open science: open research

“[The] accumulation of reliable knowledge is an essentially social process” (David, “Understanding the Emergence”).

Open research means being transparent about methods. At the minimum, this means describing research methods in a published paper such that anyone with the requisite skills and resources can scrutinize and attempt to reproduce the results. Open research may also involve an open peer review process, whereby journals expand the circle of peer reviewers to include members of the public. K. Thomas Pickard, a healthcare advocate, describes the value of rethinking the peer review process for medical research, arguing that online social networks give the public new opportunities to engage in the scientific enterprise:

Critics argue that the peer review process is slow, stifles innovation, and lacks transparency (most reviewers remain anonymous). With social networks, alternatives to peer review are emerging. The most commonly employed model is based on comment crowdsourcing, similar to how buyers rate products and sellers on Amazon or eBay. Anonymous peer review is replaced with public reviews that can include the reviewer’s reputation (as determined by peers) to weight the review score. Weighting an author’s reputation can be achieved with concepts such as the author’s scholar factor, h-index, or other “altmetrics.”

In its most open form, open research may involve what is known as “open notebook” science: using the technologies of the internet to make available research details, early findings, and iterations well before, or even instead of, formal publication, and to encourage participation from others.

Advocates of open notebook science maintain that such transparency in the early stages of a scientific endeavor has a couple of important advantages. First, it allows for iterative adjustments in methodology that may improve the quality of the results. Second, publishing early findings allows researchers to establish primacy over their methods and results much more quickly than would be possible were they to wait the normal months-long cycle for their results to appear in a published journal article. In the words of Dorothea Salo, scholarly research services librarian and author of “Who Owns Our Work?”:

Adherents of Open Notebook Science open their entire research process on the web using wikis, Google Docs and similar online tools. Notably, Open Notebook Science allows its practitioners to establish visible, verifiable primacy over their processes and the results thereof, which potentially undercuts publishers both by reducing scientists’ pre-publication ‘scooping’ fears and by providing a substitute for the supposed primacy verification offered by formal publication.

It is important to note, however, that there is nothing in the definitions of “open” provided previously that requires any researcher to practice open notebook science; it is perfectly in line with the values of the Budapest Open Access Initiative and the OKF to conduct, publish, and disseminate open science without (say) engaging with the public on a blog every step of the way. Nonetheless, this is indeed what some people mean when they speak of open science.

We have already seen how open research might work. One of the best‐known recent examples is in the work of Rosie Redfield, a microbiologist from UBC. When scientists funded by NASA reported in 2010 that they had found arsenic‐based life forms on Earth, Redfield expressed concerns on her blog about the quality of the research. Her assessment spread rapidly over social media – through Twitter among other means – and in the press, casting immediate doubts on NASA’s findings (Zimmer).

Known as the #arseniclife affair, Redfield’s “is one of the first cases in which the scientific community openly vetted a high‐profile paper, and influenced how the public at large thought about it” (Zimmer). In 2011, Nature magazine included Redfield in its list of the top 10 “people who mattered” for the year (Hayden).

Read more:



Budapest Open Access Initiative, September 12, 2012. Web. Retrieved Jun. 16, 2013 from

David, Paul A. “Understanding the emergence of ‘open science’ institutions: functionalist economics in historical context.” Industrial and Corporate Change 13.4 (2004): 571-589. Web.

Hayden, E. C. “365 Days: Nature’s 10. Ten People Who Mattered this Year. Rosie Redfield, Critical Enquirer.” Nature 480 (22 Dec. 2011): 437–445. Web.

Open Knowledge Foundation. “Open definition.” Web. Retrieved June 13, 2013 from

Pickard, K. T. “Impact of open access and social media on scientific research.” J Participat Med 4 (2012): e15. Web.

Salo, Dorothea. “Who owns our work?.” Serials: The Journal for the Serials Community 23.3 (2010): 191-195. Web.

Zimmer, C. “The Discovery of Arsenic‐Based Twitter: How #arseniclife Changed Science.” Slate 27 May 2011. Web.


6 thoughts on “open science: open research

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