Open science

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The six principles of open science[1]

Open science is the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open notebook science, and generally making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge. The European-funded project Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research (FOSTER)[2] has developed an open science taxonomy[3] as an attempt to map the open science field.

Open science began in the 17th century with the advent of the academic journal, when the societal demand for access to scientific knowledge reached a point where it became necessary for groups of scientists to share resources[4] with each other so that they could collectively do their work.[5] In modern times there is debate about the extent to which scientific information should be shared.[6] The conflict is between the desire of scientists to have access to shared resources versus the desire of individual entities to profit when other entities partake of their resources.[7]


Science is broadly understood as collecting, analyzing, publishing, reanalyzing, critiquing, and reusing data. Proponents of open science identify a number of barriers that impede or dissuade the broad dissemination of scientific data.[8] These include financial paywalls of for-profit research publishers, restrictions on usage applied by publishers of data, poor formatting of data or use of proprietary software that makes it difficult to re-purpose, and cultural reluctance to publish data for fears of losing control of how the information is used.[8]

Open Science Taxonomy[9]

According to the FOSTER taxonomy[3] Open science can often include aspects of Open access, Open data and the open source movement whereby modern science requires software in order to process data and information.[10][11] Open research computation also addresses the problem of reproducibility of scientific results.


The widespread adoption of the institution of the scientific journal marks the beginning of the modern concept of open science. Before this time societies pressured scientists into secretive behaviors.

Before journals[edit]

Before the advent of scientific journals, scientists had little to gain and much to lose by publicizing scientific discoveries.[12] Many scientists, including Galileo, Kepler, Isaac Newton, Christiaan Huygens, and Robert Hooke, made claim to their discoveries by describing them in papers coded in anagrams or cyphers and then distributing the coded text.[12] Their intent was to develop their discovery into something off which they could profit, then reveal their discovery to prove ownership when they were prepared to make a claim on it.[12]

The system of not publicizing discoveries caused problems because discoveries were not shared quickly and because it sometimes was difficult for the discoverer to prove priority. Newton and Gottfried Leibniz both claimed priority in discovering calculus.[12] Newton said that he wrote about calculus in the 1660s and 1670s, but did not publish until 1693.[12] Leibniz published a treatise on calculus in 1684.[citation needed] Debates over priority are inherent in systems where science is not published openly, and this was problematic for scientists who wanted to benefit from priority.[citation needed]

These cases are representative of a system of aristocratic patronage in which scientists received funding to develop either immediately useful things or to entertain.[5] In this sense, funding of science gave prestige to the patron in the same way that funding of artists, writers, architects, and philosophers did.[5] Because of this, scientists were under pressure to satisfy the desires of their patrons, and discouraged from being open with research which would bring prestige to persons other than their patrons.[5]

Emergence of academies and journals[edit]

Eventually the individual patronage system ceased to provide the scientific output which society began to demand.[5] Single patrons could not sufficiently fund scientists, who had unstable careers and needed consistent funding.[5] The development which changed this was a trend to pool research by multiple scientists into an academy funded by multiple patrons.[5] In 1660 England established the Royal Society and in 1666 the French established the French Academy of Sciences.[5] Between the 1660s and 1793, governments gave official recognition to 70 other scientific organizations modeled after those two academies.[5][13] In 1665, Henry Oldenburg became the editor of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the first academic journal devoted to science, and the foundation for the growth of scientific publishing.[14] By 1699 there were 30 scientific journals; by 1790 there were 1052.[15] Since then publishing has expanded at even greater rates.[16]

Collaboration among academies[edit]

In modern times many academies have pressured researchers at publicly funded universities and research institutions to engage in a mix of sharing research and making some technological developments proprietary.[7] Some research products have the potential to generate commercial revenue, and in hope of capitalizing on these products, many research institutions withhold information and technology which otherwise would lead to overall scientific advancement if other research institutions had access to these resources.[7] It is difficult to predict the potential payouts of technology or to assess the costs of withholding it, but there is general agreement that the benefit to any single institution of holding technology is not as great as the cost of withholding it from all other research institutions.[7]


In many countries, governments fund some science research. Scientists often publish the results of their research by writing articles and donating them to be published in scholarly journals, which frequently are commercial. Public entities such as universities and libraries subscribe to these journals. Michael Eisen, a founder of the Public Library of Science, has described this system by saying that "taxpayers who already paid for the research would have to pay again to read the results."[17]

