Opening Up to Open Science

Essay by Chelle Gentemann, Christopher Erdmann and Caitlin Kroeger: “The modern Hippocratic Oath outlines ethical standards that physicians worldwide swear to uphold. “I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk,” one of its tenets reads, “and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.”

But what form, exactly, should knowledge-sharing take? In the practice of modern science, knowledge in most scientific disciplines is generally shared through peer-reviewed publications at the end of a project. Although publication is both expected and incentivized—it plays a key role in career advancement, for example—many scientists do not take the extra step of sharing data, detailed methods, or code, making it more difficult for others to replicate, verify, and build on their results. Even beyond that, professional science today is full of personal and institutional incentives to hold information closely to retain a competitive advantage.

This way of sharing science has some benefits: peer review, for example, helps to ensure (even if it never guarantees) scientific integrity and prevent inadvertent misuse of data or code. But the status quo also comes with clear costs: it creates barriers (in the form of publication paywalls), slows the pace of innovation, and limits the impact of research. Fast science is increasingly necessary, and with good reason. Technology has not only improved the speed at which science is carried out, but many of the problems scientists study, from climate change to COVID-19, demand urgency. Whether modeling the behavior of wildfires or developing a vaccine, the need for scientists to work together and share knowledge has never been greater. In this environment, the rapid dissemination of knowledge is critical; closed, siloed knowledge slows progress to a degree society cannot afford. Imagine the consequences today if, as in the 2003 SARS disease outbreak, the task of sequencing genomes still took months and tools for labs to share the results openly online didn’t exist. Today’s challenges require scientists to adapt and better recognize, facilitate, and reward collaboration.

Open science is a path toward a collaborative culture that, enabled by a range of technologies, empowers the open sharing of data, information, and knowledge within the scientific community and the wider public to accelerate scientific research and understanding. Yet despite its benefits, open science has not been widely embraced…(More)”