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Open science practices in different disciplines (2) - An interview with Prof Jan-Willem Romeijn and Dr Titus Stahl, Faculty of Philosophy

Date:11 January 2022
Author:Vera Heininga
The Faculty of Philosophy ©UG
The Faculty of Philosophy ©UG

The University of Groningen sees the development of open science as one of its priorities for the next 5 years. In this series of interviews, we explore the status of open science at the different UG faculties. Next up: the Faculty of Philosophy.

Prof Jan-Willem Romeijn (JWR) is professor of Philosophy of Science, and dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen. His research revolves around probability theory and scientific method.

Dr Titus Stahl (TS) is assistant professor of Philosophy at the University of Groningen, and Open Science ambassador. His research focuses on social and political philosophy, both historically and systematically.

Many people probably do not immediately associate philosophy with open science. Can you tell a bit more about what open science entails in philosophy, and why is it important?

JWR: In our field, open science is not directly relevant in the same way as it is in psychology or the medical sciences, for example, because we hardly do any empirical research. However, as philosophers we reflect on science and its role in society. For that reason, it is also part of our academic discourse. For example, research is being conducted into the pros and cons of open peer review and statistical methods that may mitigate the replication crisis.

TS: For researchers who publish articles, open access is the most important part of open science, as are the science shops that also focus on the debate with society. Open science within philosophy is mainly about debate and openness towards society. It's more about the output side than the input side.

What is the current state of affairs in terms of open science at the philosophy faculty?

TS: We try to publish open access as much as possible. For example, if there are open access deals, we use them and try to encourage PhD students to use them too. It is a pity that we only have a limited offer of journals in philosophy that are fully open access. Compared to other disciplines, philosophy is a relatively conservative field in this regard. But I can highlight that there are at least two open access journals that Groningen philosophers have now started with the University of Groningen Press (UGP) that supports authors in establishing and publishing digital scientific journals and books.

JWR: For philosophers of science, finding open access options for publishing books is a relatively new challenge, as most open access outlets are only about a decade old. But I do see a trend in journal reputation, because naturally we prefer publishing open access. Fortunately, many established journals are run by professional associations, and they have as a result been relatively accessible for longer. There are also excellent repositories for preprints. What I find painful is that we do our best to publish as much open access as possible, including via the UG Research Portal (PURE), but that this repository itself is owned by Elsevier - a large commercial party! It seems that our drive towards open access badly misfired there.

Which objectives do you want to achieve in the upcoming two years with regard to the implementation of open science?

TS: As an open science ambassador, I want to do more to promote the use of Open Educational Resources in our classes in the coming years. Since we as a faculty are not doing much with this at the moment, I would also like to spread the knowledge about this further and develop new and open course materials together with colleagues.

JWR: My goal is to continue on the path of pushing commercial parties in knowledge production to the edge, in the interest of a broader aim to support academia as a motor for social change and emancipation movements. I believe that all state-funded knowledge should be made available to everyone by default. It is also an important goal for me to contribute to open science using the philosophical resources at our disposal. For example, by supporting  research on the social and systematic functioning of science, i.e., looking at science at the meta-level. To give an example, in the coming years I will supervise a project on competition in science, critically assessing whether this is beneficial for the collaborative effort that science is.

What obstacles and challenges do you expect in achieving these objectives, and how will you overcome them?

TS: Especially that there are a large number of highly ranked journals that are not open access. It is important for many researchers to publish in good journals. The biggest challenge is therefore the tension that arises between wanting to publish open access on the one hand, and the reputation structure on the other. Scientific journals remain traditional institutions and changes in the publishing system take time.

JWR: Indeed, some journals behind a paywall are well established. Due to their good reputation, many colleagues still want to publish in them regardless of their open access status, and understandably so. However, making open access mandatory will be a challenge. It is unfair to younger colleagues if they are robbed of important publication outlets by rules that we apply locally, when simultaneously young scholars elsewhere do get those publication chances. Not only will there be fewer options for publishing, but also fewer top-reputed ones.

Recognizing and rewarding open science practices is an important part of the culture shift towards open science. How do you want to change the reward and recognition of open science practices at the philosophy faculty?

JWR: In our faculty’s promotion policies, production outcomes are naturally looked at, e.g., the articles that are published. In the past, we also involved a dynamic division into top and subtop journals, which we composed and adapted with all research staff. We have moved away from this, partly due to the DORA declaration that advocates the use of indicators for individual research articles. But the fact is that some idea of ranking for publication outlets remains. The most we can do to further the cause of open access is promote the reputation of open access journals so that our privately held rankings will slowly adapt.

TS: I still think we could do a little more. It is true that the current publishing culture is problematic, but we could also try to be a little less compliant to this traditional culture. From an open science perspective, but also apart from that, I have strong doubts as to whether we should continue to focus on the reputation of journals.

What is your philosophical view on Open Science?

JWR: As a philosopher of science, I think that it is clearly a quality requirement but also an ideological issue, in the sense that the production of scientific knowledge is being made transparent. The notion that scientific knowledge belongs to all of us is a conviction that can be traced back to a democratic view on our society and can ultimately be traced back to Enlightenment ideals. More transparency improves democratic control and will also benefit science itself. However, it is good to realize: all revolutions eat their own children. You can see, for example, that some researchers now act as police officers, mercilessly calling out other researchers. More than once open science is thereby used as yet another means of power.

TS: I actually see science more as a social process in which there still are many forms of social exclusion. Open science is only a small part of what needs to be done to address these forms of exclusion because they come in many forms, not just by not granting access or openness. So it's really about forms of epistemic injustice where people are excluded from the production of knowledge. Open science is not the solution to all those problems, but I fully share the basic idea that we should not exclude anyone.

About the author

Vera Heininga

Vera Heininga is Open Science programme manager of the University Groningen and postdoctoral research at the Interdisciplinary Centre Psychopathology and Emotion regulation (ICPE) of the UMCG.