What do brain machine interfaces and Open Science have in common?
They are two examples of concepts that I never thought I would get to see materialised in my lifetime. I was wrong.
I had heard of the idea of Open Access as Public Library of Science was about to launch (or was in its early infancy) . It was about that time that I moved to New Zealand and was not able to go to conferences as frequently as I did in the USA, and couldn’t afford having an internet connection at home. Email communication (especially when limited to work hours) does not promote the same kind of chitter-chatter you might have as you wait in cue for your coffee – and so my work moved along, somewhat oblivious to what was going to become a big focus for me later on: Open Science.
About 6 years ofter moving to New Zealand things changed. Over a coffee with Nat Torkington, I became aware of some examples of people working in science embracing a more open attitude. This conversation had a big impact on me. Someone whom I never met before described me a whole different way of doing science. This resonated (strongly) because what he described were the ideals I had at the start of my journey; ideals that were slowly eroded by the demands of the system around me. By 2009 I had found a strong group of people internationally that were working to make this happen, and who inspired me to try to do something locally. And the rest is history.
What resonated with me about “Open Science” is the notion that knowledge is not ours to keep – that it belongs in the public domain where it can be a driver for change. I went to a free of fees University and we fought hard to keep it that way. Knowledge was a right and sharing knowledge was our duty. I moved along my career in parallel with shrinking funding pots and a trend towards academic commodification. The publish or perish mentality, the fears of being back-stabbed if one shares to early or too often, the idea of the research article placed in the “well-branded” journal, and the “paper” as a measure of one’s worth as a scientist all conspire to detract us from exploring open collaborative spaces. The world I walked into around 2009 was seeking to do away with all this nonsense. I have tried to listen and learn as much as I can, sometimes I even dared to put in my 2 cents or ask questions.
How to make it happen?
The biggest hurdle I have found is that I don’t do my work in isolation. As much as I might want to embrace Open Science, when the work is collaborative I am not the one that makes the final call. In a country as small as New Zealand it is difficult to find the critical mass at the intersection of my research interests (and knowledge) and the desire to do work in the open space. If you want to collaborate with the best, you may not be able to be picky on the shared ethos. This is particularly true for those struggling with building a career and getting a permanent position, the advice of those at the hiring table will always sound louder.
The reward system seems at times to be stuck in a place where incentives are (at all levels) stacked against Open Science; “rewards” are distributed at the “researcher” level. Open Research is about a solution to a problem, not to someone’s career advancement (although that should come as a side-effect). It is not surprising then how little value is placed in whether one’s science can be replicated or re-used. Once the paper is out and the bean drops in the jar, our work is done. I doubt that even staffing committees or those evaluating us will even care about pulling those research outputs and reading them to assess their value – if they did we would not need to have things like Impact Factors, h-index and the rest. And here is the irony – we struggle to brand our papers to satisfy a rewards system that will never look beyond its title. At the same time those who care about the content and want to reuse it are limited by whichever restrictions we chose to put at the time of publishing.
So what do we do?
I think we need to be sensitive to the struggle of those that might want to embrace open science, but are trying to negotiate the assessment requirements of their careers. Perhaps getting more people who embrace these principles at staffing and research University Committees might at least provide the opportunity to ask the right questions about “value” and at the right time. If we can get more open minded stances at the hiring level, this will go far in changing people’s attitudes at the bench.
I, for one, find myself in a relatively good position. My continuation was approved a few weeks ago, so I won’t need to face the staffing committee except for promotion. A change in title might be nice – but it is not a deal-breaker, like tenure. I have tried to open my workflow in the past, and learned enough from the experience, and will keep trying until I get it right. I am slowly seeing the shift in my colleagues’ attitudes – less rolling of eyes, a bit more curiosity. For now, let’s call that progress.
I came to meet in person many of those who inspired me through the online discussions since 2009, and they have always provided useful advice, but more importantly support. Turning my workflow to “Open” has been as hard as I anticipated. I have failed more than I have succeeded but always learned something from the experience. And one question that keeps me going is:
What did the public give you the money for?
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)
What if scientists were to crowd-source funding for their research?
Yup, you heard right. Many scientists are asking the question: what would people, rather than established funding agencies, put their pennies on…..
From athlete’s foot, climate change, crayfish, cancer and … yes … zombies! you can find an array of projects looking for a donation. So here is an invitation for you to head on to RocketHub and look at what scientists are asking help to fund.
And yes, here is my plug:
So, come on, start clicking!