Why open science matters

Open science is a no-barrier approach to scientific research. The main areas of open access are  research articles, data and the research process used. Non-scientists might be wondering what all the fuss is about with regards to the open science debate that has livened up throughout the last few years, because they think these areas do not (directly) relate to them. People might think: “Why should I care about open science? I am not a researcher, so this does not affect me.” Not just researchers but also the average person on the street can benefit from open science. Several of the most important consequences for the population include (1) more public scrutiny of research, (2) better research in general and (3) a better foundation for businesses to build their company on. Much research is funded by the public via tax money.

Some people do not realize the vast amounts of money that flow from the public in to research. Take for example the United States, where the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds research ranging from physics to psychology, received an appropriation of $6.9 billion for the year 2013. The Dutch government has allocated a budget of 800 million euro’s in 2013 for research and science policy. Indexing similar institutions in nations across the globe will probably show something similar: millions, maybe even billions, of taxpayers’ money is spent each year on scientific research. These numbers go to show that the public has a vested interest in research, and like any publicly funded program it should be subject to public scrutiny. What the funding is used for is already accessible via the funding institutions themselves, but the final product of the research, the highly esteemed academic paper, is often behind ‘closed doors’—the so called paywall publishers have put up for accessing academic papers via the internet. In other words, the public often cannot scrutinize the end-product of the thing they fund: the academic research paper. Such transparency is a requirement for public operations in general, and hence should be strived toward in scientific research as well. Open acces to research would also allow newspapers to have access to more of the cutting-edge science, which can in turn be used to write newspaper items on and inform the general public. In sum, there is a clear ideal for the public why research funded by taxpayers’ money should be open to all—they are public goods to begin with.

Such research is done by humans, and even though it is often thought that researchers are highly integer and rigorous when they are doing their research this is only the ideal. The other side of the continuum is a fraudulent researcher, making up his data.1 Most researchers are neither of these, and they can make errors. However, it seems that researchers willing to share their research decreases the amount of errors they make. This seems to indicate that researchers do make errors, but that the open researchers make less errors. Possibly open researchers are more rigorous researchers, or they are more aware of peers checking their work in depth and feel more responsibility, making them better researchers in the end. Either are plausible explanations and it is  viable that having the obligation to share research increases quality of research overall. Besides that, people who review others’ work have more information on what actually went on in the research, giving rise to a more proper assessment of the quality. This could in turn also increase research quality in published papers. In other words, open science possibly decreases false-positive science and increases true-positive science.

A last benefit of open science I want to touch on is one that is important for businesses. Many companies can benefit from scientific findings, incorporating these into their policy, the way they manage their workfloor, or a wide range of other areas. Science can help businesses increase efficiency, create better products or increase work satisfaction and productivity. This in turn can increase economic growth (which we are in desperate need of since 2008) and help nations prosper. This currently does not happen because businesses often are not willing to invest thousand and thousands of dollars in accessing scientific research (except for large businesses). Open science decreases this threshold, and might make businesses realize the value that lays in applying scientific findings.

In sum, it can be seen that there are several important results of open science that are applicable to anyone and everyone, which is exactly why also non-researchers have a stake in the open science debate, not just researchers themselves.

1 – I ascribe this idea to Jelte Wicherts, who I have seen present this.

4 thoughts on “Why open science matters

  1. Profile photo of Ann MayoAnn Mayo

    I just started an Open Science Notebook and I think much of what you said is correct. I believe making entries in the Open Notebook is encouraging me to be more diligent and responsible in part because I may be communicating with others (and I do not know how much they will easily understand). This process is also helping me look at organization of my current work and linking this with possible future work. I am finding the process very helpful.

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