2012 was a really interesting year for Open Research.
The year started with a boycott to Elsevier (The Cost of Knowledge) , soon followed in May by a petition at We The People in the US, asking the US government to “Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.”. By June we had The Royal Society publishing a paper on “science as an open enterprise” [pdf] saying:
The opportunities of intelligently open research data are exemplified in a number of areas of science.With these experiences as a guide, this report argues that it is timely to accelerate and coordinate change, but in ways that are adapted to the diversity of the scientific enterprise and the interests of: scientists, their institutions, those that fund, publish and use their work and the public.
The Finch report had a large share of media coverage [pdf] -
Our key conclusion, therefore, is that a clear policy direction should be set to support the publication of research results in open access or hybrid journals funded by APCs. A clear policy direction of that kind from Government, the Funding Councils and the Research Councils would have a major effect in stimulating, guiding and accelerating the shift to open access.
By July the UK government announced the support for the Open Access recommendations from the Finch Report to ensure:
Walk-in rights for the general public, so they can have free access to global research publications owned by members of the UK Publishers’ Association, via public libraries. [and] Extending the licensing of access enjoyed by universities to high technology businesses for a modest charge.
The Research Councils OK joined by publishing a policy on OA (recently updated) that required [pdf] :
Where the RCUK OA block grant is used to pay Article Processing Charges for a paper, the paper must be made Open Accesess immediately at the time of on line publication, using the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence.
By the time that Open Access Week came around, there was plenty to discuss. The discussion of Open Access emphasised more strongly the re-use licences under which the work was published. The discussion also included some previous analysis showing that there are benefits from publishing in Open Access that affect economies:
adopting this model could lead to annual savings of around EUR 70 million in Denmark, EUR 133 in The Netherlands and EUR 480 million in the UK.
And in November, the New Zealand Open Source Awards recognised Open Science fro the first time too.
2013 promises not to fall behind
This year offers good opportunities to celebrate local and international advocates of Open Science.
The Obama administration not only responded to last year’s petition by issuing a memorandum geared towards making Federally funded research adopt open access policies, but is now also seeking “Outstanding Open Science Champions of Change” . Nominations for this close on May 14, 2013. Simultaneously, The Public Library of Science, Google and the Wellcome Trust , together with a number of allies are sponsoring the “Accelerating Science Award Program” which seeks to recognise and reward individuals, groups or projects that have used Open Access scientific works in innovative manners. The deadline for this award is June 15.
Last year Peter Griffin wrote:
The policy shift in the UK will open up access to the work of New Zealand scientists by default as New Zealanders are regularly co-authors on papers paid for by UK Research Councils funds. But hopefully it will also lead to some introspection about our own open access policies here.
There was some reflection at the NZAU Open Research Conference which led to the Tasman Declaration – (which I encourage you to sign) and those of us who were involved in it are hoping good things will come out of it. While that work continues, I will be revisiting the nominations of last years Open Science category for the NZ Open Source Awards to make my nominations for the two awards mentioned above.
I certainly look forward to this year – I will continue to work closely with Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand and with NZ AU Open Research to make things happen, and continue to put my 2 cents as an Academic Editor for PLOS ONE and PeerJ.
There is no question that the voice of Open Access is now loud and clear – and over the last year it has also become a voice that is not only being heard, but that it also generating the kinds of responses that will lead to real change.
When a President annouces a scientific project as publicly as President Obama did, the world listens. The US is planning to put signifcant resources behind a huge effort to try to map the brain. There has been a lot said about this BRAIN project , and I have been quietly reading trying to make sense of the disparate reactions that this ‘launch’ had – and trying to escape the hype.
I can understand the appeal – the brain is a fascinating invention of nature. I fell in love with its mysteries as an undergraudate in Argentina and I continue to be fascinated by every new finding. What fascinates me about the discipline is that, unlike trying to understand the kidney for example, neuroscience consists of the brain trying to understand itself . That we can even ask the right questions, let alone design and perform the experiments to answer them is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Trying to understand the brain is definitely not a 21st Century thing. For centuries we have been asking what makes animals behave the way they do. And yet we still don’t really know what it is about our brains that makes us the only species able to ask the right questions, and design and perform the experiments to answer them?
