It’s about time for open science

The open science movement is by no means a new development in the world of scientific research. Since its inception around four years ago, the number of open science platforms on the internet has only increased. Its goal is to ultimately increase accessibility and transparency in the field of science. Currently, this is achieved through open-access journals or digital notebooks where scientists can share their progress on current projects.

Open science seems like a byproduct of our current fixation on social media and digital exchange. If there’s Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr for everyone to share their lives on, why can’t scientists utilize this new landscape to further scientific advancement?

The current process of getting published in the field of science has remained the same since the days of the printing press: Scientists submit their research to journals to be reviewed by their peers for months, then published for the benefit of anyone who pays the costly subscription fee for the journal. Though it seems deceptively simple, many papers get rejected, often on the basis that they are not groundbreaking or novel enough.

The open science movement is important because it encourages collaboration over competitiveness and marks a return to traditional scientific ideals. Scientists are able to review each other’s work on the web and suggest improvements. As a result, scientific progress and innovation is accelerated. It makes research more about making discoveries and less about achieving publication.

The current publication system is antiquated and has fostered harsh competitiveness in the realm of science. Since publication is vital for receiving grants and employment opportunities, some scientists tamper with their data and results in order to be published. Since null results don’t present any new information, they are discarded and never see publication. This “publish or perish” mindset has caused a serious deviation from science’s original goal: the unabashed search for knowledge.

However, the public sphere aspect of open science allows scientists to share information even if it is incomplete or incorrect. Even failed experiments can prove to be useful in informing other scientists which mistakes to avoid. Since the main goal is an exchange of ideas versus competing for a spot in a journal, scientists are less likely to fudge their results.

Additionally, its availability on the internet allows those who aren’t in academia to view data and research. By making research accessible, individuals are able to interpret the data for themselves instead of through channels that might misconstrue or sensationalize the information, such as emphasizing the connection between cell phone radiation and cancer or classical music and intelligence. It can foster critical thinking and might even inspire more people to pursue a career in academia.

Granted, these are rather idealistic sentiments. Much of scientific research will probably be gibberish to some people who don’t possess the right education. Also without adequate review, some papers might possess errors that can be detrimental if left unnoticed. There are also limitations in terms of performing research; it needs money to be executed and many won’t exert their intellectual resources for free.

However, the expansion of open science is inevitable. We live in an age where everything is digital. Even paying for groceries is done through technological means. Despite its current limitations, open science has a hopeful future. Much like everything else, even the field of science itself has to adapt in order to avoid becoming obsolete.

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