In December 2011, some United States legislators introduced a bill called the Research Works Act, which would prohibit federal agencies from issuing grants with any provision requiring that articles reporting on taxpayer-funded research be published for free to the public online.[18] Darrell Issa, a co-sponsor of the bill, explained the bill by saying that "Publicly funded research is and must continue to be absolutely available to the public. We must also protect the value added to publicly funded research by the private sector and ensure that there is still an active commercial and non-profit research community."[19] One response to this bill was protests from various researchers; among them was a boycott of commercial publisher Elsevier called The Cost of Knowledge.[20]

The Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union called out for action in April 2016 to migrate European Commission funded research to Open Science. European Commissioner Carlos Moedas introduced the Open Science Cloud at the Open Science Conference in Amsterdam on April 4–5.[21] During this meeting also The Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science was presented, a living document outlining concrete actions for the European Community to move to Open Science.

Arguments against open science[edit]

The open sharing of research data is not widely practiced

Arguments against open science tend to advance several concerns. These include the potential for some scholars to capitalize on data other scholars have worked hard to collect, without collecting data themselves, the potential for less qualified individuals to misuse open data and arguments that novel data are more critical than reproducing or replicating older findings.[22][23]

Too much unsorted information overwhelms scientists.

Some scientists find inspiration in their own thoughts by restricting the amount of information they get from others.[24] Alexander Grothendieck has been cited as a scientist who wanted to learn with restricted influence when he said that he wanted to "reach out in (his) own way to the things (he) wished to learn, rather than relying on the notions of consensus."[25]

Potential misuse.

In 2009 scientists' email regarding climate research was stolen, starting the Climatic Research Unit email controversy. In 2011, Dutch researchers announced their intention to publish a research paper in the journal Science describing the creation of a strain of H5N1 influenza which can be easily passed between ferrets, the mammals which most closely mimic the human response to the flu.[26] The announcement triggered a controversy in both political[27] and scientific[28] circles about the ethical implications of publishing scientific data which could be used to create biological weapons. These events are examples of how science data could potentially be misused.[29] Scientists have collaboratively agreed to limit their own fields of inquiry on occasions such as the Asilomar conference on recombinant DNA in 1975,[30]:111 and a proposed 2015 worldwide moratorium on a human-genome-editing technique.[31]

The public will misunderstand science data.

In 2009 NASA launched the Kepler spacecraft and promised that they would release collected data in June 2010. Later they decided to postpone release so that their scientists could look at it first. Their rationale was that non-scientists might unintentionally misinterpret the data, and NASA scientists thought it would be preferable for them to be familiar with the data in advance so that they could report on it with their level of accuracy.[32]

Increasing the scale of science will make verification of any discovery more difficult.

When more people report data it will take longer for anyone to consider all data, and perhaps more data of lower quality, before drawing any conclusion.[33]

Arguments for open science[edit]

A number of scholars across disciplines have advanced various arguments in favor of open science. These generally focus on the perceived value of open science in improving the transparency and validity of research as well as in regards to public ownership of science, particularly that which is publicly funded. For example, in January 2014 J. Christopher Bare published a comprehensive "Guide to Open Science".[34] Likewise in January, 2017, a group of scholars known for advocating open science published a "manifesto" for open science in the journal Nature.[35]

Open access publication of research reports and data allows for rigorous peer-review

An article published by a team of NASA astrobiologists in 2010 in Science reported a bacterium known as GFAJ-1 that could purportedly metabolize arsenic (unlike any previously known species of lifeform).[36] This finding, along with NASA's claim that the paper "will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life", met with criticism within the scientific community. Much of the scientific commentary and critique around this issue took place in public forums, most notably on Twitter, where hundreds of scientists and non-scientists created a hashtag community around the hashtag #arseniclife.[37] University of British Columbia astrobiologist Rosie Redfield, one of the most vocal critics of the NASA team's research, also submitted a draft of a research report of a study that she and colleagues conducted which contradicted the NASA team's findings; the draft report appeared in arXiv,[38] an open-research repository, and Redfield called in her lab's research blog for peer review both of their research and of the NASA team's original paper.[39]

Science is publicly funded so all results of the research should be publicly available[40]

Public funding of research has long been cited as one of the primary reasons for providing Open Access to research articles.[41] Since there is significant value in other parts of the research such as code, data, protocols, and research proposals a similar argument is made that since these are publicly funded, they should be publicly available under a creative commons licence.

