Open science and open science

3 minute read

A recent discussion on twitter about Open Sciences made me think about how Open Science can be intimidating, alienating and unwelcoming at times.

Here are some tweets that I found particularly revealing:

This thinking brought me to the conclusion that it is useful to distinguish between

Open Science as in widely disseminated and openly accessible

and

Open Science as in inclusive and welcoming

As far as I am concerned, the former more technical definition was always what I was focusing on, and the second community-level aspect of openness was, somehow, implicit from the former. But that’s not the case, at all. The train of thoughts was that open science leads to reproducible research and to more trustworthy science, favours dissemination of the research process and outputs, provides spaces for more people to express themselves, … thus favouring better recognition based on merit. Unfortunately, academia is not based on merit only (one needs to be “good”, of course, but once a certain level of quality has been attained, there are many other factors that count), and being an open scientists requires all too often a lot of combativeness. And there are cases where open science can have serious drawbacks. For example, when considering open peer review, it is clear that early career researchers have legitimate reasons to feel intimidated by openly criticising the work of a senior, well-respected researcher in their field. Similarly, while I value publishing in open access journals, I would not, as the senior author in a project, impose such a decision to a student or post-doc that works with me, if they felt that another venue was better for their career.

So yes, I have always acknowledged that there were different levels in how open one wanted to be, or how open one could afford to be. I am probably on the very open end of the spectrum. For example all my software is openly available, before publication; I publish pre-prints before submission of the manuscript; I publish data asap - note that I generally don’t generate new data myself; pretty much all my work, at least as corresponding author, is OA; I am a Software and Data Carpentry instructor and publish all my teaching material under CC-BY; I am involved in various open activities such as OpenConCam, Data Champions, the Open Research Pilot Project, … and I do not have the luxury of tenure. But that’s my personal view, and there is no reason to believe it fits others; more moderate contributions/involvement (also named baby steps, although I personally don’t like that term very much) are by no means worse, or less laudable. I appreciate I have privileges other don’t have - white male, well funded lab (including funders paying for costly Author Processing Charge), well known institution (I have witnessed how the attention some people give me has changed since I moved to Cambridge), and, when I feel strongly about a topic such as Open Science, I am not afraid of getting into an argument.

The reason I believe it is useful to make the above distinction in openness is that the the two approaches can sometimes conflict. I have mentioned some reasons above (open peer review and choosing publication venues), but Open Science, or the supposed expectations/requirements of Open Science can be particularly discriminatory for under-represented minorities (URMs), who are already subject to many implicit and/or explicit biases. Here’s a very revealing storyfied twitter tread explaining how well intended openness has risks that, in an already biased system, will affect some people more than others:

In this future, I will pay attention to make this distinction, and clarify that I want to promote both aspects, but that they can, at times, be difficult to harmonise. I will also emphasise that there is a gradient of how open one can be, or can afford to be, depending on circumstances, and that every contribution to Open Science, whether big or more moderate, is welcome and significant.

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