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.


Open science and citizen science: investigating the strategic issues

UPDATE 15 July 2011: The RCS Open Science Project Final Report (incl Executive Summary), plus a Briefing Paper on Open and Citizen Science, and link to YouTube videos of the project’s open and citizen science interviews are all available here. All produced by Sarah Currier.


My name is Sarah Currier and I’m working with the Research Communications Strategy Project this April and May to take a snapshot of current thinking and practice around open science and citizen science in the UK. We are particularly interested in strategic and policy issues, and the relationship between open science  and scholarly communications more generally. We’ll be providing a briefing document after the end of May 2011. This work was stimulated by the 2009 JISC consultative report Open science at web-scale: Optimising participation and predictive potential. Of the three aspects of open science covered in that report, we’re looking at the first two:

  • open science including open notebook science : making methodologies, data and results available on the Internet, through transparent working practices.
  • citizen science including volunteer computing : where volunteers who may not have scientific training, perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement or computation.

With such a short time-frame, we’re going straight to the horse’s mouth: we have seven interviews planned with key thinkers, practitioners and advocates of open science and citizen science. These will feed into our final briefing document; we’ll also be making video and audio clips of the interviews available on the CRC website.

In fact, we’ve already started; I had two very interesting conversations on Friday (April 29th) with open knowledge mavens Dr. Rufus Pollock, an economist, and Prof. Peter Murray-Rust, a chemist, both of whom are based at the University of Cambridge. Some sample clips from those interviews will be made available soon.

In the meantime, check out their Open Knowledge Foundation, and also the four Panton Principles for Open Data in Science, which were developed by Rufus and Peter along with well-known open science advocate Cameron Neylon of the STFC (whom we will also be interviewing) and John Wilbanks of the Science Commons. The Panton Principles were developed at The Panton Arms pub in Cambridge, where I ate a delicious lunch after interviewing Rufus and Peter. Here’s Prof. Peter Murray-Rust, in his Open Knowledge Foundation t-shirt, under the renowned Panton Arms sign:

Prof. Peter Murray-Rust outside the Panton Arms in Cambridge

Over the coming month I’ll also be interviewing open science practitioners and advocates Prof. Carole Goble (University of Manchester, School of Computer Science) and Prof. Jason Swedlow (University of Dundee, College of Life Sciences), and astronomy researchers with the citizen science project Galaxy Zoo, Dr. Chris Lintott and Steven Bamford.

You can get updates on this mini-project by following us on Twitter: @RCSOpenScience and you can keep an eye on the information we are pulling together on the project Netvibes site here. You can also subscribe to the RSS feed for the Open Science category here in this blog.

Links between open data

In another move towards more open exploration of university data, Southampton University have recently released a site which allows experiment and mashup with some of their administrative data.  This follows Tim Berners-Lee’s ideas on Linked Data and presents RDF structured data. There is an interesting piece from The Register IT-blog on the initiative which links the approach to work with the Ordnance Survey.

This takes its place in a range of current experiments and acts as one pole of an approach using structured data. The other pole is exemplified by the previously reported competition to use the heterogeneous collection of information available through Mendeley. The tension between usage of large sets of information with basic (if any) metadata and far smaller restricted sets with structure that allows wider experiment exists as a basic question in information management. The debate will doubtless continue.


Industrial taskforce urges opening access

A major report by the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) is urging universities to open access to their knowledge and intellectual property to support and boost UK manufacuring capacity.

The reports assesses the UK’s current position in manufacturing – Britain is still the sixth largest manufacturer in the world by output, with manufacturing contributing £131 billion to GDP (13.5%), 75% of business research and development (R&D), 50% of UK exports and ten percent of total employment.

Given the conventional wisdom that the eighties finished off UK manufacturing, this is cheering to read.  However, the UK currently only ranks 17th in competitativeness and is forecast to slide.  The report identifies greater access to innovative IP and cutting edge research as essential to halt this decline.

From their release:  Simon Bradley, vice-president of EADS, said to gain greater access to universities’ knowledge, ideas and creativity was vital for manufacturing: “Our Taskforce has found that the simple act of universities opening their vast knowledge banks and providing free access to their intellectual property would have the single biggest impact on accelerating the capability and growth of smart manufacturing in the country.”

This is where open access to articles and data cuts into the “real world” and benefits can be seen outside the research community.

Some sceptical publishers continue to argue against Green OA and for locking down copyright on the grounds of (unproven) economic impacts on their business. Open Access journals, while developing, are still far from the norm: “hybrid” journals continue to charge high fees on top of their continuing subscription costs. The response from much of the publishing world has been to see open access as an additional profit line, or as something to allow by exception, rather than a recognition of a different and new way of working and of OA as playing a part in a far larger working environment.

This report highlights that there is an economic world outside the publishing industry too, and one which is crying out for the benefits of OA.

Given the potential for open access to research to benefit this wider economic picture, as well as collaborative developments between research institutes and industry,  restrictive arguments become increasingly untenable. If funders want OA, researchers want OA, institutions want OA and industry wants OA, why are some publisher’s contracts still stopping this from happening?



D-Lib Data Issue and

If you are trying to keep up on issues and initiatives related to Open Data you might want to check out the following:

1.   D-Lib Magazine’s January/February 2011 issue. It’s all about data. Topics include the Dataverse Network, the Data Observation Network for Earth (DataONE), Earth System Science Data (ESSD), research data quality, the trustworthiness of data centres, the relationship between publications and data, and metadata for data set citation.

2.   A recent Open Knowledge Foundation blog post. Written by Tony Hirst, this post describes the new site From the site :

GetTheData is a Q&A site where you can ask your data related questions, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • where to find data relating to a particular issue;
  • how to query Linked Data sources to get just the data set you require;
  • what tools to use to explore a data set in a visual way;
  • how to cleanse data or get it into a format you can work with using third party visualisation or analysis tools.

Worth checking out.

Open data

Data punch card

There has been a lot of talk about open data as of late (see the Panton Principles, Kevin Smith’s blog post “What is Open Data”, and Michael Gurstein’s blog posts here and here). I’ve also recently read about numerous open data projects/initiatives through the Connotea open access tracking project (developed by Peter Suber), including the Hawaii Open Data Project, DataSF, and the World Bank, to name a few. Much of these projects involve governmental and organisational data, which seems to be transitioning to open with little trouble.

Data produced in the academic environment, alternatively, still has a way to go. Discussions at the Publishing primary research data breakout session at Science Online London demonstrated that academics still have concerns about data source citing and how credit is given, and would like to see the publication of data recognised as an “academic contribution”, aka equivalent to the publication of a journal article. Fortunately work is being done by JISC (Managing Research Data Programme) and the British Library (DataCite) to support academics in this area. It will be interesting to see how things continue to develop in this area.

Image credit: Chris Campbell