Open Science will make science more reproducible and transparent

Increasingly the reproducibility of science is being questioned and the term "reproducibility crisis" has been coined.[42] Open Science approaches are proposed as one way to help increase the reproducibility of work.[43]

Open Science has more impact

There are several components to impact in research, many of which are hotly debated.[44] However, under traditional scientific metrics parts Open science such as Open Access and Open Data have proved to outperform traditional versions.[45][46]

Different understandings about open science[edit]

According to Fecher and Friesike ‘Open Science’ is an umbrella term for various assumptions about the development and dissemination of knowledge. To show the term’s multitudinous perceptions, they differentiate between five Open Science schools of thought:[47]

(1) The infrastructure school, which is concerning technological research infrastructure like platforms or tools for scientists, (2) the public school, which is concerned with the accessibility of knowledge creation for the general public, e.g. by participating in the scientific process, (3) the measurement school, which is focused on alternative impact measurements for scientific contributions, (4) the democratic school which is aiming to make knowledge equally accessible for both scientists and non-professionals and (5) the pragmatic school, which emphasizes the efficiency of collaborative research.

The Fecher and Frieske model can aid discussions of broad initiatives. For example, e-science promotes massive shared computational work and Science 2.0 provides tools for increased collaboration so both could be argued to be in the "infrastructure school". Open science data and data publishing both advocate releasing data and could be argued as the "measurement school" or perhaps part of the "democratic school". Each of these initiatives covers a broad range of projects with a common perception of improving science.

Organizations and projects of open science[edit]

Big scientific projects are more likely to practice open science than small projects.[48] Different projects conduct, advocate, develop tools for, or fund open science, and many organizations run multiple projects. For example, the Allen Institute for Brain Science[49] conducts numerous open science projects while the Center for Open Science has projects to conduct, advocate, and create tools for open science.

Organizations have extremely diverse sizes and structures. The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) is a global organization sharing large data catalogs, running face to face conferences, and supporting open source software projects. In contrast, Blue Obelisk is an informal group of chemists and associated cheminformatics projects. The tableau of organizations is dynamic with some organizations becoming defunct, e.g., Science Commons, and new organizations trying to grow, e.g., the Self-Journal of Science.[50] Common organizing forces include the knowledge domain, type of service provided, and even geography, e.g., OCSDNet's[51] concentration on the developing world.

Conducting open science projects[edit]

Many open science projects focus on gathering and coordinating encyclopedic of large amounts of organized data. The Allen Brain Atlas maps gene expression in human and mouse brains; the Encyclopedia of Life documents all the terrestrial species; the Galaxy Zoo classifies galaxies; the International HapMap Project maps the haplotypes of the human genome; and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey which regularizes and publishes data sets from many sources. All these projects accrete information provided by many different researchers with different standards of curation and contribution.

Other projects are organized around completion of projects that require extensive collaboration. For example, OpenWorm seeks to make a cellular level simulation of a roundworm, a multidisciplinary project. The Polymath Project seeks to solve difficult mathematical problems by enabling faster communications within the discipline of mathematics. The Collaborative Replications and Education project [2] recruits undergraduate students as citizen scientists by offering funding. Each project defines its needs for contributors and collaboration.

Advocating open science[edit]

Numerous documents, organizations, and social movements advocate wider adoption of open science. Statements of principles include the Budapest Open Access Initiative from a December 2001 conference[52] and the Panton Principles. New statements are constantly developed, such as the Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science to be presented to the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union in late May, 2016. These statements often try to regularize licenses and disclosure for data and scientific literature.

Other advocates concentrate on educating scientists about appropriate open science software tools. Education is available as training seminars, e.g., Software Sustainability Institute's Software Carpentry project [3]; as domain specific training materials, e.g., Software Sustainability Institute's Data Carpentry project [4]; and as materials for teaching graduate classes, e.g., the Open Science Training Initiative [5]. Many organizations also provide education in the general principles of open science.

Publishing open science[edit]

Replacing the current scientific publishing model is one goal of open science. High costs to access literature gave rise to protests such as The Cost of Knowledge and to sharing papers without publisher consent, e.g., Sci-hub and ICanHazPDF. New organizations are experimenting with the open access model: the Public Library of Science, or PLOS, is creating a library of open access journals and scientific literature; F1000Research provides open publishing and open peer review for the life-sciences; figshare archives and shares images, readings, and other data; and arXiv provide electronic preprints across many fields; and many individual journals. Other publishing experiments include delayed and hybrid models.

Software of open science[edit]

A variety of computer resources support open science. These include software like the Open Science Framework from the Center for Open Science to manage project information, data archiving and team coordination; distributed computing services like Ibercivis to utilize unused CPU time for computationally intensive tasks; and services like to provide crowdsourced funding for research projects.

See also[edit]


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