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Recap: Open Science symposium at the UG

Date:12 December 2019
Open Science symposium UG
Open Science symposium UG

Open Science is about improving the way in which we do science and about moving towards a more open and inclusive research culture. On the occasion of this year’s International Open Access Week , the UG University Library organized a symposium on Open Science Research Practices (22 October 2019, Van Swinderen Huys), which also saw the inauguration of the Open Science Community Groningen.

Open science means practicing science “in such a way that others can collaborate and contribute, where research data, lab notes and other research processes are freely available, under terms that enable reuse, redistribution and reproduction of the research and its underlying data and methods.” (Foster) The speakers at the symposium explained that this entails much more than a set of regulations from funding organizations or university policy makers. Open Science is a bottom-up movement that attracts many early career researchers who are passionate about making science more transparent and accountable.

Changing research culture

Rachel Ainsworth (Community Manager at the Software Sustainability Institute, University of Manchester), the first keynote speaker of the afternoon, argued that moving towards a more open future requires no less than a culture change. She convincingly stated that something is broken in the current research culture and that Open Science can help fix it (see also her TED-talk on this subject). Ainsworth worked as a researcher in Astrophysics but gradually lost interest in pursuing an academic career because of the toxic research environment. Research culture, according to Ainsworth, suffers from a combination of high competitiveness and a narrow definition of success, which, for instance, does not reward reproducing scientific experiments or publishing null results. This, as argued by Ainsworth, has contributed to a reproducibility crisis in science. Open science practices such as pre-registrations and sharing research data and publications could help scientists address this crisis by promoting a more transparent research culture. 

Open science solutions

Presenters discussed concrete OS research practices that improve the quality of science. Anita Eerland, Assistant Professor and co-founder of the first Open Science Community in the Netherlands at Utrecht University, showed how the practice of pre-registration increases the reproducibility of science. When you pre-register your hypothesis, method and research question, you make clear “what you plan to do, and how, before doing it in a manner that is verifiable by others.” This helps to prevent p-hacking or HARKING: hypothesizing after the results are known. Eerland debunked some common misconceptions about pre-registration, such as the fear of scooping and the idea that preregistration limits the possibility of exploring your data. Maurits Masselink (University Medical Center Groningen) subsequently emphasized the urgency of incorporating OS research practices by describing various questionable research practices that he encountered on his path towards OS (p-hacking, the file drawer problem, a pressure to publish exclusively in high-ranked journals).

As Chiara Lisciandra (Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business, UG) pointed out in her talk on Open Science & Knowledge Transfer, a more open research culture has other benefits too, such as fostering multi-disciplinary research. Lisciandra illustrated the value of interdisciplinarity with the example of Gutenberg, who invented the printing press by using the technology of the winepress. She noticed both institutional and methodological challenges that prevent researchers from crossing disciplinary boundaries. Being aware of these challenges is “one step toward achieving the goals that the open science movement advocates.” Sjoerd Beugelsdijk (Professor International Business, UG) spoke from an editor’s perspective about the hurdles that journals across the social sciences must overcome in order to realize data access and research transparency.

But… how to start? 

Many researchers might want to make their research practices more open, but simply do not know how or where to start. There is an impressive amount of open-tools available that make the research workflow more open, yet these possibilities may also feel overwhelming. Ainsworth’s advice is to start small, for instance by testing out a platform (like Zenodo) or opening up one stage of the research workflow.

The role of Open Science Communities

Open Science Communities can help researchers on the path to Open Science, by making OS more visible and accessible and by inspiring and enabling researchers to take the next step (Eerland). OSC's work bottom-up, which is necessary because changing policies alone will not be enough to make researchers adopt OS practices. During the symposium, Vera Heininga inaugurated the Open Science Community Groningen. This is a valuable next step towards a more open research environment at the UG. The goal of the OSCG is to create a “UG-wide community that brings together staff, and provides advice, support, and training for those who want to engage with open science.” We wish them success!

More information

You can find the programme and presentations of the symposium on Open Science Research Practices on the UG Library website

See also the Open Science Community Groningen. The University Newspaper interviewed OSCG-founders Vera Heininga, Maurits Masselink and Jojanneke Bastiaansen.

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