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Open Science in practice: barriers and recommendations - A contribution by Professor Mary Ritter, Professor Emeritus at Imperial College London

12 July 2017

Science must be open if we are to have impact on the ‘wicked’ problems that face the world today – such as climate change, energy, food and scarce resources.

This means open access to the results of research so that they can be translated into action and impact as quickly as possible, as EUA highlighted in its recent recommendations towards Open Access.

The Research, Innovation, and Science Policy Experts (RISE) Group, set up to advise the Commissioner for Research, has recently published its findings and recommendations on Open Innovation, Open Science and Open to the World. Within this, the Open Science Group has identified key barriers to Open Science and made recommendations to address these. To interrogate their findings and recommendations, the group organised two workshops to which external specialists from a range of organisations including universities, publishers, funders and relevant network bodies, were invited. The outcome of this process has been brought together in the Mallorca Declaration (the location of the first workshop) .

Four key barriers to the practice of Open Science were identified. 

Firstly, extreme competition for limited resources is a disincentive for the practice of open science. It is recommended that that overall funding success rates should be adjusted to a level where Europe’s best researchers can reasonably expect to receive funding for their best research and that as many high quality young researchers as possible should be funded, especially since it is so hard to identify those who will succeed. Assessment criteria must also be adjusted to avoid over-reliance on metrics.

Secondly, monopolisation and commercialisation of publishing are not compatible with Open Science – too many papers are hidden behind pay-walls for too long after publication, slowing down the time to impact. The group recommends development of new funding and business models to provide an affordable and sustainable Open Access publishing system. Meanwhile, Green Open Access provides a useful solution for sharing pre-prints; however, the ultimate goal must be Open Access of the final peer-reviewed publication and the underlying data – available from the moment of publication. Funders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation play a key role in achieving this goal.

Thirdly, the practice of Open Data is an essential component of Open Science, but there is an urgent need to establish both competence and confidence in this area. Training programmes, recognition of data reuse in career assessment and establishment of explicit career tracks for data and software specialists are all recommended.

The final focus is on research integrity, such that research findings are reliable, reproducible and trustworthy. While the 2017 European ALLEA code can provide a shared foundation for all European academic/research institutions, it is crucial that the culture of research integrity is nurtured through innovative training programmes. Interestingly, most current training focuses on Early Career Researchers, but these researchers tend to be the most open (reflecting their use of social media), and it is the mid-career and more senior researchers for whom training programmes should also be developed.

To achieve the goal of Open Science, the next steps must be to put words into action. Although derived through different methodologies and across different sectors, the RISE findings and recommendations align closely with those recently published by the EUA such as the report on Achieving Open Access by 2020: tracking universities’ progress and guidelines for the future and Towards Full Open Access in 2020: aims and recommendations for university leaders and National Rectors’ Conferences.  Both RISE and EUA stress that metrics must not substitute for meaningful assessment of an individual’s research and that assessment criteria should reward data sharing and open resource development. Similarly, the EUA’s statement that with Open Science the scientific community - “has regained its ‘scientific sovereignty’ over the knowledge it generates” - chimes closely with the RISE recommendations on Open Access publishing, with the understanding that governments and funders can play a key role in pushing this transition. Finally, both RISE and EUA highlight the vital importance of developing human capital and building researcher competences in areas such as in Open Data and Open Access – all crucial to the culture and practice of Open Science. Given this very close alignment, the RISE group would welcome the opportunity to work in liaison with the EUA and the EUA-CDE to promote the achievement of this shared vision and goals of Open Science. 

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