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.

Launch of a significant journal

Nature Publishing group have just announced the launch of “Scientific Reports”, as a multi-disciplinary open access high-level journal.

From their website:

“Online and open access, Scientific Reports is a brand new primary research publication from the publishers of Nature, covering all areas of the natural sciences — biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences.

Scientific Reports exists to facilitate the rapid peer review and publication of research that is of interest to specialists within any given field in the natural sciences, without barriers to access.”

This is an open access journal, charging an article-processing fee of £890/ $1,350:  articles will be freely available to everyone under a CC licence, deposited in PMC and authors retain copyright.

This follows in the footsteps of PLoS One and represents a significant move for NPG and, very likely, for journals in general.   This model takes advantage of the fact that “issues” of an OA and electronic journal are not limited in size and can vary up and down:  and can  accomodate all of the articles that meet their peer-review criteria, as they are assessed. With this freedom, the journal is able to work across disciplines, which could represent a challenge to traditional, slower, non-OA journals.  Backed by the Nature brand, this is a powerful mover for change.

Interestingly, although it is OA, the change and challenge that this represents for other journals is really only partially due to its OA nature.  It would be possible, although a little more complex, to have a similar model of a “mega-journal” based on subscriptions.  As I and the CRC team here have been saying for some time, OA is not the biggest challenge to publishers clinging to traditional models for their journals who see development as simply producing electronic analogues of what has gone before. Other capabilities and possibilities bought about by online dissemination and storage; multimedia capacities; meta-analyses; data-mining; and online, open peer-review are far more of a threat to closed, regular issue serials. Open access happens to be part of this suite of possibilities that have been bought by developments from outside publishing – and it fits very nicely.

We now have PLoS One, that led the way, confounding doubters:  Nature’s Scientific Reports has followed and is on course for an Impact Factor by 2013, and will be gathering adherants from now on, so by some metrics the clock is ticking.  What will the other publishers do to respond?


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.

Research communication: where do we go from here?

A couple of us from the CRC went yesterday to the first meeting in a series called “Research Information in Transition” put on by RIN at the Royal College of Physicians. This one was on “The future of scholarly publishing – where do we go from here?” There were some interesting presentations – especially one by Cameron Neylon who invited us to think about how we’d design a scholarly communication system from scratch if we were starting now. The chances are it wouldn’t look like the one we have … For instance, could we change the basis of academic prestige so success is based on the citation and reuse of research rather than the number of publications in high impact journals?

As you’d expect, there was a lot of talk about open access. But mostly about Gold OA. For the small research funders who haven’t got Wellcome’s budget, wouldn’t Green be the answer?

Also: as someone pointed out at the end, we’d been talking exclusively about STEM research. “Where do we go from here” with the communication of Arts, Humanities and Social Science research?

The next event in the series (November 18) is on managing and sharing research data. Should be worth going to.

Scientists’ views on Open Access

I was at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference in the very handsome Midland Manchester Hotel on September 6 (and then had the flu, hence the delay in this post!). I ran a special interest session on Open Access and had a discussion around the continuing perception of researchers that citations from OA sources are less “valuable” than citations from traditional publications …

Which links into the fact that one of the most interesting sessions I attended was a workshop on academic scientists’ perceptions of their careers. The picture was one of a profession marked by anxiety, pressure and tension – with early-career researchers showing particularly high levels of insecurity. No real surprise there, then. But I wonder if this is connected with the tendency to be sceptical about the use of open access repositories for disseminating research results. Do scientists feel that by using OA methods they’d be somehow relinquishing ownership of, and/or control over, their research? Since the research results are the key to career progression, status and even permanent employment, the last thing researchers want is to lose control over them. 

Does this make sense as an analysis?

Science Online London

Earlier this month I attended Science Online London at the British Library (3rd and 4th of September). The conference was hosted by Mendeley, Nature Network (Nature Publishing Group), and the British Library, an interesting collaboration. The theme was “How is the web changing science?” Attendees included academics (predominately from the sciences), science journalist, science bloggers, publishers (including OA publishers), service providers (e.g.CiteULike, Mendeley), and to a lesser extent library and information professionals. A colleague and I manned a stand and attended sessions. Twitter had a major presence, with a “Twitterfall” following the conference hash tag(s) (there was even some dispute over which was the official #soloconf or #solo10) projected on a screen in most sessions.

I talked to a lot of people and most conversations eventually led to a general discussion of open access. Most people had some knowledge of OA and generally knew and agreed with the main arguments, though many people were concerned with the cost of OA (in the form of OA journals), and seemed to be unaware of the alternative OA pathway of repositories and self-archiving. Other topics of discussion included: FP7 and OA, the semantic web, and etheses. Open data was also clearly a hot topic.

Martin Rees gave the opening keynote titled How the web is changing science: A reader and author’s perspective. He was an excellent speaker and focused mostly on the current status of academic publishing and OA. He said almost everything that a supporter of OA could want a speaker to say, and set an appropriate tone for the conference.

Another session of note was the “unconference” session about Open Access. The discussion often strayed to topics including the problems with peer-review and impact factor (see Cameron Neylons blogpost here), and the dissatisfaction with the current methods used for tenure and promotion. A need for policy change was identified, though people seemed fairly confident that the academic publishing system would break, and change within 5 years. It is good to know that a session on OA no longer means defining OA and describing its benefits, but instead easily moves onto underlying scholarly communication issues and the changes that need to take place perhaps before OA will become widespread.

Image credit: Ian Mulvany