27 March 2016
Post by James Doherty
Cover photo by Jesse Orico
Reading time ~
GIFs & memes ~ 0
arrow_back Back to entries
It’s a golden age for science: the discovery of gravitational waves
has confirmed the last major prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity,
observation of the Higg’s boson brings us closer to
understanding the origins of the Universe, and now we know how to unboil an egg!
It perhaps seems a little strange then to say that science needs to change… but that’s what we’re saying.
Scientists are judged by their h-factor: a metric
based on how many papers they publish and how many times their papers are cited. The scientific career
structure therefore puts great emphasis on publishing papers, encouraging scientists to publish
rapidly and often. Statistical errors are rife, and disinterested peer reviewers
are poor at spotting them. Editors of peer review journals, such as Nature, choose which papers to publish
based on their novelty and significance. This encourages scientists to chase exciting positive results rather
than important but mundane negative results. And scientists often don’t wish to share their data and methods,
especially where these may be profitable in the future, so experiments are very difficult to replicate.
(See the Economist’s exposé
for more information.)
What is the solution?
Open Science is a movement that aims to make scientific research and data accessible to everyone.
It includes practices such as publishing data, providing detailed description of scientific methods,
making it fast and easy to publish and communicate scientific knowledge in open journals,
and making open source tools for everyone to do science.
Open Science began in the late 17th century with the publication of the Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society – the first academic journal devoted to science. Before this,
scientists kept discoveries relatively quiet until they felt they (or their patrons) could profit from them.
This meant discoveries were not shared and priority was difficult to prove. For example, both
Newton and Leibniz laid claim to discovering calculus.
The case against Open Science usually assumes that, if scientific data is published, scientists
may become overwhelmed and the public confused. This seems to put little faith in the ability of
scientists to choose relevant data to explore, and the intellect of citizens. There is also a concern
that science data might be used for EVIL…
On the other hand, Open Science solves many of the problems mentioned above. Open access publication
of research reports and data allows for rigorous peer review by the community, not just journal peer reviewers.
Open ‘pre-print’ research repositories, such as arXiv (used by the physics community) and
(recently started by life scientists), allow communities to openly critique and debate research findings, leading to open peer review.
This greater level of scrutiny encourages scientists to focus on quality
rather than quantity. Open science also makes experiments more transparent and reproducible,
and provides forums (such as PLoS) for the reporting of efforts that have failed to reproduce published results.
Open Science can help the science community to create an environment where publicly acknowledging one’s
mistakes and failures is valued, and will enhance a scientist’s reputation.
We are staunch advocates of Open Science at SciFabric, and its philosophy underlies what we do.
We provide open source solutions (PyBossa and Crowdcrafting) that allow anyone to build their own research projects.
We strongly encourage our users to make their data open and provide tools to widely disseminate findings to the community.
In his blog Billion Brain Blog, Francois Grey notes that
“only a minuscule fraction of the planet’s population, an elite of professional scientists
at the top of the intellectual pyramid, produces… science”. That’s why he believes “we need
to define a new type of science that inverts the traditional intellectual pyramid [and]… connects
people directly to the scientific process”.
An inverted pyramid. Photo by Lars Larsson.
The number of people in the world that are sufficiently educated and wealthy, and have access to
adequate technology, to do science is exploding. And the need for humanity and its booming population
to find solutions to social, environmental and health problems is increasingly pertinent.
Universities and research institutes can’t keep up. So we need to educate, mobilise and
deploy a new generation of agile thinkers. Open Science provides the tools and ethos to do so whilst making science more accountable and reputable.
We believe this is a really important issue for society and would love to hear your thoughts and opinions.
Please let us know on Twitter.
Share this blog post: