Open Science in the cradle of democracy

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From September 6th to 8th, Rob Johnson and I attended the Open Science Fair in Athens. Held in the stunning Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center designed by Renzo Piano, this was the first event of its kind, and drew over 250 delegates from all over the world.

An initiative of 4 EU projects (OpenAIRE, OpenUP, FOSTER and OpenMinTeD), the Open Science Fair aimed to bind policies and researcher flows, infrastructure and services with people. What made the conference unique was the way it brought together the different strands of open science under one banner. From open access to data integrity, aggregation to reproducibility, metrics to text and data mining, the topics discussed are not new, but attain greater significance when seen as part of a coherent whole. Ultimately, as Yannis Ioannidis (President of Athena Research and Innovation Centre) stated in his welcome speech, “Open Science is about democracy, and what better place to talk about it than in the cradle of democracy?”

We attended to present a poster on TDM based on our previous work for the ADBU, and also as a conference sponsor to showcase some of our recent reports. But most importantly we were there to learn about the latest developments in the field of open science, and to reflect on what all of us can do to help…

Our poster at the 2017 Open Science Fair

Open access to research outputs

Yannis Ioannidis stressed that today “it’s all about openness” both to people and for people. In addition, Fillipos Tsimpoglou (Director General, National Library of Greece) reminded us that the availability of information is vital for the progress of our society.

Open access to research outputs is one of the ways we can support these ideas. The Open Science Fair saw several open access publishers as sponsors, plus a variety of sessions focussed on operational aspects of this practice and the policies involved. Interestingly, one of the concerns raised during the conference involved the reproducibility of results. Reproducibility is closely related to the release of data alongside open access to research articles, enabling researchers to check published results and validate them.

To facilitate open access, open data, and, therefore, open science, Kathleen Shearer of COAR made the case for a distributed and community-managed open science infrastructure, which could:

  • Better support the needs of different regions, disciplines, and languages
  • Safeguard against failure through redundancy
  • Reduce the risk of a commercial buy-out
  • Place the library and their values at the centre.

As Kathleen recognised, such an approach remains fraught with challenges, and requires all the stakeholders involved to reach agreement on a common vision and organisational structure.

Meanwhile, Nektarios Tavernarakis (Professor of Molecular Systems Biology at the Medical School of the University of Crete) shared insights into the European Research Council’s plans for open access in the next framework programme. At this point, price caps for article publication charges, more stringent licensing expectations, and new publisher requirements are all on the table.

Research Data Management (RDM)

The Open Science Fair devoted much airtime RDM and recognised the very serious efforts made by research institutions and other organisations. In addition to the work of OpenAIRE, we heard contributions from the Research Data Alliance, the EUDAT project, and LIBER. The common theme was the need for stakeholders to work together to achieve shared objectives more efficiently.

Speakers recognised that there often is overlap between their initiatives, and that there is scope to improve existing collaborations. During a workshop session, they sought the inputs of all stakeholders in the field to try and identify opportunities for improvement, highlighting the variety of points of view to consider when dealing with RDM.

The Fair also showcased a series of initiatives that aim to promote RDM with a specific disciplinary focus (e.g., in the fields of agriculture and medicine). This was a strong reminder that researchers (and users) need tailored data management services that can be adapted to their specific fields and approaches. The different disciplinary perspectives also led to a discussion of the infrastructures needed to enable interoperability in each field and the perceived gaps in this respect.

Finally, we were reminded that not all data is useful, and what is shared needs to be chosen carefully.

Text and data mining

What to do once data and research outputs have been managed and curated, and after they have been openly shared? The answer, sometimes, is text and data mining! This practice, which is also the topic of our poster above, is becoming increasingly popular and was discussed by representatives of the OpenMinTeD project (including NACTEM at the University of Manchester and the French INRA). They presented a number of use cases on the topic of TDM in different disciplines, ranging from biology to agriculture and discussed state-of-the-art techniques. Then, they moved on to broader challenges in the field and the discussion covered the role played by the European Open Science Cloud project and FAIR principles in the field of TDM.

The above-mentioned link between open access and open science was further underlined by Stelio Piperidis (Senior Research Fellow, Athena Research & Innovation Centre), in his presentation entitled “Making sense of scientific content”. Making sense of the wealth of information now at our disposal poses a gargantuan challenge: between the lines of scientific articles or books and the rows of never-ending data sheets there lie hidden meanings just waiting to be uncovered. TDM can help with this, using machine reading to aid understanding and find new patterns and correlations. This domain, however, remains fragmented with a variety of different solutions catering for different text types, disciplines, tasks, and languages (see the image below).

The fragmented world of TDM (Credits: OpenMinTeD project)

Final remarks

Bringing all these strands together into a truly open and equitable scientific enterprise remains a work in progress. Several speakers reminded us that inequalities of gender, race and geography in science persist, and we must take care not to develop models of openness that reinforce these. At the end of the first day of the Open Science Fair, Jeffrey D. Sachs (Economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University) hosted an hour-long session on the relationship between open science and sustainable development. He stressed that public support is needed for open science to become mainstream, and for it to solve the problems of the less privileged members of our society. Paraphrasing Prof. Sachs, none of the needs of today’s world are out of reach, but we need open science to get there.

The 2017 Open Science Fair considered many of the topics we deal with on an everyday basis and helped us step back and look at the big picture. It was a pleasure to be in the beautiful city of Athens at what we hope will be the first of many such events!

Should you wish to know more about the conference, have a look at our tweets at @rschconsulting and @drAChiarelli, or search for the conference hashtag #OSFair2017. Below, you can watch a video on the conference by OpenAIRE.

Open Science Fair 2017 from OpenAIRE on Vimeo.

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