Many of us neuroscientists might agree that how we think about the brain came about from two major sets of finding. Towards the end of the 19th Centrury it finally became accepted that the brain, like other parts of the body, was made up of cells. It was Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s tireless work (with the invaluable assistance of his brother Pedro) that was fundamental in this shift. This meant that we could apply the knowledge of cell biology to the brain. The second game changer was the demonstration that neurons could actively produce electric signals. In doing so, Hodgkin and Huxley beautifully put to rest the old argument between Volta and Galvani. This meant we had a grip on how information was coded in the brain.
From this pioneering work, neuroscience evolved directing most of its attention to the neurons and their electrical activity. After all, that is where the key to understanding the brain was supposed to be found. Most of what happened over the twentieth century was based on this premise. Neurons are units that integrate inputs and put together an adequate output passing the information to another neuron or set of neurons down the line until you get to the end. In a way, this view of the brain is not too different from a wiring diagram of an electronic circuit.
Trying to understand the wiring of the brain, however, is, not easy. There are thousands and thousands of neurons each with a multitude of inputs and outputs. You can quickly run out of ink trying to draw the wiring diagram, It is because of this complexity that neuroscientists (just like scientists in many other disciplines) turn to simpler models. We have come to know some secrets about learning from studying the sea slug Aplysia, about how the brain gets put together from flies and frogs, and even about how neurons are born in adult brains from singing canaries. What all these models have in common is that we can tie pretty well a very specific aspect of brain function to a circuit we can define rather well. And we have learned, and keep learning, heaps from these models. The main thing we learn (and the reason why these models continue to be so useful and fundamental for progress) is that the ‘basics’ of brains are quite universal – and once we know those basics well, it is a lot easier to work out the specifics in more complex brains.
Trying to understand the architecture of circuits has proven to be of major value (and this is what the connectome is about). But building the connections is not just about drawing the wires – you need to build in some variability – some connections excite while others inhibit, some neurons respond in predictable linear ways, others don’t. And when you are done with that, you will still need to start thinking about the stuff we have not spent a lot of time thinking about: those other cells (glia) and the stuff that exists in between cells (the extracellular matrix). More and more, we are being reminded that glia and extracellular matrix do more than just be there to support the neurons.
So it is not surprising to find some skepticism around these large brain projects. Over at Scientific American, John Hogan raises some valid criticisms about how realistic the ambitions of these projects are given the current state of neuroscience (read him here and here). Other lines of skepticism center around the involvement of DARPA in the BRAIN project (read Peter Freed’s views on that here or Luke Dittrich’s views here). Others criticize the lack of a clear roadmap (read Erin McKiernan’s views here). Others have expressed their concerns that too strong expectations on advancing our knowledge of the human brain will overlook the importance of exploring simpler circuits, something that had been stated clearly in the original proposal .
Is now the right time?
Back in the ‘90’s the decade of the brain had insinuated it would solve many of these problems, I don’t think it did. Despite the neuroscience revolution from about a century ago and the work that followed, we still have not been able to solve the mysteries of the brain.
But this decade is somewhat different. I am reading more and more stuff that has to do with the emergent properties of the brain – not just the properties of the neurons. And for the first time since I started my road as a neuroscientists I am being able to ask slightly different questions. I did not think that successful brain machine interfaces would be something I’d get to see in my lifetime. And I was wrong. Even less did I think I would get to see brain to brain interfaces. But the works is moving forward there too.
The BRAIN project is not alone. In Europe the Human Brain Project received similar attention. We all expect that such boosts in funding for multidisciplinary research will go a long way in making things move forward.
It is inevitable to think of the parallels of the approach to these Big Brain projects and the National Science Challenges – which are wonderfully expressed by John Pickering here.
