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Winning a science award — by playing bingo???

07 November 2022

On 25 October, a bingo cage was spun at the University of Groningen Library. From it fell three balls, with which the winners of the UG Open Research Award 2022 were announced. The lucky winners will be rewarded a sum of money as well as the opportunity to present case studies from their research during an event about transparency in science on 17 November. Chair of the jury Maurits Masselink explains the reasoning behind the lottery.

Open science

Open Science is a global movement of researchers whose goal it is to make science more transparent, improve its quality, give more people access to research results, achieve open education, and improve the interaction between the academic world and society. This movement is also taking shape in Groningen, where Masselink set up the Open Science Community Groningen (OSCG) together with fellow researchers from the UMCG and UG. By now, the principles of Open Science have been embraced by the UG and have been laid down in its Strategic Plan 2021-2026. Important points include supporting authors so they can fulfil the open access requirements imposed by funding organizations, develop manuals to pseudonymize research data, offer advice and support for open education, and establish a seed fund for public engagement activities.

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Maurits Masselink (photo Hesterliena Wolthuis)

Reproducibility

Masselink is a postdoc employed by the Radboud UMC and Radboud University in Nijmegen, but he has his workstation at the UMCG through a ‘guest agreement’. For some time, he has been surprised by the relatively closed-off character of academic practice. ‘Publications, often financed through public money, are kept from the greater public behind a paywall. Luckily, open access publishing—making research accessible to everyone—is slowly becoming the norm, with a national goal of 100%. Additionally, the reproducibility, and with that the controllability, are often poorly safeguarded, for example in the social sciences—my own field of research: similar research, performed by a different researcher or at a different moment, may have different results because the working methods are not transparent. It also happens quite regularly that the starting principles are adjusted during the research to make them align with the results, as if you are changing the rules during the game. Researchers are often not aware that they are reasoning and acting towards a desired outcome like that, which makes it tricky.’

Practise what you preach

‘The use of open science applications is a good way to prevent these problems’, explains Masselink. 'For example, by pre-registering research—before execution, publicly establishing hypotheses and analysis strategies—describing the research methods and instruments in detail, and sharing the analysis codes and, if possible, data. We have always told the wider public that peer-reviewing each other is a cornerstone of science, but “practising what you preach” has only started up in the past 10 years. A reason why Open Science has not been high on the list of priorities, is because it was not rewarded. Scientists were mostly rewarded based on their number of published articles and the prestige of the journals in which these appeared. Luckily, a turning point is happening in the Recognition and Rewards for research. The Open Research Awards that we have been awarding in the last three years are an example of this. In doing so, we reward the use of open science applications, and hope to also encourage the use of them. We still have a long way to go, but we are heading in the right direction in an increasing number of research fields.’

Lottery

Transparency is also absent in the awarding of academic prizes and grants, which encourages injustice. Masselink: ‘The human factor often plays an unintentional role in this. Jury members who grant such prizes and grants do so in good faith, but insufficiently recognize the risks of bias. Personal preferences start, in part, influencing the choice of winner, such as the gender or reputation of the candidates, their previous research output, whether they have received prizes before, et cetera. Past a certain point, the quality of research proposals and/or scientific achievements are more than sufficient across the board, after which whether someone will win or not will depend on other factors. That is why many academics experience the selection rounds for prizes and grants as a lottery. But it is an unfair lottery with unfair chances, because some people have more balls in the bingo cage than others.'

Elbow to elbow

A ‘real’ lottery could therefore be a much more honest method of selecting the winner of a prize or grant than the way it is currently being done. Masselink: ‘This already happens in Switzerland. And besides the fact that it is more honest, it has other benefits. Researchers who do not win do not have to question whether they did something “wrong”. That gives some peace of mind and acceptance. This also removes the elbow-to-elbow mentality and competitiveness from science, so it becomes less of a playing field of “winners” and “losers”, with jealousy and disdain. And, of course, it makes the jury’s job easier, who are presented with the sometimes impossible task of appointing the “best one” when there are in effect no relevant differences.’

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The three winning balls

Bingo cage

The prize draw using a bingo cage for the UG Open Research Award 2022 is an example of how things can also be done. Submissions were first tested by a jury based on quality requirements. With the OSCG and the University Library as co-organisers, the meeting took place for the third time. Nineteen research proposals were submitted, and everyone from Research Master's students to professors could participate. Besides individual researchers, six teams joined. Fourteen of the submissions satisfied the criteria, and three of them were awarded prizes. Each prize winner will receive a sum of €500 and will be given the opportunity to present their research on 17 November.

Celebrating Openness

The event ‘Celebrating Openness’ will take place on Thursday 17 November, under the title ‘The role of open science in education and teaching’. Dr Matt Coler (Campus Fryslân) will deliver the keynote speech, alongside flash lectures by the three winners of the Open Research Awards and a panel discussion. See the full programme.

Further information

Open Science RUG

Open Science Community Groningen

Blog by Vera Heininga

Blog by Maurits Masselink

Last modified:07 November 2022 11.05 a.m.
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