research situation).

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