What is open science?

Open science has been increasingly under the spotlight and a topic of discussion among the research community, but what does it mean for science and society? This article intends to provide an overview of open science and associated discussions (open access, open data, citizen science, etc) as well as the current policy framework of open science.

 A tentative definition

“Open science” (OS) has been a buzzword not only among scientists but also among other actors involved with science such as funders, publishers, libraries, research institutes, universities, businesses and policy-makers, but there is no agreed definition of it. As put by Fecher and Friesike “Open Science is an umbrella term encompassing a multitude of assumptions about the future of knowledge creation and dissemination. (…) the very same term evokes quite different understandings and opens a multitude of battlefields, ranging from the democratic right to access publicly funded knowledge (e.g. open access to publications) or the demand for a better bridging of the divide between research and society (e.g. citizen science) to the development of freely available tools for collaboration (e.g. social media platforms”[1]. For the purpose of this article let us assume that OS is an umbrella term encompassing a set of values and practices with the objective of increasing scientific collaboration, production and transparency while widening access to scientific results[2]. In practical terms this translates mainly into the (free) open access of scientific articles and research data even though there are many other surrounding issues.

The openness of science and its conditions

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton[3]

Due to its collaborative and cumulative nature and its need for verification and reproducibility, science has always been open, the issue has always been “open to which degree, how, and to whom”. To this end, material and societal conditions such as Gutenberg´s printing press, the creation of learned societies and scientific journals[4] have played in the past a crucial role in creating, debating, curating, and disseminating scientific knowledge in the last centuries. In the same manner that printing impacted knowledge access and production in the 15th century, recent technological developments are having a similar impact in science – distributed electronic networks (such as the internet), accessible electronic data storage capacity (a 1Gb USB stick can store roughly 900 000 text pages), increasing data processing speed, and the availability of personal computers and other similar devices are examples of the technological conditions that enable an increase of science collaborations.

Policy Framework, Green and Gold, Stakeholder Input

In addition to the material conditions, there has been an increasing political will to address OS. Following the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative[5], the 2003 Berlin Declaration on Open Access[6], and other similar initiatives, the biggest research programme in Europe (the European Union Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, i.e. FP7, Horizon 2020) started a voluntary pilot on open access as early as FP7 (2007 – 2013) and later incorporated open access as the default option for Horizon 2020 (2014 – 2020), making it mandatory for the H2020 participants to ensure open access to all peer-reviewed scientific publications related to a funded or co-funded project.[7] The rationale behind this is that if society publicly funds research, its outcomes should be public to the society[8]. According to the H2020 Programme guidelines on open access,[9] “open access (OA) refers to the practice of providing online access to scientific information that is free of charge to the end-user and reusable. (…) In the context of research and innovation, ´scientific information´ can mean: 1. peer-reviewed scientific research articles (published in scholarly journals); or 2. research data (data underlying publications, curated data and/or raw data)”.

There are two main ways to provide open access to peer-reviewed articles: green open access and gold open access. In green open access, or self-archiving, the author deposits the published article or the final peer-reviewed manuscript in an online repository. This is usually done after an embargo period (6 – 12 months) required by the publishers. During this embargo period the publisher would be able to sell access to the article. In gold open access, or open access publishing, the author pays to the publisher and an article is immediately published with free access to all readers. These costs are normally covered by the author’s university, research institute or special subsidies/funding for this service.

Regarding open research data the EU rules are more flexible, with the European Commission promoting data that is FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) through a pilot project where there are many opt-out possibilities[10].

In addition to this change in funding rules, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas made clear at the 2015 conference A new start for Europe: Opening up to an ERA of Innovation his strategic priorities: open innovation, open science, and openness to the world[11]. The open science priority has been consolidated into several consultations, expert groups and reports that aim to collect the different expertise and viewpoints of a wide breadth of stakeholders. Some examples of these are the Open Science Policy Platform[12] (where EuCheMS is represented by Wolfram Koch, EuCheMS Executive Board Member) that advises the Commission on how to further develop and practically implement open science policy; the Commission High Level Expert Group European Open Science Cloud[13] dealing with the European Open Science Cloud, the infrastructure underpinning open access so that it should be globally interoperable and accessible (thus needing human expertise, resources, standards, best practices, etc)[14]; or the expert group on the Future of Scholarly Publishing and scholarly Communication[15].

