National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/25116.
While significant progress has been made in providing open access to scientific research, a range of challenges -- including the economics of scientific publication and cultural barriers in the research enterprise -- must be overcome to further advance the openness of science, says this new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report recommends coordinated action from the academic community and other research stakeholders, and the use of an "open science by design" framework to foster openness throughout the research process.
Open science aims to ensure the free availability of scholarly publications, the data that result from research, and the methodologies, including code or algorithms, that were used to generate those data. The National Academies were asked to provide guidance to the research community as it builds strategies for achieving open science.
The research enterprise has already made significant progress toward open science and is realizing a number of benefits, the report notes. For example, new standards for data and code sharing in fields such as biomedical research and psychology are making it easier for researchers to reproduce or replicate reported work. And large-scale projects in fields such as astronomy and ecology are utilizing open data and expanding opportunities for citizen scientists to contribute to scientific advances. Additionally, a number of public and private research funders have introduced policies and support systems to ensure that the results of the research they sponsor are open.
“We are at a critical point where new information technology tools and services hold the potential to revolutionize scientific practice,” said Alexa T. McCray, chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report, and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Automated search and analysis of open publications and data can make the research process more efficient and more effective, working best within an open science ecosystem that spans institutional, national, and disciplinary boundaries.”
Barriers remain, however. Despite significant progress, today’s science is not completely open. Sharing data, code, and other research products is becoming more common, but it is still not routinely done across all disciplines. And most scientific articles are only available on a subscription basis.
One significant challenge is an academic culture and incentive system that does not adequately reward open science practices and may even discourage them, the report says. Researchers are faced with pressures to publish in certain venues to secure funding and career advancement, and are hindered by the misuse of bibliometric indicators in the evaluation of research. The perception and/or reality that researchers need to publish in certain venues may lock them into traditional, closed mechanisms for reporting results. These pressures are especially strong for early-career researchers.
To help overcome this barrier, universities and other research institutions should explicitly reward efforts to make science open by design, the report says. They should partner with federal and private research sponsors to develop innovative approaches to assessing the impact of research in ways that include the impact of open science outputs. This should include the development of metrics for assessing the impact of interim research products such as preprints, with a view toward comparing those with existing methods for measuring impact.
Another challenge is that open publication -- making research articles available at no charge -- conflicts with the subscription-based mode of scientific journal distribution used by both for-profit and nonprofit traditional publishers, the report says. For example, many scientific societies generate surpluses through their publishing activities that support their professional ecosystems, and some would be severely challenged by certain approaches to implementing open publication. At the same time, research institutions are having difficulty absorbing the steady increases in subscription rates in recent years.
The future evolution of research dissemination should be shaped by the changing needs of researchers and the broader enterprise, including the need to ensure openness, the report says. Professional societies should work to transition from current publication strategies to new ones that foster open science by design. Journal editors should work with publishers to transition from current business models to new ones that foster open science by design. And research funders should explore innovative ways to support these transitions.
In addition, universities should provide training in best practices for open science and data stewardship as part of the regular curriculum in graduate education and should expect these practices as a default. Research funders should support the development of training programs in the principles and practices of open science by design, and federal agencies should require this training as part of all federally funded graduate training grants.
A Framework for Open Science by Design
The report’s recommended "open science by design” framework envisions principles and practices and that should occur at each stage of the research process. For example, at the beginning or “provocation” phase of the research process, researchers have immediate access to the most recent publications and research results, free of charge; they use the latest database and text mining tools to explore these sources, identify concepts embedded in the research, and identify where novel contributions can be made; and they have robust collaborative tools to network with colleagues. Principles and practices are also outlined for subsequent phases of research -- ideation, knowledge generation, validation, dissemination, and preservation.
The framework is intended to empower researchers, the report says. The principle for openness of data and other information underlying reported results is that they should be available no later than the time of publication, or when the researcher is seeking to gain credit for the work. Sharing prior to the point of publication is up to the researcher, who is in full control of the decision of when to share. As open science by design becomes the norm, researchers will find that they benefit from sharing and collaborating early in the research process, the report says.