One change to make science more open?

in #science2 years ago (edited)

Recently, I was contacted by a Program Director from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and asked the following question:

If you could make one change that would shift incentives in research in favor of open science practices in research, what would it be?

The purpose was to provide input for an upcoming roundtable on open science NASEM plans to host. By replying to the email, I could hopefully make a small impact towards accelerating science through improved openness.

While I generally provide very specific recommendations to make science more open — such as open licensing of data and code and performing research publicly in realtime — I decided to go with a more general recommendation that is relevant for a diverse range of scholarly disciplines.

Here's what I replied:

When evaluating scientists, the primary factor should be how their past work has contributed to the research of others. Specifically, scientists should be asked "how have others used the outputs of your research?" When scientists are incentived to provide useful outputs to the community, they will gravitate towards openness because open science maximizes one's contribution.

For example, the biologist might say, "we created a gene editing technology, which we declined to patent, such that hundreds of labs and companies now freely use it in their research." A geneticist might say, "we created an openly licensed dataset which is now incorporated into 10 integrative resources and genome browsers created by third parties." A psychologist might say, "we published our research on healthy eating in an open access journal and the article has been downloaded over 1 million times and translated into Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic." A data scientist might say, "we created a software package that has 200 stars on GitHub and is used by over 50 studies a year."

Publishing in a high impact journal is not, in and of itself, a contribution to science at all. Studies should not be judged by the journal which published them, but rather a verifiable record (beyond just citations) that the outputs of that study are driving the next generation of research. When the incentives to provide open outputs become larger than the incentives to keep outputs proprietary, science will shift towards openness. Funders & institutions must reward and promote those who have a history of providing open & useful outputs versus those who have a history of not sharing their research to the maximum extent possible.

Let me know in the comments if you agree, disagree, or have other ideas on what we can do to make science more open!


First of all, thank you very much for this mention @dhimmel, I'm pleasantly surprised that someone actually reads and likes my blog :)

To be honest, I've been feeling extremely demotivated to write lately, because I have a feeling that not many people are interested in my articles, and I cannot even blame them, since topics I write about can sometimes be difficult to grasp...

Regarding evaluation of scientists, I completely agree with you that their work shouldn't be evaluated solely based on their publications in high impact journals, but on the contribution of their work to the scientific community in general.

Regarding @steemstem community, I can say that we try our best to promote good quality content related to any of the STEM categories.

If you're interested to find out more about our community, you're more than welcome to join us at our Discord server:

Hope to see you and other people interested in open science there!

Wow thats a sad tale of de-motivation. I will have to check out your blog.

Well written Daniel, makes perfect sense even to me. Btw how is the situation with scientific articles here on Steemit? I know they should be available under the tag "steemstem" but I have not really looked into this part of the platform much. Are they good in general?

I don't know too much about science on Steem, besides that every now and then I meet some cool scientists who happen to also use Steem. Examples include @dexterdev, @trang, @lemouth, @scienceangel, and @andrewagostini.

There is something called @steemstem which tries to promote good science content on the platform but I haven't had much interaction with them. There are also some great science journalists such as @simoxenham.

I'm excited about Steem for science since it provides a venue for global discourse and realtime open science. Perhaps some communities will form based around SMTs. However, it's also an unresolved question whether Steem's incentive model's will be beneficial or destructive for knowledge production.

Wow, thanks for this brief insight into the Steem science :) I have been browsing through the posts in the trending page of the "steemstem" tag now and some of the titles sound very interesting.

Good point with Steemit being a venue for global discourse and realtime open debates - not only for the Steemit community actually. Well, I am afraid nobody knows what the consquences of the SMT introduction will eventually be but I am hoping for the best.

I would wait and see for what concerns the SMTs. Here at SteemSTEM we are doing our best to promote science communication on Steem (and more), with the means we have. Feel free to reach us out on discord if you want to directly discuss with us.

Thanks @dhimmel for the mention :)

Thank you :) I have been more focused on just casual blogging and photography lately but when I was working as a staff writer, I had to deal with some scientific texts too so I might stop by if I happen to find my way back to this area :) Thanks guys.

Feel free to come back! We will be more than happy to welcome you!

I completely agree with what you said. I have been in formula student as Vehicle Dynamic lead in our college. I badly wanted to read some journals for improving performance of our vehicle but those were expensive. I should buy knowledge here which I hate. If have access to those journals I may have created something more innovative and that way I see progress but that doesn't happen. Don't know what can be done about it.

Yes, I find it infuriating that publicly-funded research is locked behind paywalls inaccessible to the vast majority of the world. Luckily, the situation is changing rapidly as funders begin to require open access (see the developments related to Plan S) and illicit access to paywalled literature undermines the subscription publishing model (see Sci-Hub).

That's wonderful to hear. I have to check wether I get access to SAE journals. I have small dumb question here may be,i have seen that national funding organizations are joining this movement. Are these government organizations? And How are authors compromised on their publications?

Many of the organizations pushing for reform are governmental organizations in that they fund research or administer academic libraries. However, many private funders such as philanthropies and foundations are also implementing policy changes.

In general, authors do not get royalties (money) from their academic publications. Instead, all revenue from a subscription journal goes to the publisher. Scholars are funded to do the research and write papers. They will continue to write papers even if all subscription publishers go out of business. However, they will shift to open access publishing whereby articles are free to read and reuse.

