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Co-ordinated action required to boost ‘open-science’ initiatives

24 Jul 2018
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Access all areas: open-access publishing and open data is widespread in some areas of physics, notably high-energy physics and astronomy, but others fields lag behind. (Courtesy: shutterstock/rvisoft)

Making research papers, data and methodologies freely accessible for anyone to read and use has gained significant ground in recent years, but several challenges remain to widespread implementation. That’s the conclusion of a new report into “open science” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), which calls on universities and publishers to issue new processes to improve how science can be freely accessed.

Open science aims to make research papers and data, as well as methodologies such as code or algorithms, freely available. NASEM’s report, Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research, identifies several recent initiatives that have advanced open science – such as citizen-science projects – and highlights the increase in research funded by organizations that require the outputs to be open for everyone to read and use.

Automated search and analysis of open publications and data can make the research process more efficient and more effective

Alexa McCray

While the 190-page report notes that the use of open-access publishing and open data is the “norm” in some areas of physics, notably high-energy physics and astronomy, other areas lag behind. The report points out several issues stopping open science becoming more widespread, such as researchers refusing to share their data, as well as the high number of journals that are only available via subscription.

A critical point

To overcome such challenges, the report calls on universities to develop training progammes that focus on open science for their researchers. It also recommends that professional societies change their journal publication strategies from a subscription-based model to approaches that support open science.

“We are at a critical point where new information technology tools and services hold the potential to revolutionize scientific practice,” says Alexa McCray of Harvard Medical School, who chaired the 10-strong committee that produced the report. “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 the institutional, national, and disciplinary boundaries.”

The report has already gained some support, notably from the Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who heads the US House of Representatives science, space, and technology committee. He sees the report as confirming a rule that, if implemented, would require the Environmental Protection Agency to base its decisions only on information that is publicly available to scientists and the general public.

Yet critics of the move argue that such a rule prevents the use of confidential or proprietary information – particularly in medical research – in scientific decisions. “Environmental regulations, which are ultimately funded by taxpayers, should be based on open and replicable studies,” Smith noted in a statement.

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