Open science – just do it

The idea of open science means different things to different people, but primarily it is about community, the scientific community and beyond. At a time when commercial publishers are coming under increasing pressure there are boycotts and rebellions and the new wave of open access publishers are incrementally filling the widening gaps, the whole 300-year old concepts that underpin modern science are being disrupted. The concepts from social media and citizen journalism are spilling over into science and the concepts of peer review, reproducibility and how we train the next generation of scientists are all being shaken up.

There are obstacles to full-scale adoption, not least the fact that 300 years of tradition are not quietly overturned despite the desires of those who have laid bare the flaws. While many scientists recognise the benefits, there are concerns that these new forms of publication and education can take a lot more time and effort and at a time when economic strife is a seriously limiting factor (as it always was), the inclination to overturn the system may be there but the power…the money…to do so may be absent. Then there are the concerns regarding whether one’s output might be used without citation.

Again, it’s an old issue, couched in modern terms. Creative Commons licensing exists and some are willing to share their rights and go copy left with or without attribution or credit, others are not. Perhaps one of the most important issues that has been with us throughout human history is that one may expend energy and reap none of the rewards. Indeed, competitors may gain advantage from one’s efforts. Many of us are all for altruism, but generally not if it leads to our own personal demise.

Peter Kraker and Günter Beham of Graz University of Technology, Austria, Derick Leony of Carlos III University of Madrid, Spain and Wolfgang Reinhardt of the University of Paderborn, Germany, writing in the IJTEL make the case for open science in technology enhanced learning. In their view, “Open science means opening up the research process by making all of its outcomes, and the way in which these outcomes were achieved, publicly available on the World Wide Web.” I assume they actually mean the wider Internet, given that many of the tools available may not necessarily be part of the Web, but you get the idea. They suggests that adopting open science could bring together disparate communities as well as leading to open methodology so that researchers in the field can work with the materials and tools made available and reproduce (or not, as the case may be) research results.

Of course, concepts are one thing. The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. But, what is now needed for open science to progress are evangelists, people to spread the good word and to share the benefits and actually the disadvantages too. To bring the community together and to find a way forward, not only in TEL and TEL research but in the wider realm of science. “It is crucial to make the research community aware…and to support researchers in use and re-use of the available data and other [resources],” the team concludes.

Research Blogging Icon Peter Kraker, Derick Leony, Wolfgang Reinhardt, & Günter Beham (2012). The case for an open science in technology enhanced learning Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, 3 (6), 643-654

7 thoughts on “Open science – just do it”

  1. Yes, of course, there are countless individuals who have made a huge contribution over the years, but the biggest impact has been from collaborations. Until recently, collaboration was really only possible on the small scale, then came rapid communication channels, such as air travel, and then email and the web etc opening up whole new ways to work together. Open science is not about zero reciprocity. Part of the reciprocity is in the fact that many laboratories are funded with public money and so the fruits of those labs is not there to be eaten by the lab staff only, but to provide a banquet for others under mutually useful terms…

  2. Collectivism. It’s an economic term, meaning, share your intellectual property with me, so I can use it for my own economic advantage while not providing reciprocity.

    The truth of the matter is, that scientific endeavors are just as beholden to the laws of economics as all other endeavors. Collectivist economics don’t work to produce the most fruitful ideas, any more than it works to enrich a nation. Necessity is the mother of invention. No necessity, no invention.

    Collectivists pull the rug out from under their own banquet.

    “open science” is group science, but correct me if I’m wrong, the ideas with the greatest impact on our lives have been the contribution of individuals with their own unique insights.

  3. Well, It is a very interesting issue, “Open Science”, sounds very nice for inhabitants of the countrys in the South America, for example, but, How understand correctly the concept of “Open Science”?

  4. @Angie Openness in all aspects of research and education will have its pros and cons. At the moment, the advocates seem to suggest that it’s all pro and negligible con. We’ll see…

    @Andrew It’s an important point. However, if science is kept closed, then we will continue to have thousands of different “standards”. The more open it becomes, the more the “crowd” will help it evolve towards the best compromise for whatever standard you’re considering. I think you’re right though, it’s the tools and the technology that are leading to the opening up.

  5. How does “open science” interplay with ideas around self-directed learning (i.e. the uncollege movement, Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange (MITX), Khan Academy etc.)? Are they in any way related? As the research process makes its way into a much more public forum, I can only anticipate that learners (self-directed and otherwise) will choose to navigate the scholarship in less conventional ways.

  6. I think the Internet is bad for being really *open* in the case of basic research. Sharing on the Internet relies on standards. When a data format can be fitted into a standard it means the corresponding field of study is mature, or sometimes in other word, not new. Study on molecular structures was new when we had not agreed on the standard of representing molecular structures yet (e.g. the benzene structure). NMR technique was new when we didn’t know what from the NMR data reflected the most important information (e.g. what causes the variation in relaxation) . Once we know it, it’s just done. Frontier of any scientific field can *never* fit into any standard for ambiguity-free digital sharing. I can be shared only by human communication.

    Maybe the term “open science” should be revised to “open technology”, the thing that renew instead of dies whenever a standard establishes is technology. Some “scientific research” is in fact the repeat of routine techniques. New standard for routines and data format largely accelerate these fields indeed.

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