Open science and scientific excellence
- The benefits of open science are worth pursuing, improving the integrity, reliability, and transparency of scientific research and aiding knowledge flows to end-users of research such as government, society and industry.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated open science practices but has also revealed some of the challenges, such as premature results being reported to the media and creating community confusion.
- To make the transition to an open science culture, Australia needs a national strategy to bring together Australian governments, funding agencies, universities and other actors in the research sector.
The practice of open science has always been central to the mission of the scientific enterprise. However, the digitalisation of science and society has changed research. As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, open science offers opportunities to enhance trust in science and scientists as a cornerstone of our society. But equally, digitalisation has in part given rise to a tendency to cherry-pick’, dismiss, misrepresent or obscure scientific evidence or smear individual scientists in the mainstream media and social media. Misinformation can only be resisted by embracing an open research culture.
Open science comprises a set of practices, including open access publications (publications that are accessible to the public), open data and other research and training materials, and avoidance of restrictive intellectual property. Open science aims to increase efficiency, promote data re-use, build rigour and reproducibility, decrease redundant research, facilitate researcher transparency in sharing processes and results, and improve the public’s access to science.
Benefits to Australia
Open science offers a range of benefits to Australia by:
- improving the integrity, reliability, and transparency of scientific research
- generating social and public benefit by lowering the barriers for public participation and knowledge of science
- strengthening scientific literacy and education by making research available to the public
- improving public policy and democracy by encouraging greater transparency in research and access to the evidence base for public policymakers and parliamentarians
- aiding knowledge flows between universities and research institutes to end-users of research such as government, society and industry.
Numerous platforms and projects have already realised the benefits of open science globally. These include the Human Genome Project, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), Symbiota, the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) and the international Virtual Observatory (VO). A clear catalyst for the open science movement has been the COVID‑19 pandemic which is allowing research data, materials and processes to be openly accessible, often before peer review and publication. These practices enabled the accelerated global response to COVID‑19. However, the pandemic has also highlighted that the research sector overall has yet to embrace the wide adoption of open science and revealed some of the challenges in adopting open science principles. The wide use of preprints (publications that are made available on web sites before they have been peer reviewed), in particular, has led to premature results being reported in the media, sometimes leading to subsequent retraction of the publication when scrutinised by experts and serving to confuse the community.
Despite the many challenges, the benefits of open science are considerable and worth pursuing. The transition to an open science culture will require government, funding councils, research councils, learned societies, universities, researchers, librarians and publishers to work together to develop a sustainable, transparent, cost-effective and high-quality open science environment.
Australia’s two main research funding agencies, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), have policies covering open access to the outputs of publicly funded research (ARC|NHMRC) and the use of research data. Initiatives funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS), such as the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), seek to develop research data platforms.
Despite these initiatives, progress has been slow. In 2018, only 32 per cent of Australian research outputs published in journals were open access. Similarly, a 2019 NHMRC survey of research culture found differing perspectives between senior academics and early career researchers and students around resistance to open science practices.
To make the transition to an open science culture, Australia needs a national strategy. Such a strategy should bring together Australian governments, funding agencies, universities and other actors in the research sector.
The strategy, led by a suitable champion such as Australia’s Chief Scientist, should:
- support open access so that government, other researchers and the wider community should not have to pay to access the research findings and data that result from publicly funded research. Publicly funded research findings should be disseminated as broadly as possible and immediately after publication
- mandate that all publicly funded research data be consistent with the Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) policy statement, to facilitate their broad reuse in scientific research
- articulate how government, business and universities can realise the benefits of open science for innovation, jobs and the knowledge economy
- develop mechanisms to ensure that universities and research institutes support an open science culture. These will need to involve reform to incentives for academics and universities for career progression, funding, recognition and reputation
- protect the quality and integrity of scholarly publishing through the peer review processes in both the pre-publication and post-publication phases.
Research funders will need to mandate open access and open data. Further, assessment of university research should reward open science culture on a comparable scale to other metrics and should include measures that reward collaborative ways of working.
As a condition of publication, scientific journals should by default have a requirement that the data on which the article depends should be accessible, assessable, usable, reproducible and traceable.
Questions to stimulate discussion
- Is Australia doing enough to encourage the uptake and realise the benefits of open science?
- Does Australia need a national open science strategy?
- How should Australia change our funding and academic incentives to bring about an open science culture?
This topic's links to the Sustainable Development Goals:
This document has been produced by the Australian Academy of Science to stimulate debate. Members of the National Committee for Data in Science were consulted in the preparation of this document.
This feature article from the Australian Academy of Science is part of the ‘Science for Australians’ series where experts are asked to shed light on how science benefits all Australians and how it can be used to inform policy.
The production of ‘Science for Australians’ features are supported by the Academy’s Ian Ross Bequest.