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Knock, Knock! Who is there? Open science!

Author: Deepshika Arasu

The academic world of Science today is vastly different from what one might have found in the 17th Century where authors wrote lengthy letters to communicate their experiments and ideas, which were not always criticized and debated openly. Today, we have journals, where we submit our scientific endeavours and the experiments are often reviewed by other scientists in the field. The scientific method since its inception in the 17th century focussed on empiricism - a methodology that tests hypotheses and theories against observations of the natural world, instead of relying only on intuition or revelations. The reproducibility of these empirical results constitutes a vital part of the scientific method. However, in the past few decades, a replication crisis has taken over the scientific community. In 2016, a Nature poll of researchers showed that 70% of the 1,500 scientists interviewed had failed to reproduce at least one other scientist's experiment. This is especially challenging because the inability to reproduce these results undermines the scientific theories constructed based on them. This is where “Open science” comes into play.

So what is open science?

Open science is an umbrella term that encompasses many movements that focus on making the research process more transparent by using digital technologies and new collaborative tools. The OECD defines Open Science as: “to make the primary outputs of publicly funded research results – publications and the research data – publicly accessible in a digital format with no or minimal restriction” (OECD, 2015:7). More importantly, it ensures that access to the data will allow other researchers to reproduce the analysis and conclusions easily.

What does Open Science look like in practice?

Open science is present at all stages of a research process. It could begin at the inception of our experiments as preregistration - where we delineate the particulars of our experiments such as sample size calculations, data collection methods, analytical approaches, and statistics. This decreases the chances of bias that might occur once the data is available to us. During data collection, we can ensure that the data is collected in a standardized format and is deposited in a publicly available repository (following necessary data protection regulations of the location). Further, we can use analytic tools and software that are available without copyright restrictions, so others could choose to easily reproduce the experiments and analysis. Finally, the publication of results in open access journals that allow the larger scientific community and society to take a look at our research works without any paywall is ideal. It is also possible to publish papers as a “preprint” in online repositories such as BioRxiv. This ensures that the data and results are out for others to use, as the pace of scientific progress can be hindered by traditional publishing formats. However, it is to be noted that the preprints are often not peer-reviewed.

How do I make my project adhere to Open Scientific conventions:

Apart from the methods outlined above, there are several ways in which open science can be practiced, which can be specific to each research field, so a good starting point would be to find out what are the methods followed by labs in your field that practice Open Science. Joining a local Open Science journal club could also help you understand how those in your local scientific community are addressing this issue. ReproducibiliTea is one such initiative that has now spread to 140 institutions in 26 different countries. You could also pioneer a chapter in your institution!

Twitter is also a great place to find out other open science enthusiasts, the conversations around this topic is always progressing at a fast pace. Last month, the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science was adopted which pushes for a more transparent and accessible science to bolster its equitable and inclusive nature. Another avenue is the Center for Open Science, a non-profit organization that promotes open-source software tools and has great tips to make your research in line with open science. Finally, just starting a conversation with your peers and your lab supervisors about the state of scientific processes is a huge step in the right direction. As early-career researchers, we hold a lot of power in steering the future of scientific practices.

“Science should not be a luxury and knowledge should not be a commodity, it should be a basic human right.” – Jack Andraka, Open Access Week 2014

Highly recommended readings:

  1. Ioannidis JPA (2005). Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Med 2(8): e124.

  2. Kathawalla, U. K., Silverstein, P., & Syed, M. (2021). Easing into open science: A guide for graduate students and their advisors. Collabra: Psychology, 7(1).

  3. Crüwell, S., van Doorn, J., Etz, A., Makel, M. C., Moshontz, H., Niebaum, J. C., ... & Schulte-Mecklenbeck, M. (2019). Seven easy steps to open science. Zeitschrift für Psychologie.

  4. The 'issues' that lead to the reproducibility crisis Smaldino, P. E., & McElreath, R. (2016). The natural selection of bad science. Royal Society open science, 3(9), 160384.

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