An introduction to open science

What is open science?

Open source resources

Open science is the growing movement to make science open. Science was itself used as a primary example for the efficacy of the open source movement, citing practices such as open dissemination of information, methods, and peer review of the scientific literature. Open science arguably began in the 1600s with the advent of the scientific journal, and the practice of repeating the experiments submitted in the scholarly articles. These journals would be printed, and distributed around the world, often overseen by learned societies such as the Royal Society.

What drove the need for an open science movement?

The Royal Society had the famous motto “Nullius in verba”, roughly translated to “take nobody’s word for it." This embodied a general tenet in science that all theories are open to being questioned, and stated results must be repeatable. This was in fact a general practice that was performed by the society in those early years. In recent years this practice has not been as common, with more and more science relying on closed elements, ultimately leading to errors that are more difficult to spot without full sharing of data, methods, and publications.

The open science movement broadly states that science must be done in an open, and reproducible fashion where all components of research are open. Many journals remain stuck in a mode where journals were physically printed, despite being largely distributed online in this day and age. They often still use PDFs as a form of “electronic paper” with fixed publications, closed peer review processes, and little to no access to data. This was most certainly the most efficient mode of disseminating scientific knowledge in the before the dawn of the Internet, but is now viewed by a growing number as far from optimal.

Open science embodies a number aspects, at the core this includes open access, open data, open source, and open standards that offer unfettered dissemination of scientific discourse. These things enable reproducible science by giving full access to the major components of scientific research. There are a number of additional components that are being explored too, such as open peer review where the reviewers of scientific publications post reviews openly with their name attached, and open notebook science where the (traditionally closed) notebooks are published openly online as research is conducted.

Why is open science so important in the digital age?

There is also a growing realization that as scientific research depends more and more heavily on computer code for simulations, calculations, analysis, visualization, and general data processing it is important to have access to this code just as it has traditionally been important to show (and derive) any new mathematical techniques introduced for analysis. There are journals such as PLOS One and F1000 exploring the meaning of publications, whether they must be frozen in time, or can be updated. Data repositories are also growing in importance as funding agencies require the publication and preservation of data generated by funded research.

At its core open science is about getting back to those core values instilled by some of the earliest scientists that we should take no one’s word for it, that it is essential all elements pertinent to a claimed discovery are published so that the results can be repeated and validated. The open science movement varies in the degree to which they require this, but patterns are emerging. Recommendations on licensing, such as CC0 for data, CC-BY for publications, OSI-compliant licenses for source code, and open formats for data are being established. Ultimately it is about empowering everyone to take part in science, with the Internet as a primary vehicle for the wide dissemination of this knowledge.

This movement is changing the way science is done, it is receiving backing from many funding agencies as they require data management plans, source code distribution plans, and greater validation of results through open access to these results for all. This also improves the transfer of knowledge from academia to industry as full access is given either at the point of publication or after an embargo period. The open science movement is largely confined to that research which is funded by the national funding agencies around the world, and demands that all those who fund research are given full and equal access to it.

Opensource.com community moderator Marcus Hanwell contributed to this resource.