Open Science – panel debate

Open Science – panel debate

On 17th February, the Cardiff Hub hosted a panel discussion on Open Science, as part of our Lunchtime Debate series on key aspects of change in science and research.

Professor Ole Petersen, Academic Director of the Cardiff Hub, opened the session as Chair of the panel. He advised that radical thinking was needed on how science and innovation operate but this would involve some degree of intellectual discomfort.

Our first panellist, Dr Richard Morey (Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology), introduced the audience to the Peer Reviewers Openness Initiative, acknowledging that it could be a polarising idea. He contended that researchers valued openness but as authors often felt it was not in their interest to be open.  Open data was perceived to take time and effort, potentially lead to competitive disadvantage and was not always rewarded.  The Peer Reviewers Openness Initiative launched in January 2017, with 363 members joining to date.  Signatories agree to undertake comprehensive review only of manuscripts with accompanying data and materials  made public, unless clear reasons are given for not doing so.  Read more in Dr Morey’s article.

Professor Jo Cable (School of Biosciences) spoke about public engagement with science and research, urging the audience to consider what the public really cares about. She gave two examples from her own work.  The BARC project focused on the presence of parasites, specifically the toxocara species, in soil samples and the link to dog excrement.  Campaigns like BARC in the Park resonated with the public and important stakeholders like local councils, educating the public about the risks of dog fouling.  Professor Cable’s most recent project, FluffyFish, works with anglers and other members of the public, who are asked to notify her research team about fish with signs of saprolegnia infection.  The Environment Agency is one of a number of major organisations also involved.  See more about Professor Cable’s work on the CRIPES website.

Professor Sven Bestmann (Motor Neuroscience, University College London), Vice-President of the Young Academy of Europe, provided the perspective of early- and mid-career researchers. Professor Bestmann made clear that a transformation in science was in progress and it was imperative for younger researchers to influence the debate and the outcome.  He put forward a number of ideas, including new forms of publishing and the use of open data.  He acknowledged that moving to open data was not easy.  Researchers would need to know more about information technology and standards, as well as how to curate data.  New practices would need to be rewarded in order to be taken up.

Professor Davide Bonifazi (School of Chemistry) spoke of what he perceived to be the exploitation of scientists by the publishing industry, a situation reinforced by the reward system, which focused on published output. Change was needed and scientists should take back control, becoming more independent of publishers.  The content of papers was paramount and quality was more important than quantity of papers produced.

Lively audience interaction followed the panellists’ presentations. The Chair asked the audience to consider whether scientists really were at odds with publishers and the system broken.  Not all publishers were voracious capitalists and a free-for-all in publishing may not be a good idea.  Perhaps it was necessary to think about what specific aspects of science and research would benefit from openness.

Sonja Haerkoenen of the University Library, informed the audience of the development of a UK Scholarly Communications Licence, which would enable authors to take back rights.

There were strong opinions about peer review. One the one hand, the anonymity of peer review was considered important.  However, would open review depend on the number of ‘likes’ for ranking of research quality, an audience member asked.  Others felt that anonymous peer review was far from perfect and it was usually possible to tell who was being reviewed.

Dr Morey urged academics to take control of the whole review/copy editing process. However, there were a number of points of view on the potential downsides of open data.  There was concern about a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to open data and that authors might feel under obligation to release data.  Was this so-called transparency or were we moving to a full auditing system for research?  The complexity of research, with layers of data, would require mastery of certain software to process the data and make sense of it.  There were also worries about increased workload and the time and effort required to make use of datasets.  The prevailing culture was one of not digging into others’ data.  Total openness would stop experimentation and play.  Human contact was also essential in research; not all knowledge could be mediated and transferred by machine.

Dr Morey responded that data was valuable and could save time and duplication of effort by other researchers. However, data needed to be well-organised, curated and produced in a way that made it re-usable.  Professor Bestmann agreed that this was the way the world was moving and there was no avoidance.  Reward and incentive were important, along with the willingness to help shape the future.

The next panel debate is on the topic of Research Assessment and takes place on 5th April.