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Three questions for Kees Aarts on The National Plan Open Science

Date:21 March 2017
The National Plan Open Science, dean, open access, open science, open access journals, FAIR
The National Plan Open Science, dean, open access, open science, open access journals, FAIR

Three questions for Kees Aarts on The National Plan Open Science

'In order to get things moving, high ambitions are essential.'

This is what Kees Aarts, Professor of Political Institutions and Behaviour and the new dean of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, puts forward, when asked about the ambition of 100% open access in the National Plan Open Science. Universities should not only depend upon the negotiations with publishers, but also call upon the creativity of researchers. The goal of the national plan to have a consistent system for findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable (FAIR) research data can be facilitated by providing integrated support for researchers as the UG started up in the new Human Subject Research Program. 

1. The main ambition in the National Plan on Open Science is that 100% of research publications will be open access by 2020. Can we depend on negotiations with the publishers or should the University also support initiatives of researchers to start open access journals?
2020 is only three years away–the goal of 100% open access publications by 2020 is therefore very ambitious. Especially when you take into consideration that the system of scientific publications with commercial publishers has a very central position in the process by which scientific results are disseminated. This is not something that can be changed overnight. But in order to get things moving, high ambitions are essential. In the past years, all the steps that have already been taken towards various forms of open access publishing–by academics and by publishers–show that the transformation towards another system of publishing requires that we make our position as clear as possible. This ambition helps us to do this. I do not think that it is wise to completely depend on negotiations with publishers. We should also call upon the creativity of researchers to set up new journals, when these are promising, and support this. In the end, I think that a mix of ‘old’ journals with familiar and highly respected titles but now in an open access format, and ‘new’ journals set up by scientific communities will coexist. The world of scientific publications is so big and complex that some variety in types of journals and publishing formats is unavoidable.

2. The ambition on data management is aligned with the Horizon2020 pilot on Open Science: optimal re-use is the aim. How can research communities achieve an optimal re-use of data? The EU model grant agreement gives a refined decision tree to achieve optimal re-use also taking into account the need for valorization, the interests of third parties and the rights on data protection of participants in research. Yet, since participation in this pilot is voluntary, most researchers avoid the administrative burden. Should the University create incentives for participation in the EU Open Data pilot?
The University of Groningen is well-positioned to stimulate best practices in data management. Several programs that enhance good data management are already in place or are in the process of being developed. The University of Groningen Library, the Center for Information Technology, the Research and Valorization services, and the services for legal affairs are all intensively involved in such programs. And they collaborate with each other so that existing programs and new initiatives can be even better integrated. For many researchers, data management is a rather abstract concept–and the more the University can provide integrated services in this area, the better. I think incentives for participation in the EU Open Data pilot are welcome. Nevertheless, our aim should be to make data management, in all its varieties, a natural part of research. This requires, in management-speak, sermons, carrots, and probably also (although I don’t like the association of the word) sticks. Good data management to me simply means that one is completely clear and transparent about scientific evidence so that core scientific values like verifiability, reproducibility and replication are attained.

3. Data should be FAIR: findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable. The national plan wants this aims to be developed in a consistent system. What can the University of Groningen do to facilitate that researchers contribute to this aim?
I already referred to the collaboration of the most important partners within the University that can help to realize this aim of a consistent system by providing integrated support to researchers. Each of these partners can make unique contributions to this system. But data come in a large variety: from video images in communication sciences via the results of RCTs or sociological surveys to the computer simulations and astronomical observations. It is impossible to devise a consistent system for FAIRness for all types of data except at an impractically high level of abstraction. Therefore, the development of a system should in my view start at a slightly more modest level, for example for research involving human subjects (as in the new Human Subject Research Program).

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