Open Science: Ethical Issues

Nowadays, there is an increasing need for reformulating the way researchers and institutions pursue research, principally, because society requires more transparency and easiness to understand, observe and recognize the process through which new knowledge is created. According to the experience of Dutch universities, academia must change the rewarding mechanisms to promote diversification of different talents that may connect universities and research institutions with society. Thus, the new mechanisms must prioritize the work by teams over stand-alone research to achieve quality outcomes instead of quantity.

The secret of the Dutch approach lives on an ambitious agenda that places concerns on work pressures and career paths. The structure works on different boards distributed on education, research, impact, and leadership, principally, the latter has more importance as all the visions of remaining boards must pass through its supervision.

Recently surveys on universities deliver an autonomous perception in the way they implement research assessment; however, they exhibit commonality in the valuation of assessment factors. For instance, most universities consider the same publication matrix and journal impact factor (h-index) to assess their academic units. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that there is a lack of autonomy because despite there are no formal rules to condition their behavior, universities pursue the same standards, reducing their independence.

Additionally, even though the effort of European authorities to define priorities around the need for having open labor markets, and the reduction of mobility barriers, there is still a considerable gap for filling those needs and much work to do to ensure attractive research careers. Principally, because some academic units feel afraid of giving the first step given that there is a latent threat to destroy research by some researchers and institutions willing to copy and appropriate other ideas without citing and recognizing the intellectual work of others.  

Then, we should have research environments supported through open software, methodologies, access to publications, and collaboration. However, before arriving at this stage, there must be a commonality around the scientific community for promoting ethical behavior and penalize those persons and institutions for destroying the incentives for having a collaborative environment without barriers for open science.  

I consider that it is essential and valuable to recognize other aspects inside academic units beyond publications and impact factors on those papers. For example, it is very plausible to recognize those departments transmitting knowledge through clear and transparent communicative channels with students and society. We should recognize those environments with clear and continuous communication with the society in general and not only with other academicians principally because those institutions are the ones creating value in the way society perceives and values research.

On the other hand, I also believe that inside the promotion of open science, it is mandatory to create and promote ethical environments with efficacy rules at the moment to deliver incentives on researchers to open their research to the world. For instance,  excluding researchers and institutions with the willingness to create environments of low trust. I believe that environments with ethical behaviors and clear rules are more likely to achieve an open and successful research environment. Then, If the environment is fair and clear, promoting open behavior, more and more people and institutions will adapt their communication channels with the world.

Therefore, it is necessary to have an adequate mechanism of incentives for assessing the research careers and what is considered as successful. Firs, making people feel safe for sharing their knowledge. Second, promoting open access to publications and delivering compensations, not necessarily condition on the impact index factor. Third, expanding the compensation on the academic stuff that is not focused on doing only research.  Forth, creating independent platforms with adequate per review mechanism for publishing some research that does not satisfy fashionable research trends and standards of what a small amount of researchers considers as relevant.

Open Science: something to think about

The 2nd CRUP/CRUE Open Science Seminar was a very interesting meeting of different members of the academic environment from which I could extract some ideas and conclusions. The seminar was mainly devoted to the Career Assessment in the transition to Open Science, and I have to say that countries such as Spain or Portugal are still far from being at the top of Open Science standard.

We firstly received an amazing and inspiring talk from Rianne Letschert, Rector Maastricht University. Rianne exposed the Dutch approach to the transition into Open Science, their ideas behind the implementation, and the key points for its achievement. In November 2019, the Dutch Universities published the position paper “Room for everyone’s talent”. The core idea of the Dutch approach is the modernization of the system of recognition and rewards. For this, the Dutch approach proposes the diversification of the academic career, building it based on individual tracks and not only on research. Rianne remarks 4 main aspects: education, impact, research and leadership. Based on them, she exposed the following specific measures:

