how do I open … let me count the ways

November 30, 2010

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.

what I should have said was …

November 25, 2009

The full house on the 376 from Bristol to Wells tonight might well have appreciated my bonnes pensées. They didn’t get them. But then, neither did the workshop on universities and public engagement that should have. Don’t you always  have your most intelligent thoughts on the way home?

One thing that struck me was the fixation on public engagement as being ‘standing up and talking about your stuff’. In front of … eek! people! That’s scary, of course – takes a lot of courage. The fear of looking them in the whites of their eyes was high on the list of ‘things that put people off getting involved in PE work’ (there were lots of others). But surely there are other ways? Lots of academics have blogs, social network pages, twitter accounts, personal web pages; aren’t they public engagement? Don’t they count as engagement activities?

Fear works in the other direction too. Universities are big scary places — it takes all the courage I can muster to get myself to a public lecture. But I feel comfy on my sofa with my laptop, looking for information on … Engagement with science on the web is very much engagement – and with a potentially enormous public.

This was all so much better in that traffic jam …