Open Science is a means, not a goal

This blog post was written and originally published by Loek Brinkman on his own blog.

On the 26th of September, I participated in the event “Time for open science skills to count in academic careers!”, organised by the European Open Science Cloud Pilot (EOSCPilot) and the 4TU.Centre for Research Data. The goal was to define open science skills that we thought should be endorsed (more) in academic career advancement.

The setting was nice: we were divided in four groups, representing different stages of academic careers (from PhD to full professor) and discussed which open science skills are essential for each career stage. What I liked about the event was that the outcomes of the discussion were communicated to representatives of EOSCpilot and the European Commission. So I’m optimistic that some of the recommendations will, in time, affect European research policies regarding career advancement.

On the other hand, I think we might be skipping a step here. Open science is often talked about as a good thing that we should all strive for (in line with the (in)famous sticker present on many laptops of open science advocates: “Open Science: just science done right”), as though open science is a goal on itself. To me, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. There is no clear definition of open science. It is an umbrella term covering many aspects, e.g. open access, open data, open code, citizen science and many more. So, in practice, people use various definitions of open science that in- or exclude some of the aforementioned aspects of open science, and differ in how these aspect should be prioritised. That means that while many people are in favour of open science, they may disagree greatly on what they think should be addressed first and how.

I don’t see open science as a goal. I see open science as a means to achieve a goal. I think, we should first agree on the goal: specify what we want to change or improve. The way I see it, the goal is to make science more efficient – to achieve more, faster. Starting from this goal, several sub-goal can be defined, such as:

(1) making science more accessible,

(2) making science more transparent & robust,

(3) making science more inclusive.

Open science can be a means to achieve these subgoals. Depending on how you prioritise the subgoals, you might be more interested in (1) open access, (2) open data and code, or (3) citizen science, respectively.

It is not too difficult to come up with a list of open science skills for academics, and it would be awesome if those skills would be endorsed more in academic career advancement. But we first need to define the goals we want to achieve, before we can start to prioritise the means by which these can be achieved. If the endorsement of open science skills can be aligned with the overall goals, then we are well on our way to make science more efficient.

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