An inclusive approach to open science

Open Science Logo v2

by gemmerich

Update: There is a OKFN pad devoted to discussing this idea. Please add your comments and critique there!

When Derick Leony, Wolfgang Reinhardt, Günter Beham and myself made the case for an open science in technology-enhanced learning back in late 2011, we discussed how open science could become a reality. We finally concluded that this was first and foremost a matter of consensus in the community:

Open Science is first and foremost a community effort. In fact we are arguing that reproducibility and comparability should become two of the standard criteria that every reviewer has to judge when assessing a paper.  [..] These two criteria should be of equal importance as the established criteria, giving incentive to the authors to actually apply the instruments of Open Science.

In addition, journals and conferences ought to make the submission of source code, data, and methodological descriptions together with the paper mandatory for them to be published. Conferences and journals themselves should in turn commit to making the papers openly accessible. The case of the genetic sequence database GenBank, which stores DNA sequences and makes them available to the public, has shown that if publishers and conference organisers adopt new standards, they can be propagated quickly within the community. The huge success of GenBank is due to the fact that many journals adopted the Bermuda principles (Marshall 2001), which state among other things that DNA sequences should be rapidly released into the public domain.

There is a crucial interplay at work between individual researchers and other actors within a field such as funding agencies, journals, and conferences. On the one hand, individual researchers are often bound by the rules that are made by those institutions because they depend on them as sources of funding and as publication outlets. On the other hand, the boards and committees steering these institutions are (at least partly) made up of the same researchers. Many researchers are sitting on conference committees, editorial boards, and policy advisory boards. They are thus shaping the community and commonly defining what is shared pratice among its participants. In their role, they can advocate open practices and propose rules that help establishing an open science.

In my perception, the discourse in open science often runs along the lines of open vs. closed approaches. A lot of effort is put into determining what is truly open and what is actually still closed. In open access for example, there is a heated debate whether to choose the green or the gold road with advocates on both sides ferociously arguing why only one of the two can only be considered as true open access. Whereas this discussion surely has some merit, most researchers have to worry more about whether their efforts are recognized by the community than what constitutes true openness. As Antonella Esposito writes in her insightful study on digital research practices:

Nonetheless their digital identities and online activities constituted a ‘parallel’ academic life that developed as a self–legitimating approach within a traditional mode of knowledge production and distribution. These tentative efforts were not acknowledged in their respective communities, struggling to become identifiable open research practices. Indeed, some interviewees called for clear institutional rules enabling sharing practices — especially in teaching and learning — that might slowly produce a general change of attitude and overcome current isolated initiatives by a few pioneers of open scholarship.

Most researchers are neither completely open nor completely closed. There is no black and white, but different shades of grey. Nonetheless, there are many researchers out there who make their publications available or put their source code online. In my opinion, it is necessary to get these reseachers aboard, not to drive them away with endless debates whether their research is “truly” open. Don’t get me wrong: it is important to have discussions about the optimal characteristics of open science, but not at the expense of making open science an elitist club where only a small minority can enter that satisfies all criteria. From a community perspective, it is the commitment to openness that matters, and the willingness to promote this openness on editorial boards and program committees.

It seems that such a holistic view is gaining some traction: in a recent Web Science paper, R. Fyson, J. Simon and L. Carr discuss the interplay between actors regarding open access publications. Another good example of an inclusive approach is the Open Science Project here in Graz. The Open Science Project is a group of students led by Stefan Kasberger that tries to do all of their study-related work according to open science practices. This means that they try to use open source software for their homework assignments and make the results publicly available. They go to great lengths in their effort as they also try to persuade lecturers to follow their example and make their scripts openly accessible.

Draft Petition

At a recent meeting of the Austrian chapter of the OKFN Open Science, we started discussing an inclusive  approach to open science. This motivated me to write a first draft for a petition which you can find below. So my question is: would you sign such a petition? Do you think it is engaging/far going/well worded enough? Let me know what you think in the comments or join us at the OKFN Pad where you can help us to collaboratively edit the text:

Science is one of the greatest endeavours of mankind. It has enjoyed  enormous growth since its inception more than 400 years ago. Science has  not only produced an incredible amount of knowledge, it has also created  tools for communication and quality control. Journals, conferences, peer  review to name just a few. Lately, serious shortcomings of these  established instruments have surfaced. Scientific results are often irreproducible and lead to ill-guided decisions. Retraction rates are on  the rise. There have been many cases of high profile scientific fraud.