  1. Enable diversification and visualisation of career paths, thereby promoting excellence in each of the key areas. Stimulate career combining education with research, being a leader and having a high impact. It is not just a matter of being a good researcher but becoming an academic leader.
  2. A better balance between individual and team performance. Inspire cooperation between organizations, disciplines and within teams (Team Science).  The collaboration will make the activity richer and will allow pushing forward to more demanding goals, and consequently better rewards.
  3. More focus on Quality of Work over quantitative results. Good scientific research increases scientific knowledge and contributes to solving the social challenge. (This idea is in line with some of the main problems that were addressed later during the seminar, the evaluation of researchers, the actual metrics).
  4. More emphasis on the value of academic leadership to set the course in research and education to achieve impact, and to ensure that teams of academia can do their work as well as possible.
  5. Open Science becomes the norm and stimulates interaction between scientists and society. Open science can be thought of as a tree with the following branches:
    • Out research/visibility
    • Open software
    • DAIR data
    • Citizen science
    • Open educational resources
    • Open access publishing
    • Open methodologies
    • Collaboration.

Recognizing and rewarding Open Science activities is key to the success of this plan. Rianne explained that Dutch universities must encourage academics to move forward to Open Science by recognition and rewards. Dutch Universities and research groups already know that they will be assessed on its transformation to Open Science. They understand that they need a cultural change, change of beliefs, what will require a dialogue with universities, a good balance between giving room for ideas (diverging) and bringing together good practices (converging) in a joint framework is needed.

After that talk, the seminar focused on the Research Assessment in Europe, with the contribution of Bregt Saenen, Policy and Project Officer, European University Association, and Cecilia Cabello, Chair of the European Research Area and Innovation Committee Standing Working Group on Human Resources. Bregt provided some figures of merit to understand the actual situation of universities in terms of research activities and priorities:

  1. Autonomy to develop and implement research assessment approaches. Most universities feel highly or mostly autonomous; however, they recognize the high depend that they have on specific laws, governments, funding agencies or ranking agencies. Indeed, universities are in a very competitive environment.
  2. Importance of academic activities for research careers. The most valuable activity for most universities is the research publications followed by funding and research impact. Nonetheless, the least important is the Open Science, Open Access. This concludes that for most universities OS/OA is not a key aspect in the research assessment up to date.
  3. Evaluation of academic activities for research careers. Here we see again that they find important to assess research careers the metrics of publications, peer-review assessments, collaborations…
  4. Publication metrics used for research careers. 75% of universities use Journal Impact factor to evaluate research of individuals followed by the h-index.

In agreement with all the panellist in the seminar, I find this last figure of merit one of the main barriers in the implementation of Open Science as a standard. It is true that the JIF can give you a first insight on the quality of the work, considering that the higher the factor, the more restrictive the journal is in terms of accepting relevant scientific research. Nonetheless, this metric is not sufficient to evaluate the performance of researchers. New metrics are to be developed, implemented, and justified to evaluate research-based in quality rather than quality (as Rianne introduced).

Following this line of actual challenges, the last part of the seminar was devoted to answer a specific question: Is Open Science challenging career evaluation in the Iberian universities?. After listening to the four panellists (Francisco José Mora, Rector of the Universitat Politècnica de València and Chair of the CRUE Committee on Open Science; Luís Neves, Vice-Rector Universidade de Coimbra; Maria de Lurdes Correia Fernandes, Vice-Rector Universidade do Porto; Mercedes Siles, Director of ANECA) followed by an interesting debate on the topic, I can conclude that implementing the concept of Open Science in the Iberian universities is not trivial at all. We need a new metric for measuring the scientific output,  which should be robust, reliable, fair and mainly focused on research quality. The reward and incentives for academics are essential for them to collaborate and feel valuable. We are talking about a change of paradigms, a cultural change affecting all the stakeholders in the research community.

From the conclusions drawn by the participants, Spain and Portugal are still far but work is being done. In Spain, ANECA mainly focuses on Open Knowledge more than OS, which consists of transferring the knowledge from academia to society. ANECA ensures that such an approach requires to set realistic incentives and realistic goals.

In my opinion, Open Science is key. Not only in your country, but excellence must be worldwide (as proposed by the Dutch approach).  Open science is relevant for the faster circulation of new ideas, higher understanding and respect within research institutions and a more agile research development from a universal perspective.

 #IamAnOpenScientistBecause I do collaborate with several research groups in and out of my field of research, sharing my conclusions, reflection and data with the community to promote further interest and improvement in science.

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