Open Science: redefining the boundaries of the Academy

Live notes at the eResearch seminar by Antonio Lafuente (CSIC) and Ismael Peña-López (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) entitled e-Research: oportunidades y desafíos para las ciencias sociales (e-Research: opportunities and challenges for social sciences). Citilab, Cornellà de Llobregat (Barcelona), Spain, May 14th, 2009.

See also e-research tag.

Open Science and expanded authority
Antonio Lafuente

Open Science

What is open science? Can science not be open? Are we the product of the scientific revolution or is it the scientific revolution a product of the modern era?

The scientific revolution during the XVII and XVIII centuries was not about a dire change in methodology, but opening the process and results of science, making them public and transparent, opening knowledge to many. And it does seem now that we’re revisiting that era again, threatened by the menace of a closure of science.

During these centuries, a new character appears in science: the fact. And, with it, quantification and measurement of phenomena. But then the possibility appears too to register and appropriate knowledge through intellectual property rights. This leads to a process of privatization of knowledge (and universities…).

Threatening knowledge

We live in a Damoclesian era (Moran), scared masses are easier to lead/manage.

On the one hand, there are increasingly powerful lobbying activities that include positioning “experts” in supposedly independent scientific committees, with manifest conflict of interests. Neutrality, thus, is at stake.

Second, secrecy is a growing practice of which there’s evidence to be dragging the efficiency of the practice of science.

The crisis of peer review, affecting the “market” of scientific reputation, which, at its turn, affects tenures, prizes, grants… and indeed most policy-making and decision-taking depends on expertise and reputation.

Endogamy of citation procedures creates a resonance where most articles state the same discoveries but rely, aggregately, in just a few of them. Thus, there is few practice and experimentation and most (vague) citation and repetition of preceding literature, reinforcing — instead of testing or refuting — ungrounded (or poorly grounded) discoveries.

The speed of times also plays havoc on the slow path that science needs.

Uncertainty — or risk, according to Ulrich Beck — also requires more open and collaborative science, as the complex is too difficult to handle by few scientist working together.

Examples of Open Science

Innocentive: a community “to broadcast problems”. Innocentive has put into practice disperse and multidisciplinary talent.

Scott Page: The Difference, with examples of “why 1+1 is not 2”, or how to join efforts in solving problems.

The US Patent System: Not only the system has to grant patents, but research the prior art of the submitted patent application. But the prior art is so huge, that it just cannot be tracked. To solve this, a peer-to-patent project has been created: when a patent is submitted, it is published and whoever is affected by it (i.e. has some prior rights to what the patent claims) can object to that new patent application.

Electrosensibilidad: 13,000,000 Europeans state being electrosensible, meaning that electrostatic waves disable people to work and even live comfortably. But this “disease” is not acknowledged as so. A citizen platform has been created continent wide to share knowledge in order to define the symptoms, the consequences and force governments to acknowledge this disease.

Open Access: is a claim from scientist to recover an image of people working for the common good. The idea is that all knowledge publicly funded should be made public — and not transferred to private hands by giving away intellectual property rights e.g. to publishers. Besides moral issues, open access pays back both economically and scientifically (in citations, publishing impact, etc.).

How can eResearch contribute to enhance Research?
Ismael Peña-López

Please see How can eResearch contribute to enhance Research?

[click to enlarge]

Q & A

Adolfo Estalella: It is an acknowledged truth that most collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia, Linux) are run by minorities, though there might be a huge community around them. Is it a problem of values? or what? Antonio Lafuente: Yes, it is a matter of values. Another issue is that authority cannot be automatized and requires curation. In an open review system, there’ll be more transparency and less probability to trick. And technology can enable this. On the other hand, there are several evidences where multitudes can produce quality.

Adolfo Estallella: but, will everyone review everything they read? how can we engage readers of open content to review, without explicit incentives, e.g. the papers they read? Antonio Lafuente: Maybe we should acknowledge and accredit comments and reviews, so that there is an incentive making them.


e-Research: opportunities and challenges for social sciences (2009)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “Open Science: redefining the boundaries of the Academy” In ICTlogy, #68, May 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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