My open science story

  1. 1.  Imperial College London

It never really occurred to me not to be open. From the moment I started my PhD, I made a promise to myself that everything I did would be open and transparent. By this, I don’t just mean access to published papers – I wanted the data, and the information that I was generating to be freely available, and understandable to everyone. Apparently, this makes you a ‘radical’, but to me the alternatives just didn’t appeal. I didn’t see the sense in paywalls, in not sharing, in doing things for any reason but the benefit of the commons.

I remember during my Masters, back in 2011, vowing that my first paper would be published in PLOS ONE – I couldn’t fathom the idea that research I’d spent so long on wouldn’t be freely available. It took 3 years, but I eventually made it happen. My next paper was in PeerJ – I wanted to show that publishing open access early on in your career doesn’t cost anything, and is the easiest approach that benefits the most people. That’s when I really started to get into open science. Hitting paywalls when trying to do your research, or not knowing where the data was to support the conclusions of papers – these are huge impediments to researchers at all levels, and frankly I didn’t understand why it was the norm.

Everything took to a whole new level before my PhD, where I was fortunate enough to work as a policy intern with the Geological Society of London. There, I learned about the broader role of science in society, and about how science is about so much more than, well, science. Science really affects every aspect of our daily lives, from the water we drink and the air we breathe, to getting to work, and being able to write this essay.

It seems to me to be wholly unreasonable that one of the underpinning facets of society – knowledge – is treated as a business commodity, and not something that is equally, democratically, and freely available to every person on this planet. I think this matters inside and outside of the academy, be you a teacher, and engineer, a doctor, or a cook.

Since starting my PhD, I’ve been involved in many aspects of increasing our understanding of open science. The most popular one of these appears to be the publishing of the Open Research Glossary, designed to help inform academics about the broad range of things that falls under the umbrella of ‘open scholarship’. I helped lead the open community against poor publishing practices regarding open access by the AAAS, which culminated in an open letter to the Editor in Chief and substantial media coverage. Alongside these o­ne off projects, I continuously try to raise awareness of the issues regarding open science, and science communication more broadly. I try to practice what I preach by engaging in open practices, and communicating about science to broader audiences. Mostly, this has been via blogging and tweeting about science, and some of the issues that are most close at heart for me, such as open science. I use tools like Figshare to share my research as soon as it’s ready, and only publish in open access venues (when I have influence on the choice). Ultimately, this has led to numerous guest posts in popular online venues, and my personal invitation to several prestigious conferences, including SciFoo Camp, and Open Con two years running. I like to think that invitations to give talks, participate in workshops and panel discussions, and being interviewed about open science for international media venues, is a sign that what I’m doing at the very personal level is the right thing. Or at least interesting enough that others can learn from it!

Honestly, I don’t consider what I’ve done to be a success story. I don’t do this for myself, but what I do see are little victories, little nudges that show that as a practising scientist, advocating for openness throughout the system is the right thing to do. I don’t have data to support this, but I have experience. The exact moment I knew that the open science community was right, was during Open Con 2014 in Washington DC. I have never known such passion, such drive, such desire to come together as a global community and advocate for something so simple, yet so hard to obtain – knowledge equality. For me, whether this translates into career success is yet to be seen – I’m still only coming to the end of my PhD. But what I do have are skills and experience that will hopefully provide me increasing options to transfer to the next level.

I think at the end of the day, we really have to consider what science is. It’s about knowledge generation, about sharing the wonders of our mystical universe. Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost this – as a system, as a global community. Open scholarship, or open science, is the bridge we need to return science to its origins.

In 5, 10, 15 years, I don’t want to be talking to people about open science: I want this to just be science.

 

Reviews

Showing 6 Reviews

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    Franziska Sattler
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    2

    The author obviously shows a great passion for OA and makes you want to be active in the support for Open Access yourself. Very inspiring piece of writing.

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    Brian Long
    1

    3/5 inspiration
    2/5 compelling nature of evidence
    3/5 quality of writing
    4/5 impact of activities on personal goals science or scholarship

    Overall, I find this essay to be less convincing than some of the others, maybe because I don't subscribe to the author's characterization of science. However, the author's enthusiasm and activism for open science is clear, and it's great to read his narrative.

    This review has 1 comments. Click to view.
    • Jonathan tennant
      Jonathan Tennant

      Thanks for the comment, Brian. What don't you like about my 'characterisation' of science, out of interest? I guess it can be difficult to frame in such a small essay!

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        Brian Long

        Science isn't practiced in a cultural vacuum and it's output is not purely for the sake of knowledge. As far as returning to the origins of science, be careful what you wish for! At other times in history, science has been closely coupled to things we now think of as non-science ( religion, alchemy, etc) and often divorced from factual evidence.
        Thread drift aside, I think grassroots pressure on the top-tier publishers and expansion of self-organized, open-access specialty journals are the way forward, and it's great to learn about your advocacy and work for positive change in science. Thanks!

  • Cockatrice
    Melissa Haendel
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    I love the concluding remark! So true.

    I realized for myself, that I had been so open about my scholarlship that I never noticed that transition that happened when we went from having page charges for publishing manuscripts to paying open access charges, because I had never published (as the primary contact author anyway) in any journal that wasn't open. So this IS actually happening :-).

    3pts for "inspiration factor"
    3pts for compelling nature of evidence
    4pts for quality of writing
    3pts for impact of activities on personal goals, science, or scholarship.

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    Stephanie Westcott
    1

    3pts for "inspiration factor"
    4pts for compelling nature of evidence
    4pts for quality of writing
    4pts for impact of activities on personal goals, science, or scholarship.

    15 total points

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    Bev Acreman
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    In all of his OA outreach you can see Jonathan's passion for open science. Great article, and important to show scientists at the start of their careers that making your research open access is a benefit rather than a hindrance.

    This review has 1 comments. Click to view.
    • Jonathan tennant
      Jonathan Tennant

      Thank you, Bev. I hope others see it in this way too. What we want to show is that it's also more difficult to be a 'closed' scientist, and that this can hinder your career.

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