I think that Erin McKiernan’s cautionary words about the BRAIN project might be quite appropriate for both:
Investing in neuroscience is a great idea, but this is not a general boost in funding for neuroscience research. This is concentrating funds on one project, putting many eggs in one basket.
 Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies,
 Alivisatos, A. P., Chun, M., Church, G. M., Greenspan, R. J., Roukes, M. L., & Yuste, R. (2012). The Brain Activity Map Project and the Challenge of Functional Connectomics. Neuron, 74(6), 970–974. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.06.006
It has been a busy Open Access Week for me. My last (well almost last!) duty is today at 4:00 pm at the Old Government House at the University of Auckland.
Stratus has organised a panel and invited me to participate, and I have just uploaded my upcoming presentation to Slideshare. If you have a chance, we would love to see you there!
Every now and then something happens that gets me all excited about what comes next.
Today, it is the launch of PeerJ
Over 10 years ago I was approached by someone at a scientific conference who told me they were launching something that was to be called the Public Library of Science (PLoS), where people could publish their results and make it freely available to anyone, anywhere. The catch: authors paid for the publication cost. I wasn’t sure what to think of it. Yes, I would be totally behind it, and thought the ethos rocked but was not sure how they would get authors to pay for things they would otherwise be able to publish for ‘free’*.
Soon after that I moved to New Zealand and PLoS fell off my radar. Until 2006 when we decided to submit a paper to PLoS Biology. We got a letter back saying that we should instead submit to a new Journal they were launching: PLoS ONE, and that is where the paper got published. I immediately fell in love with PLoS ONE. But I had to wait over 3 years to become an Academic Editor, after meeting I think Steve Koch at Science Online 2010. Another decision I am proud of.
In 2009 I was visiting family in Minnesota, and decided to delay my return to New Zealand to attend SciBarCamp in Palo Alto. I had just been to my first unconference (KiwiFoo) and decided to give SciBarCamp a go. Best decision I ever made. It was there I first met Peter Binfield (0f PLoS ONE fame) and Jason Hoyt (who are responsible for PeerJ). There were many things that were said at that un-conference, but I vividly recall Jason’s session on Mendeley and Peter’s session on the future of publishing.
Well, it has been 3 years since then and now is the time for PeerJ.
What is special about it? It does not seem to be ‘another Open Access Journal’ but rather a completely different way of thinking of how authors and journals work together to put scientific results out there. It appears, to me and from what information I have access to, as a partnership. Scientists pay a membership fee and that allows them to publish there. For Free**. In return they commit to providing at least one review a year. Seems like a fair deal. I still find it amazing that at this time and age the majority of published science is ‘read only’. (Shocking, I know!) so I am keen to see how the post-publication interaction with the article (and the pre-publication record) will look like.
It is the sense of ‘partnership’ that I am also attracted to (and got me all excited). I have for some time been thinking whether there should be an ‘Open Science Society’ with its own journals, similar to other societies. A membership fee would subsidise the journal, and everything would be open access. Well, PeerJ is not exactly that, but it comes quite close. I actually like the idea of membership (with its perks) because it makes me the scientist care about that journal in a slightly different way. I am not sure whether Peter and Jason had this ‘partnership’ in mind, but it might just end up becoming that. And that might be a huge game-changer.
Well, we’ve come a long way since the first scientific journal was published back in the 1600’s, and not much had changed since then, other than the font. PLoS changed the game, and they did that so well that they are now one of the biggest scientific publishers. And it is now the turn of PeerJ.
I have a lot of respect for both Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt (since I first met them in 2009). And I also see that they have Tim O’Reilly in their governing board (someone that deserves an un-interrupted series of hat tips as well).
So, paraphrasing a SciBarCamp question…
What would scientific publishing look like if it was invented today?
We might just be about to find out.*Well, we still pay to see the article. And in many cases we pay costs of publishing like colour figures, etc. But we tend to not think too much about that. Oh, yes, and of course we transfer our copyright – lest Wikipedia make something interesting with them.