Moreover, the Netherlands European Presidency of the Council of the European Union (which took place during the first half of 2016), also made OS a main priority and published the Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science[16] comprising a clear set of 12 action items: 1) Change assessment, evaluation and reward systems in science; 2) Facilitate text and data mining of content; 3) Improve insight into intellectual property rights and issues such as privacy; 4) Create transparency on the costs and conditions of academic communication; 5) Introduce FAIR and secure data principles 6) Set up common e-infrastructures; 7) Adopt open access principles; 8) Stimulate new publishing models for knowledge transfer; 9) Stimulate evidence-based research on innovations in open science; 10) Develop, implement, monitor and refine open access plans; 11) Involve researchers and new users in open science; and 12) Encourage stakeholders to share expertise and information on open science. As a side-event to the main conference where these priorities were discussed, EuCheMS co-organised in Amsterdam, with the Netherlands Presidency, the policy workshop Science: How Close to Open? exploring the specificities of open science in chemistry.[17]

Open science, not only open access

Even though open access is a big pillar of OS, there is much more to it besides the issue of access to peer-reviewed articles and data. OS also means new forms of opening to interdisciplinary collaboration, it means new open standards for data; it means new ways of scientific communication (blogs, social media, etc) towards the scientific peers but also to citizens; it means new reward systems for the career of researchers and new ways of measuring the impact of scientific work, beyond classic bibliometrics, taking into account societal needs[18]; it means citizen science, in which citizens provide non-specialised input to scientific work or support research via tools like online crowd-funding; it means that researchers will need a new set of skills to deal with OS[19]; it means the involvement of teachers and students in adopting new programmes and new learning approaches; it means new difficulties and solutions for assuring intellectual property; new ethical guidelines and other means to ensure research integrity; and of course, it means a new mind-set.

The openness of science must be limited by the boundaries of quality.

Conclusions – Is open science open to criticism?

Even though there is great enthusiasm around the possibilities of open science there are of course some concerns. The publishers are embracing new business models but how should the community deal with the asymmetric opening of science in which EU opens access but non-EU states continue with closed models? This would create an increase of costs of publishing in Europe, as funding would have to support the “openness” of articles not only in the EU but also elsewhere. As it was clearly expressed at a EuCheMS workshop on this topic[20], maintaining the quality of science and scientific publications is essential, and peer-review is essential in this task. In recent OS discussions I have witnessed some people proposing the use open access pre-print articles (not peer-reviewed) as references for funding. Such practices could greatly damage science. The openness of science must be limited by the boundaries of quality.

Finally, it is important to mention that open science is not a mere corollary of technological possibility. Open science emerges from a global society facing global challenges (climate change, pollution, energy, food and water scarcity, etc.) that need the input of sciences, such as chemistry, collaborating on an interdisciplinary level. One should never forget that open science is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve the progress of science and society.

[1] S. Bartling and S. Friesike (eds.), Opening Science, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-00026-8_2, 2014 www.springer.com/cda/content/document/cda_downloaddocument/9783319000251-c2.pdf%3FSGWID%3D0-0-45-1434020-p174922584+open+science+literature&tbo=1&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiF6ciittvWAhXBPBoKHfcTDOkQHwhzMA0
[2] It is also relevant to mention the definition of the European Commission: “Open science represents an approach to research that is collaborative, transparent and accessible. Open science occurs across the research process and there are many different activities that can be considered part of this evolution in science“. http://ec.europa.eu/research/openscience/index.cfm?pg=home&section=monitor
[3] http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/9285
[4]For more on the history of publishing and learned societies: The History of Scientific Publishing: An interview with Prof. Aileen Fyfe, School of History, University of St Andrews  http://blogs.plos.org/plospodcasts/2016/04/18/the-history-of-scientific-publishing-an-interview-with-aileen-fyfe/
[5] http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/read
[6] https://openaccess.mpg.de/Berlin-Declaration
[7] http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/data/ref/h2020/grants_manual/hi/oa_pilot/h2020-hi-oa-pilot-guide_en.pdf
[8] “The Commission considers that there should be no need to pay for information funded from the public purse each time it is accessed or used. (…) This means making publicly-funded scientific information available online, at no extra cost, to European researchers, innovative industries and the public, while ensuring that it is preserved in the long term.” Idem 7
[9] Idem 7
[10] http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/data/ref/h2020/grants_manual/hi/oa_pilot/h2020-hi-oa-data-mgt_en.pdf
[11] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-15-5243_en.htm
[12] https://ec.europa.eu/research/openscience/index.cfm?pg=open-science-policy-platform
[13] https://ec.europa.eu/research/openscience/index.cfm?pg=open-science-cloud
[14] https://ec.europa.eu/research/openscience/pdf/realising_the_european_open_science_cloud_2016.pdf
[15] http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regexpert/index.cfm?do=groupDetail.groupDetail&groupID=3463
[16] https://wiki.surfnet.nl/display/OSCFA/Amsterdam+Call+for+Action+on+Open+Science
[17] Conclusions of this workshop can be found at http://www.euchems.eu/policy-and-communication/policy-workshops/science-close-open/
[18] https://ec.europa.eu/research/openscience/pdf/report.pdf
[19] https://cdn1.euraxess.org/sites/default/files/policy_library/ec-rtd_os_skills_report_final_complete_2207_1.pdf
[20] Idem 17

Bruno Vilela
EuCheMS Public Affairs Officer