A post that says it all

Bloggers are continuing to file their reports from scifoo. Bora has an excellent round-up with social network links and his thoughts on the sessions, particularly the session that’s been tagged the “culture of fear”.

The post that’s been weighing heavily on my mind is Scifoo ponderings: how to break the mold in science, over at Corie Lok’s Nature Network blog. She describes it as “one of the most revealing and, frankly, depressing sessions”:

The ‘system’ traps young scientists (biologists mostly) concerned about their careers into following the old, restrictive rules and discourages them from trying new ways of scientific communication and publication. Those who don’t like the rules and/or can’t succeed under them are driven out of academic science…

“I’m not really sure what can be done to solve this, short of massive cultural change across the entire scientific community”, writes Corie. Yes, that would be the way to go. Let’s start today.

13 thoughts on “A post that says it all

  1. Jonathan Eisen

    Yup. I agree. Massive cultural change. Let’s do it. Here are some ideas – maybe too radical but we need a revolution here:

    1. Ignore the old rules and ignore the people following the old rules. I volunteer to work on this as much as possible, given that I have tenure and I am (somewhat) established.

    2. Change how we hire post docs and other employees. Reward those doing science in the new way.

    3. Improve credit given to people doing open science. Thus if you got an idea from someone who was open about something – admit it. Put this in your papers. And add citations to blogs and web sites and other forms of open communication.

    4. Try to convince more “old school” people to break the mold.

    I will try to think of more — but the time is now for this revolution to get moving.

  2. Kevin Z

    And who will hire me as a post-doc when I am out looking for jobs next year if I do science in the “new way”. I have 2 kids that need to be fed and housed (in addition to a wife). I whole-heartedly support open publishing, but I need to have a career in science. Science is the only thing I know and love! If you listen to my songs on my blog, you’ll know I couldn’t make it as a science-musician. I don’t want to go back to cooking at Applebees!

  3. Jonathan Eisen

    Well, Kevin, what I was saying was, those of us who are hiring need to start giving preferences to those doing open science. At some point, if enough do this, it will change the supply/remand such that you will be better off if you are open than not. And those of us with some authority and/or who are established also need to start giving more citations to open practitioners, etc so that even if they are evaluated the old, boring ways they will still stand out.

  4. Cameron Neylon

    Can’t say that I disagree in principle with what Jonathan says but we need to be careful here. This implies discriminating against people who would do open science but haven’t been able to, due to supervisors, employers or whatever.

    The bigger gains are surely to be made in convincing the established scientists that there are real benefits to them in being open. If making data available really gets you then this is the kind of thing that will change behaviour. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for a little bit of bias in citing open and readily available research. It would be interesting to know whether there is a citation bias towards open access journals. I don’t cite things I haven’t read and I don’t go out of my way to read things that aren’t easily available to me. After all what’s the point of citing papers no-one can read?

  5. Pedro Beltrao

    I am really for this but without the support of the supervisors it is hard for young people. I will start my first posdoc next year and I will try to talk with my future boss about this to see how he feels about sharing ongoing results.

  6. nsaunders Post author

    We definitely need more senior scientists such as Jonathan to step up. The problem as I see it is that the nature of research has changed, but the practice of research has been left behind. This is creating a gap between established, tenured researchers and early career researchers. There has probably always been more qualified scientists than available permanent jobs but the changes in our jobs will create an “us and them” situation, if we’re not careful.

    In the “old days”, you would devote yourself to the study of a single system – a process, an organism or even a gene. You’d publish 20-30 papers entitled “Gene A in organism B encodes protein X involved with process Y” and eventually, be in the running for tenure. Bioinformatics means that we don’t have to work that way anymore. I can look at archaea one day, humans the next. I can apply whatever computational methods I see fit and am able to learn to any dataset that takes my fancy. In short, I don’t fit well into academia at all :)

    When you’re established, you tend to have more faith in “the system”, because it got you to where you are. So your advice to the next generation is to work within the system, not fight it. At its best this is good mentoring, at worst it’s the suppression of creativity and progress. None of us want to sound like young 60s revolutionaries yelling “smash the system man!”, but many of us genuinely feel that there is a system, that many aspects of it have become quite rotten and that it’s in need of a good overhaul. We really need people in positions of influence to agree and do what they can to implement change. Especially here in Australia where if your research is not (a) solely published in Nature, Science or Cell or (b) judged to have strong “national benefit” (either drinking water or anti-terrorism, basically), you can forget about funding and permanent employment.

