Introduction to Open Science

Open science is the philosophy that scientific information be made accessible broadly to all levels of society. It is an umbrella term for multiple approaches to the dissemination of scientific information and includes the practices of citizen science, science outreach and science blogging, open notebook science, open data sharing, and open access to scholarly work among other things.

Most of the open science push is a result of the push for open access to peer reviewed literature. As scientific journals began hosting literature on the web, access to the articles was more viable. Despite publication to the web being a relatively low cost outlet, subscription prices have increased steadily and above the rate of inflation.

For perspective my own website is maintained for $70 a year, but the cost for subscription for Science (digital content only) is $146 per person per year. Granted there are other costs associated with publication, but you can see that the cost per person per journal would add up to insurmountable funds for most individuals. Institutions do receive a “group” discount, but ultimately not every university can afford to subscribe to every journal.

Because of this issue, open access journals have become more prevalent. Publishers like PLoS put the burden of publication cost on scientists who wish to publish with the platform. But even this mechanism has its drawbacks, as the cost per paper is still high. To combat this, even newer publishers like PeerJ, have simplified the publishing model and authors are charged a single, reasonable lifetime fee for publishing rights.

As open access publication has gained steam, so have other open scientific endeavors. To supplement open access to publications, open access data and video repositories have emerged to give anyone access to hard scientific information. For example, figshare is an open data repository that gives scientists a permanent DOI (digital object identifier) and the ability for their shared data to be cited. On the other hand, BenchFly, a digital video repository much like YouTube, allows scientists to document their methods and provide open access to those protocols.

Other endeavors take open science to a new level. Citizen science projects allow anyone to partake in the scientific process. Galaxy Zoo allows anyone on the planet with a connection to the web to categorize objects photographed via the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. While various ecological projects like NestWatch, allow amateur and professional bird watchers to collect data on bird nesting habits and submit it to a database for analysis. Many of these endeavors have led to startling discoveries and contributed peer reviewed work (Nereid, 2008).

Even scientific outreach has pushed the boundaries of open science. The emergence of science blogs and scientific blogging has helped expand science literacy of the public. Many blogs are maintained by real scientists reporting on either their own research, or digesting the research of peers. Several endeavors have emerged to bring more scientists into the mix. The #SciFund Challenge was developed as a crowdfunding opportunity to encourage researchers to share their science in hopes of attracting donors to contribute to their projects.

It is very apparent that open science is still developing conceptually and in practice, and can grow to encompass much more. While I have been a part, in some way, with many of the programs mentioned above, I have mainly focused my efforts on the development of open notebook science (ONS) and ONS policy and philosophy. Ideally, open notebook science can act as a transition between a lot of these open science endeavors, and can even bridge traditional science with open science practices.

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