Royal Society to investigate open science

Open Science has been on my mind recently – so when I heard it mentioned on the radio as I was waking up this morning, at first I thought I might be dreaming! But no – it was indeed Prof Geoffrey Boulton talking about a working group set up by the Royal Society to look at “Science as a Public Enterprise”, which he’ll be chairing.

Prof Boulton said that scientists must find new ways of engaging with people and making science more open – so scientists’ data should be quickly and easily available both to other scientists and in the public domain. This is good news for those of us interested in opening access to the results of research. The Royal Society is here putting its weight behind “a presumption in favour of data sharing” .  Will this help change the hearts and minds of scientists who up to now have been sceptical about the open agenda?

The working group is calling for evidence from scientists, government bodies, business and industry and the general public. It will be interesting to see its recommendations.

The RCS is working with consultant Sarah Currier on our own study of open science and citizen science and we too should like to hear the views of anyone interested in this development in scientific communication.

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RCS reports now online

One of the things we do in the RCS project is to write regular reports on issues in research comunication – largely about open access, but including thoughts on other developments like social networking/bibliographhic management websites. These reports are now available on our website – just press the “reports” button above.

There are three reports – and we have also produced two-page (and glossier) discussion papers that are summaries of the main points of each.

The first summary report talks about “the power of open access” to free and potentially transform scholarly communication.

The second is about open access and institutional benefit.

The third looks at ways in which open access can add value to scholarly communication.

The fourth is about some of the issues raised by sharing research on social networking sites.

Please read, comment and use the material as you wish.

Online journals open access to scientific research

There’s a nice example of this today:

The Independent reported some fascinating new research that for the first time draws a complete family tree showing how primates – including humans, of course – are related to each other. The scientist whose views were sought for the article commented that the findings will significantly promote the study of the genetics of human health.

The research was published yesterday in PLoS Genetics – which is an open access journal. So how many people have looked at the work so far? By lunchtime today, 482. Not a bad impact  for one day after publication. Would it have attracted the same number of readers if it had been hidden behind a pay-wall in a traditional journal?

It’s good to see what seem to be significant findings published in an open access journal and made available to everyone. Isn’t this what all scientists want: for their work to be widely known, respected and shared?

Of course if the Independent had added a link to the publication, that would have been even better …

Image credit: Guwashi999 CC-BY 2.0

Peer review: open to enquiry

The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology has announced an equiry into peer review.

This seems timely: I’m more and more hearing people wondering if peer review as we know (and love?) it is threatened/challenged/becoming redundant in the web 2.0 environment. Though I think this enquiry is more probably a response to concerns that the current system may be insufficiently robust: the second of the review’s terms of reference mentions “strengthening” peer review.

Would we like it “strengthened”, if this means giving reviewers more power and responsibility? Or is there a case for making it more open – even for publishing research without traditional peer review and letting the academic community give its verdict on the value and significance of the work? (There’s an article on this by Axel Boldt in Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 2011, 42/2, 238-242, DOI10.3138/jsp.42.2.238 – but unfortunately it’s not open access … Also a provocative blog by Paul Fyfe at Florida State University)

Such a significant change in the way scholarly communications are validated won’t happen overnight. But is it a desirable development?

Open access and innovation in scholarly communication

We have published our third report on trends and issues in scholarly communication. Its theme is the scope of current open access practice and the opportunities it offers for innovation in scholarly communication methods.

Some people think that the battle for open access has been won. The number of repositories is growing; funders and (increasingly) HE institutions are mandating researchers to make their work openly available; open access journals are becoming mainstream (a recent blogpost by Heather Morrison asks if PLoS ONE has become the world’s largest journal). Yet it is also true to say that there is still resistance to open access in most areas of the academic community. Not all mandates are complied with; not all researchers believe that publishing in online journals carries as much prestige as publishing by traditional methods.

What might influence authors to change their minds about open access? Perhaps showing them that open access is not just about repositories or OA versions of traditional journals. In all sorts of ways OA can add value to research output. It adds value in an institutional context when the repository becomes part of an integrated system of research  management. It addds value to arts and humanities research when it allows non-text research outputs such as music, images and video to be made available alongside text. It adds value to scientific practice when it contributes to initiatives in open science and open data.

Meanwhile tools such as Mendeley that combine biblographic management with social networking appear to be increasingly attractive to researchers. Maybe OA as it has evolved in recent years, modelled on the traditional publication system, is already outdated, overtaken by Web 2.0 services more responsive to the needs of the academic community. Our report suggests, however, that there are questions to be asked about the sustainability and independence of these services in the light of their need to respond to commercial pressures.

If you are interested in any of the issues raised here, please read the full report. Your comments will be welcome.

Open access for the arts

A blogpost by Chris Pressler about the announcement of a new OA journal from SAGE  for the social sciences and humanities raises the question of why the OA movement seems to be more interested in STM subjects than in the arts. Chris suggests it may be because of an unvoiced belief that the sciences are somehow more important.

There are also other reasons – including a publication culture in the arts and humanities that prioritises monographs over journal articles. But as Chris says, it’s good to see attention being paid specifically to the arts in the OA context. It’s a reminder that OA has a lot to offer researchers in this area – not least the ability to allow the preservation of, and access to, research outputs and data in other formats (music, images, video). Repositories don’t have to be just about text.

Some institutional repositories, for example at the University of the Arts, London, are providing thiskind of service already, and JISC’s Kultur project has been instrumental in developing innovative practice. I know repository managers are working on it. Arts researchers should seize the oportunity – shouldn’t they?

Altruism is not Enough

Another interesting evening event organised by RIN last week in the series Research Information in Transition looked at the topics of data handling and data sharing.

I was not surprised to see that many of the issues we’ve identified as having a bearing on the take-up of Green/Gold open access also raised their heads in connection with data.

Andrew Young from Liverpool John Moores University talked about the challenges of persuading researchers to put their data into an institutional repository even when it was a conditionof their grant. Policies, systems and guidance may all be in place but further incentives seem to be needed.

Carole Goble from Manchester University described designing systems to encourage the sharing of data between scientists working on the SysMO (Systems Biology of Microorganisms) project. Some were reluctant to share – among other reasons, becasue data sharing isn’t recognised by the academic reward system.

Kevin Ashley, Director of the Digital Curation Centre, addressed similar issues, stressing the need for interaction between policies and behaviours: policies on their own don’t have enough effect.

Our discussions with researchers about open access are leading us to reach the same conclusion. So the challenge for policy makers and funders is to enmesh the open sharing of research results with the attainment of academic prestige, promotion and kudos. Altruism is not enough.

Read more about managing and sharing data in the Scholarly Communications Action Handbook.