In our view, all of these problems can be addressed by a more open approach to science. We see Open Science as making the scientific  process and all of its outcomes openly accessible to the general public. Open Science would benefit science, because it would make results more  reproducible, and quality control more transparent. Open Science would also benefit the society by including more people in the process and sparking open innovation.

Besides the greater good, open science also benefits individual scientists. Research has shown that papers that are openly accessible are cited more  often. If you share source code and data, you could get credited for  these parts of your research as well. If you talk about your methodology and share it with others, this will bring attention to your work. The internet provides us with the technology to make Open Science possible. In our view, it is time to embrace these possibilities and innovate in the scientific process.

It is very important to note that we see Open Science as a community effort that can only work if we include as many people as possible. We know that it is not possible to open up entire work processes  overnight. In our view, this is not necessary to contribute to an Open Science. The idea is to open everything up that you already can and work towards establishing open practices in your work and your  community. You might already have papers that you are allowed to share in a personal and institutional repository. You might have source code or data that you can easily publish under a permissive license. And you might be sitting on a board and committee where you can bring open practices into the discussion.

If you agree with this point of view, you are encouraged to sign the  declaration below.

  • I will open up resources that I have the legal right to
  • I will work towards establishing open practices in my research
  • I will promote Open Science in my institution and my research community

If you would like to comment on the manifesto, or add your own ideas, please go to this OKFN Pad.

  1. really nice sum up text.

    some input from me:
    1. corrected some wording in the pad.
    2. maybe work together on some more detailed, concrete input for the 3 points. but keep it small and simple – the central theme is really good from lenght and content.
    3. direct to other projects and concepts for more details at the end, like open definition, free software foundation or so.

  2. Brilliant initiative indeed and nice text! Maybe I would add something related to the extent to which potential for openness (in different ‘shades of grey’ as you nicely said) also provides new opportunities for doctoral/young researchers. I mean, it can help them to not reinvent the wheel and is likely to expose them to diverse typologies of academic identities, beyond the core relationship apprentice researcher/supervisor. The challenge (and commitment) here would be to enable such kind of tentative, self-organized agency on part of doctoral students, as integral part of their formation.

  3. Antonella, Stefan, thanks for your nice words! Your input is very valuable. It would indeed be good to reach out to PhD students as they represent the next generation of researchers. This fits nicely with Stefan’s comment on linking to other projects and concepts. It is not the goal to replace open science existing initiatives but to make researchers aware of them.

  4. Ivo said:

    Nice words and valuable contribution, indeed.

    But what is this “inception of science 400 years ago”? I think this dating is very controversial (to say at least) and unnecessary burdens the message.

  5. I definitively like very much the idea of inclusive approach to open science. It actually makes more sense than having strict rules to determine whether a scientific work is open or not.

    I think the manifesto expresses very well the idea of the approach and the motivation behind it; you’ve done a great job there. I’d sign the petition with no doubt!

  6. Robert Muetzelfeldt said:

    This is not a ‘petition’. A petition is asking for/demanding something – we want a new school; we demand that Bloggs should resign. The is is more like a manifesto, as a couple of others have described it. But either way, it needs *a lot* of work – as it stands, it is too long-winded, wordy and lacking in ‘bite’. A petition/manifesto is not an essay. For an example of what a manifesto should be like, take a look at

    • Robert, thanks for your comments and for reminding me of the brilliant Cloud Appreciation Society. Your concerns abou the word “petition” make a lot of sense. Maybe it is more of a manifesto or a declaration after all.
      Regarding the length, I think there are different approaches. Take the altmetrics manifesto ( for example: it gives a thorough introduction to the subject and includes even such things as a roadmap. I was aiming for something that explains open science in brief to those who are not familiar with the concept (or that have a vague understanding) without boring those who are already involved in it. But perhaps we need two versions: one that only covers the main points, and one that explains the underlying ideas in more depth.

    • Hi Robert,
      Thank you for your useful pointers here.

      Hi Peter,
      I would just like to suggest that using gender-neutral words such as “humankind” rather than “mankind” would be better. In addition, you might want to use some styling or formatting to enhance the presentation of your manifesto, declaration, petition or whatever you call it eventually.

      I know that this post was published six years ago, and my comment here is probably too belated to be useful or valid.

      Happy October to all of you!

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