how do I open … let me count the ways

Does it matter that definitions of what the ‘open’ in open science means are many and various? Naturally, I’ve asked everyone I’ve interviewed (that’s around 25 people) what ‘open’ means to them. Naturally, I’ve had 25 subtly different answers.

Within the community of scientists, a delicate structure of rules has grown up that sustains our trust in ourselves. We trust each other to cite references properly, to attribute thoughtfully, not to jump each others’ claims and knock down small children in the rush to publication.

Thing is, the rules are largely implicit and maybe you have to be a fully-paid member of the academy to get them. But as the furore over the leaking of emails from UEA (which I won’t cheapen by referring to as Climateg*t*) showed, in the light of common day, expectations can be very different.

The Russell Review – one of the tribunals that investigated the issue – found that while there was no reason to doubt the rigour and honesty of the scientists involved, there had been a ‘consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness’.

What exactly is the proper degree is a moot point. Does it matter that – as my 25 replies show – definitions of what the ‘open’ in open science means are many and various? I don’t think it does; the important thing is to be open in the first place – as open as feels comfortable. As the leaked emails saga shows, it’s easy to confuse ‘normal process’ with ‘deliberately secretive’. Openness can help … open things up. Humans have evolved pretty sophisticated ‘oops that’s not quite right’ detectors over the millennia but we need something to work with. We need the whole picture; the photograph, the list of other publications, the funders, the research question, the blog. It all helps build the narrative; even the twitter post about the particularly nice cup of tea they just had.

2 Responses to how do I open … let me count the ways

  1. stevegrand says:

    I do a lot of online research, and I love the fact that so much information is now available to mortals like me. But just recently I’ve really begun to notice how we’ve returned to a world of dishonest, devious snake-oil salesmen and caveat emptor, especially in the medical field.

    Knocking copy, unsubstantiated claims and dressing product sales up as “medical research trials” or “impartial advice from Dr. Such-and-such” are still seen as perfectly legitimate marketing tactics here in the US. But it’s getting worse and more sinister on the Internet, because of the depth of the deceit.

    There have been several fake scientific journals published in the past year, plus some extremely dodgy peer-reviewed papers with religious concepts masquerading as science. When I want to know anything medical or biological these days, I have to check who is funding the website first (if I’m permitted to find out), because they are so often entirely funded by industries who stand to gain from the message being put across.

    I don’t see any alternative to transparency. If kosher scientists won’t do their work completely in the open, we have no means of telling them apart from the snake-oil salesmen, who are doing an increasingly believable job of impersonating science. This is not going to foster public trust in science one little bit. Like you say, we need access to the bigger picture, so that we can detect the faint scent of deceit. It seems to me that continuing with closed science carries the same sort of responsibility for perpetuating pseudo-scientific frauds as the Catholic church must bear for the abuse of small children by priests, because of the way they closed ranks.

    Talking of small children, I loved the line about knocking them over in the rush to publish! 🙂

  2. […] like these, please: My open access conversion « Anne Peattie and how do I open … let me count the ways « Ann’s Blog and FEATURE: Interview With Jean-Claude Bradley – The Impact of Open Notebook […]

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