**Different membership levels have different publishing privileges. But you can visit the site to get that nitty gritty.
I just came back from another amazing kiwi foo. I have talked about it before, so I will not bore you with the details of what kiwi foo is all about. This time, unlike other years, I went with a very focused view of what I wanted to achieve. And it was as stimulating as ever.
Over the past year, I have gone into a rather quiet reflexion of what ‘open science’ is and how to make it work. I have become increasingly frustrated with a model of science that increasingly rewards self-promotion rather than knowledge sharing. And the emerging theme of my reflexion was ‘context’.
If we want a ‘global’ open science, the formula for adoption needs to be able to adapt to local personal, institutional, social, political, economical and legislative contexts. I may be wrong, but I think many of us who support open science struggle at times with how to make it work in the particular contexts in which we need to operate.
As I was struggling with the frustration of the commodification of science over the past two years, I started thinking about the open source community. I can’t blame universities for encouraging scientists to produce revenue at a time when public funding for education are research appear to be in constant decline. So I went to Webstock a year ago to try to learn more about how open source projects generate revenue. After all, their business models are built around giving their ‘product’ away for free, something that is well aligned with the ethos of science. One of my highlights at kiwi foo was a conversation with Don Christie from CatalystIT, a company that produces high quality open source software. I am looking forward to continuing this conversation and exploring how these business models can be adapted to the different demands and constraints for science. I got a lot of insight from him, and am hoping he and people like him can help us move forward.
On the second day (or rather the first long day) there were a few sessions that centered around science. Great things came out of it, and it would be impossible to name everyone that provided insight. Nick Jones, Leonie Hayes, Alex Holcombe , Alison Stringer and I partnered in crime and ran a couple of sessions where we hashed a few issues around. I personally wanted to explore what Open Science meant in the New Zealand / Australia context (I can’t speak for the others’ motivations!). I think that the local context in NZ/OZ is slightly different than in the Northern hemisphere and there are some things that differentiate this region. Perhaps we can/should capitalise on that.
For example, you will never see a ‘Research Works Act’ bill here, because we don’t seem to have Open Access mandates. Instead, we have NZGOAL and AUSGOAL which are frameworks for data licencing. The Australians have ANDS and NZ has eResearch, all focused on the data. Tim O’Reilly mentioned the PantonPrinciples in this context – but the Panton Principles (which I have personally endoresed) cannot be exported ‘as is’ to Australia and New Zealand because neither Creative Commons Aotearoa-New Zealand nor CC-Australiahave CC0, for example. Software hopefully will not be covered by patents
is covered by copyright (not patents) in NZ*, so maybe we can capitalise on that to develop tools for open science. New Zealand has a Treaty of Waitangi, and any local open science needs to respect and work constructively to meet our treaty obligations. Lets add to that, that different research groups are going to be subject to obligations related to the international treaties their countries have signed up to. We all have different copyright restrictions and freedoms, we have different systems that determine how to assign funding, and different mandates and guidelines, and are at different points of our careers with different job securities.
So, how do we make open science work within these diverse contexts? We can all agree on the philosophy, but perhaps we need to also agree that the implementation will take different shapes. I think wee need to continue the global conversation and continue to support each other, but we also need to start working locally in smaller groups to ‘make things happen’. And the battles we choose to fight perhaps should be aligned with local contexts so that we can each capitalise on our strengths. I loved having this dialogue at kiwi foo, getting great insights from a diverse group, and mainly feeling that this is something for which we have support.
The rest of the things that happened at kiwi foo will slowly seep into future posts.
I would really like to thank Jenine, Nat Torkington and Russell Brown for putting kiwi foo together (and inviting me!), my partners in crime Alex, Nick, Alison, and Leonie for their hard work on the sessions, all the attendees for their contributions and especially Tim O’Reilly for providing us with valuable insights. You all have complicated my life, but I look forward to a 2012 of hard work and of ‘making things happen’.
*Edited on 16/2/2012 to reflect the correction made by @kayakr (thanks for that!). I was thinking of this bill: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2008/0235/latest/DLM1419230.html (which is probably the one that @kayakr refers to as pending legislation)