Publishing in a high impact journal is not, in and of itself, a contribution to science at all. Studies should not be judged by the journal which published them, but rather a verifiable record (beyond just citations) that the outputs of that study are driving the next generation of research.


Some journals also suck, in terms of the editorial team (regardless their impact factor):)

I couldn't imagine what the Nature of this comment could be.

I don't like Nature. A good journal, but a shitty non-open-access policy :)

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I forgot to release this post under an open license, but I'll do that now. This post and all my comments on it are hereby released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, which allows anyone to reuse it for any purpose if they credit the original source.

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I am happy to belong to a field where all the most important publications are open access (thanks to the SCOAP3 program, supported in particular by CERN). We also have the arxiv which is the platform from which articles are submitted to journals. And the arxiv is free (and even searchable, in particular via Inspire).

Finally, in more and more committees (at least some in which I had a role to play), what matters is indeed the impact, as you noticed. But this impact can be measured by different indicators, the number of citations being one of them but not only. Conferences, seminars, software, etc... there are many ways to quantify the impact and all those ways together should count!

Nice debate in any case! :)

That's a very good answer! However, I don't think previous contributions are enough since this number is directly correlated to how open science's access.

Let me give you an example. Not long along I wasn't fortunate enough to have access to ieeexplore. I hardly managed to do the research I needed to do, and most of the hypothesis needed to be validated by me alone even though nowadays I see those were already validated by someone else, I just didn't have access to it. As a result, I reinvented the wheel and spent time doing something not so "novel", although it had its impact.

Open science for me means the research should be public. Why hiding incredible results behind some subscription model? What's the point? Only for elite members to access it? There's a lot of creative non-elite people in the world who could use those to create magnificent things.

I also think the more open these things are the more contributions authors will make. It's not necessarily because they will have more incentives but because they will have a wider reach.

Now given that science is open to everyone, then the contribution could be (perhaps) measured on how much work they have inspired, not just cited as you mention but how much weight they had in other people's lifes. But again, it's difficult to measure with a single metric.

Ultimately, I love this EU initiative 😊

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Javier, could you please elaborate on "previous contributions are not enough"? Enough for what? Are you referring to the number of citations?

I think your definition of open science is exactly what Daniel means: open to the public and no subscription model. And yes, more open → more contribution.

I agree that without internet access, it's incredibly difficult to do science. However, the scientist's job is to make their work as transparent as possible; it would be rather beyond their ability to make sure it's accessible from the other end. Limited internet access is a much larger issue than making science open.

While the EU initiative had great intention, have you heard about the involvement of Elsevier in their open science monitor?

Hi Trang! Now when I read my response it even sounds weird to me sorry 😅. What I meant is that previous work is not enough to determine how much an author has contributed to science, there are plenty of repeated or near equal work out there that I wouldn't say they contribute much. At the same it's great when more than one person reaches the same conclusion since it validates the others.

But even though the scientists job is to make their work as available as possible, you always see work that's exclusively available on sites like ieeexplore. And it's not about internet access what I'm talking about here, what if you do have internet but don't have the means to pay for the subscription? Moreover, if you are doing a one-time simple research paying for a subscription would be a waste since you wouldn't use it that much, and sometimes these subscriptions bind you for an extended period of time.

I need to do some homework about Elsevier, I see it suggests me papers based on others I have saved on Mendeley, which is a nice feature 😊.

In this regard, I love sci-hub and their slogan "removing barriers on the way of knowledge".

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Ah, I see what you're saying now. Yes, I think we're on the same page about open science and open access. Perhaps @dhimmel's recent talk in Zurich will interest you! The current model to avoid paywall is an OA fee upfront. Now, a caveat is that the scientist/author has to pay this fee to publish their work (e.g., Bioinformatics charges $3,150 for OA). While most scholars have funding, this relatively high fee does deter many labs from open license their work.

Oh I will definitely check his talk, thanks for sharing it! Although I am aware of the high fees, I believe science is a common asset for us humans as a civilization and race. Keeping them private or hindering progress is just stupid in my opinion because we all would benefit from it. But as you say, most of the scientists have funding so that shouldn't be a major issue, the problem is more noticable when it comes to accessibility.

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a lot of knowledge, and I also strongly agree mr. @dhimmel...
moreover if you can get all the knowledge that can be posted in steemit, so that everyone can learn with openness, we can discuss everything through media without attachment, because even though we devote a little knowledge, it can be a guide for all circles ...
good job mr. @dhimmel and good luck ...

You gave a very reasonable remarks and opinions to the question. I think whatever contributes to general wellfare as result of new knowledge and scientific discoveries, should be open to wide public. Every scientist should be proud of the fact that his or her work can be of some benefit of people.

I love these ideals. After 15 years working on clean tech startup companies in the renewable space I am a little more jaded however.

This is such an important statement " Studies should not be judged by the journal which published them, but rather a verifiable record (beyond just citations) that the outputs of that study are driving the next generation of research" . It is however almost impossible for them to verify these outputs as perception is often not reality and you would end up with people who are good at spinning their work coming to the forefront when in reality it may be others who had the more impact, unnoticed by the community. Also a paper which is otherwise goes unnoticed could have had a major impact on someone who then started a company/trend and drove radical societal change. The original author may never be the wiser, which is why those small esoteric papers are so important, they are mostly ignored but every now and then they change the world.