Open up your Science, an ambition facing obstacles

The debate on transparent science, including FAIR data and open access, has really kicked off between researchers, universities and funding bodies like NWO and ZonMw since the launch of Plan S. This was reaffirmed during the ‘Open up your Science’ workshop led by Mario Malički (Amsterdam University of Applied Science) and Gerben ter Riet (Amsterdam UMC) at the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Laureates Day on Friday 30 November.

Mario Malički and Gerben ter Riet, who specialise in scientific integrity, led the participants through the open science process that leads to scientific innovation. The keywords were transparency and higher standards. For researchers, it means doing things differently at a number of points in the scientific process. Participants at the workshop voiced their concerns about two of these things: preregistration and preprints.

Preregistration: ownership of ideas

Biomedical scientists feared that their ideas will be ‘scooped’ if preregistration (publishing the objective, study design and method) becomes mandatory. Sharing a good idea with the rest of the world entailed the risk that another research group with more and better research facilities (in terms of money and staff) would ‘steal’ the idea and publish results earlier. It would then become difficult for the researcher who shared the idea to get the results published. Participants from other disciplines did not share this concern, regarding it in fact as an opportunity to receive input for their research and improve the quality of their project. Mario showed that preregistration mainly meant announcing the study in general terms so that others have a rough idea of what you intended to investigate, and were aware that you were the first to have the idea. It was also possible to place an embargo on the presentation of your preregistration, to prevent scooping. Preregistration could also prevent ‘research waste’, enhance collaboration and offer patients the opportunity to participate in trials.

Preprint: pros and cons

During the discussion it was found that a range of views exist on preprints in the various fields of research. A preprint is a ‘draft publication’ that is published before it appears in a peer-reviewed journal. The advantage of this is that you make your research and your findings public, and can thus improve your publication with input from other academics. Participants from the humanities and the natural sciences were particularly positive about this. Other participants had found that a preprint in arXiv, for example, could prevent you from publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. Reviewers and editors of some academic journals regarded the paper as already published. This was changing radically, however. It was also pointed out that there would definitely be a benefit from preprints in a large, strong research community (a preprint would elicit a lot of comments), but in a small field of research the likelihood of input was smaller. Preprints were not very common yet in the medical sciences.

Assessing research performance

The main conclusion from the discussion of preprints, preregistration, reporting guidelines, FAIR data and open access was that the opportunities and risks associated with open science varied widely from one discipline to another. Nor could this be seen in isolation from the assessment of the performance of researchers who are keen to embrace open science. The question was what implications transparency and openness at all phases of their study would have for a researcher’s track record (and thus their chances of acquiring funding) compared with fellow researchers who were not transparent and open in their research.

Plan S

There was of course discussion of Plan S during the workshop, and it led to a lively debate among the participants. The last word has not however been heard on this, not least because cOAlition S announced guidelines for the implementation of Plan S at the end of November. Stakeholders have from 27 November 2018 to 1 February 2019 to respond to the announced implementation guidelines for open access to academic publications. See also the cOAlition S website cOAlition S

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