Open Science: get free or get buried in bureaucracy?

In the current world of new normality after the disastrous epidemic of COVID-19, Open Science (OS) shall be moved to the front burner.  Last week several universities from Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, and other countries, hold an online seminar full of inspirational experience and practical discussions on the issues of career assessments in OS. 

OS is a complex term that consist of many components, each of them is important and reinforcing others. OS includes not only open access publishing, open methodologies, and FAIR data, but also open educational resources, citizen science, an outreach of science knowledge to society, and many other things. 

Last year I was watching a workshop «Focus on Open Science» and from the discussions I had a feeling that the exact understanding of OS itself is still under development. It was discussed that starting a scientific career on the OS track now is very challenging, yet it was exciting to see the changes OS been through this year. 

One of the most inspirational talks was given by a rector of Maastricht University Prof. Dr. Rianne Letschert. In Maastricht University they just recently started to implement OS policies, however, it was really impressive to see their initiatives in the creation of the OS community. Changes towards OS imply a high cost in terms of financial and people resources and, probably most important, cultural transformation. However, they could show that these changes are highly rewarding. On the contrary, the inspirational talk of dutch rector led to some comments that most of the students now would like to move to Netherlands: a perfect example of the situation, when the lack of changes might lead to a young «brain drain».

Currently, there exist multiple barriers on the way towards OS. One important issue is the way we measure the quality of scientific works. According to a European University Association study presented by Bregt Saenen, most universities are still using Journal Impact Factor and h-index to evaluate the career of scientists. These metrics are highly dependent on publishers whose values are not compatible with OS. In many Spanish research institutes including the one I am working at, there is a list of tier-1 venues scientists shall publish, and none of them are OS related. Providing new metrics and promoting them among universities and research institutes could be one of the keys to solving many issues of OS policy implementation. Perhaps, creation of European government-supported open-access venues with invited top reviewers could speed up the changes. It could also possibly deal with another important problem – academic conservatism, because in this case it will work just the same way as old journals, but facing new challenges and meeting new standards. 

The current crisis is a moment when OS has to shine. Multiple research papers could go through the process of fast track and get published in open access journals to jointly strengthen our power against the situation we are facing now. With limited travel possibilities today, many scientists are facing difficulties in data collection and sharing, while sharing important data shall become a must, not a will for the sake of public safety. A proper administration of this process can facilitate the life of researchers and people who are working on the frontiers. This help could be expressed in many different ways: bureaucracy reduction for job and grant application, especially for foreign scientist, assistance in legal issues, technical support (such as e.g. safe and secure non-commercial data hosting), or even the involvement of the enormous number of currently unemployed people in the process of citizen science. 

After this seminar, there is still a question without an answer. There are many roadmaps prepared for administration and HR departments. Most professors have already developed a strong background in the old system. When you are at the beginning of a scientific career, you are especially vulnerable to any global changes. While these particular changes are leading to the right way, should there be any roadmap for those who are still at the start? 

There is a long way to go to implement all the good things and ideas that come from the OS community. I would like to hope that in this way we do not end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater and keep all the good things the current system has. I am not very optimistic expecting that we will not gain another load of bureaucracy instead of real-life changes. But certainly, #iamanopenscientist as in my opinion there is no other way to be a scientist. 

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