    Last thought – I think it’s notable that many (though by no means all) advocates of the new science have left research for publishing jobs.

  7. Ian Mulvany

    What is open science and what is the system? Well I am sure that there are many viewpoints on this, so I am going to just put forward one here.

    At a fundamental level ‘the system’ is how we ascribe credit to participation in science. The credit is converted to grant money, the dollars keep the food on the plate. The decision makers for the grants generally lie at national funding level. These people are busy and have a lot of applications to process, but that is not to say that they are disinterested in the state of the scientific funding ecosystem. However as long as there are too many decisions and not enough time then metrics such as a measure based on journal related factors will dominate. If it is easy to measure and to see how credit can be assigned for contributions that lie outside the traditional publication at the end of the research cycle then I am confident that such criteria will be taken into account, but it is very early days at the moment and I don’t think we can expect to see an overnight rapid transition, especially when the tools for measuring such contributions are in their infancy.

    What is open science, and why might it be important to funding agencies to see it being utilized? Again, just one viewpoint. Well, there is a lot of data out there, and I expect that a lot of good science could be done on second hand data. This is already common in Astronomy. This should help to utilize efficiencies of scale. In addition with better information about what is happening, and more eyeballs working together, the amount of redundant work can hopefully be minimized. As the open source adage goes, with many eyeballs all bugs are shallow.

    There are also a lot of published papers out there, and the scaling time for an individual to get to the data resource that they need is only going to get longer when there is more information to process. I recall hearing that in 2005 something along the lines of 600,000 people graduated in China with a degree in engineering. If you talk to any academic journal editor most of them will tell you that the rate of submission of papers from the pool of Chinese scientists is growing year on year.

    I see a function of open science as being a way to help the flow of information in an open system that maximizes the efficiency for the right piece of information to get to the right person, whether that be a piece of data for analysis, a protocol for an experiment or a contact for a collaboration.

    We have a prerogative to make this happen as a consequence of excess of information that we are faced with.

    There is however the very important need to be able to credit people who participate in an open way. As someone working for an academic publisher I feel that part of my job to help create systems that can help to more accurately measure broader contributions to the scientific enterprise. As I said earlier, these systems are in their infancy, but it is a very exciting time to be involved with this.

  8. Cameron Neylon

    @Jonathan Eisen: Yes, I mucked up the link. I was trying to link to Heather Piowawar’s paper in PLoS ONE on citation impact of open data but the Eysenbach paper is good as well. The more of this there is the more convincing it will be.

    Also a lot of the discussion at the moment seems to be about convincing the senior colleague or supervisor. I am a supervisor (not sure that I count as senior). We have some stuff going up online as it happens but I am also restricted by contractual obligations to my employers about protecting potential intellectual property. Now if someone could come up with a reference saying that openly available data got more licensing income, that would make the system shift.

  9. Jean-Claude Bradley

    Cameron,
    When you say that you have an obligation to protect intellectual property, do you have to submit your papers in traditional journals for approval by your employer? Any kind of publication has the same effect on IP as Open Data – it just happens more slowly.

  10. Cameron Neylon

    It was partly a flippant comment I have to admit. I have a contractual obligation to bring to the attention of the tech transfer office any potentially protectable work in a timely fashion. In practise this means I need to bring to their attention anything that I feel _might_ be protectable.

    Ok so the response is that you keep hidden anything that might fall into this category. This is a bit of a pain if your default position is open. And because these offices are under resourced they take forever to decide they don’t have enough money to patent it anyway.

    But if the arguement is that publishing in open access journals gets more citations, and making data available gets more citations, respect, etc., then the same argument holds for thinsg with commercial potential. Getting them out and licensed in an open way (something like Creative Commons by attribution, non commercial) would probably lead to more use and more income. But is there a way to demonstrate this?

  11. Ricardo

    But if the arguement is that publishing in open access journals gets more citations, and making data available gets more citations, respect, etc., then the same argument holds for thinsg with commercial potential. Getting them out and licensed in an open way (something like Creative Commons by attribution, non commercial) would probably lead to more use and more income. But is there a way to demonstrate this?

    Like you said before, this whole situation is still taking its first baby steps and it’s still not sure which way it’s walking. But as soon as a demonstration or reference is available to prove what you ask, it will certainly surface.

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