Open Science and Its Discontents

From the Ronin Institute blog:

Open science has well and truly arrived. Preprints. Research Parasites. Scientific Reproducibility. Citizen science. Mozilla, the producer of the Firefox browser, has started an Open Science initiative. Open science really hit the mainstream in 2016. So what is open science? Depending on who you ask, it simply means more timely and regular releases of data sets, and publication in open-access journals. Others imagine a more radical transformation of science and scholarship and are advocating “open-notebook” science with a continuous public record of scientific work and concomitant release of open data. In this more expansive vision: science will be ultimately transformed from a series of static snapshots represented by papers and grants into a more supple and real-time practice where the production of science involves both professionals and citizen scientists blending, and co-creating a publicly available shared knowledge. Michael Nielsen, author of the 2012 book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science describes open science, less as a set of specific practices, but ultimately as a process to amplify collective intelligence to solve scientific problems more easily:

To amplify collective intelligence, we should scale up collaborations, increasing the cognitive diversity and range of available expertise as much as possible. This broadens the range of problems that can be easy solved … Ideally, the collaboration will achieve designed serendipity, so that a problem that seems hard to the person posing it finds its way to a person with just the right microexpertise to easily solve it.

Attempts to reform the way we do science have been underway for decades, from arXiv in 1990s, to open access publishing in the early 2000s. The degree to which any scientific field practices open science varies considerably, but it’s pretty fair to say that the institutional embracement of open science hasn’t exactly been speedy despite demonstrated successes in the physical sciences and mathematics such as the Polymath project and Galaxy Zoo. In physics it is had been mainstream for a while now to release manuscripts first on arXiv and big data sets through standardized repositories. In the biomedical sciences, progress has been considerably slower, perhaps due its larger institutional and financial footprint: it’s the proverbial large supertanker than needs a long time to turn around, let alone move in different direction. Whatever the reason, open science is now firmly on the radar, and it has unleashed a torrent of opinion and criticism, examining all aspects from its practicality to its desirability.

Although there is a spectrum of responses, criticism of open-science tends to fall into one of two camps, that I will call “conservative” and “radical”. This terminology is not intended to imply an association with any conventional political labels, they are simply used for convenience to indicate the relative degree of comfort with the institutional status quo. Let’s look at these two groups of critiques.

Read the rest at the Ronin Institute blog