Analysis of Chemists and Economists survey – initial thoughts

I’m Steve Davies, I’m currently analysing the data from an RCS survey of Chemists and Economists. Here are some of my early thoughts.

The survey was targeted at academics in particular institutions, but even when you get over half the research-active academics in a particular institution, the small numbers involved make generalisation difficult. Only one of the economists surveyed never made his/her work openly accessible. This may mean that OA is widely used by economists, or we may just not have captured those economists that don’t engage with OA. I suspect the case is more of the latter than the former.

There are more chemists who never engage with OA (between a quarter and a third of them). I’ve not found anything they have in common. There may be something in the working practices of chemists that lead to more of them not engaging. One thing that occurs to me is that “hard” sciences often have large teams of researchers, so there may be researchers who rarely engage in the publication part of the process, so may not really be aware of OA.

Both the chemists and economists that do make their work OA claim to do so for broadly altruistic reasons – more likely to say “publicly funded research should be publicly available”, “Improves accessibility to my work”, and “helps get information out more quickly”. Economists tend also to cite more selfish reasons – “Increases publicity for my work”, “results in professional recognition”, “results in academic reward”, “helps me make contact with potential collaborators”. However, chemists tend to be more neutral on these reasons, and both sets of academics are neutral on the other, more external reasons.

We’d expect the altruistic reasons to score reasonably highly because academic work is usually considered as being for the greater good. It may be that economists, given their subject matter, are more relaxed about personal gain. Also, given that chemical research tends to be heavily capital-intensive, and the research more collaborative, chemists may be less willing to think of publication in terms of personal advantage.

Reasons for not making work OA tend to focus on the Quality of the publication. Both sets of researchers strongly state that they need to publish in high impact journals. Concerns about the peer-review process for OA journals also figure strongly, especially for chemists. The researchers tend to be neutral with regard to other reasons, with the exception of money. About 40% of economists and 60% of chemists think OA is “too expensive”.

Given that all the institutions here have an OA mandate, a surprising 25% of both sets of researchers who don’t always make their work OA are unaware of their institution’s mandate.

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.