Open for collaboration

This week (Oct 19th-25th) is Open Access Week, with the theme of ‘Open for Collaboration’. Open Access Week is organised by SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, and this year’s theme aims to inspire conversations about how cooperation between stakeholders in the academic enterprise can lead to new forms of collaboration – whether that’s collaboration in research, collaboration in new publishing platforms, or collaboration between academic and policy communities in discussions about how open-access can become the new norm in scholarly publishing.

Here at Geo we are engaged in all of these types of collaboration, and we hope that our blog can become a springboard for new working relationships of all kinds.

In the first instance, the blog can offer authors and readers of our journal the opportunity to reach out to wider audiences. We are publishing blog posts alongside published Geo articles, which can be a great way of drawing attention to the topical relevance of an article, of situating it within wider scientific, political, environmental or cultural debates, or of telling some of the story behind the research which might not have made it into the journal article itself.

Evidence is growing that journal articles which are open access and which are publicised through social media such as blogs and Twitter can receive a greater readership which in turn can lead to more citations.[1] With our blog and social media presence, Geo can help scholars to take advantage of these new routes to wider research engagement (find us on Twitter and Facebook).

We also believe that these new opportunities can help develop connections which, in time, may lead to important new collaborative ventures. While we invite journal authors to comment on their own published papers, we often also seek out comments from interested readers – see for example the posts published along with Sabina Leonelli and colleagues’ paper on encouraging open science (see here and here), or Werner Krauss’ commentary on Mike Hulme’s piece on climate and culture. In this way, we hope that the Geo blog can spark new intellectual conversations and connections, opening up space for new collaborative relationships.

We hope that the Geo blog can also become a site for debating the shifting policy environment of open-access publishing. As open access becomes a key requirement in research assessment exercises in the UK for example, new questions are emerging about how access to open access – through the availability of resources to fund ‘gold’ open access publishing – is distributed across the academic landscape. We’re keen to encourage reflection on these and other issues, so if you have ideas for a post, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Academia is inherently a collaborative enterprise – not just in the shape of research teams and multi-author publications, but in the relationships between individuals, institutions and policies, between researchers and the ‘subjects’ of their research, and in the deep well of knowledge from which we all draw in building our arguments and research programmes (for an example of this collaborative landscape, see this blog post on crowd-sourced geographic information). In making new knowledge, we collaborate with those who have gone before us, and with a diversity of people around us. Journals like Geo are part of this story of changing collaborative relationships within and beyond the academy, and we hope the blog can be a place to tell this story in new and exciting ways.

[1] See for example Gunther Eysenbach, ‘Can Tweets Predict Citations? Metrics of Social Impact Based on Twitter and Correlation with Traditional Metrics of Scientific Impact.’, Journal of Medical Internet Research, 13, 4 (2011); Melissa Terras, ‘The Impact of Social Media on the Dissemination of Research: Results of an Experiment’, Journal of Digital Humanities, 1, 3 (2012).

Response to Leonelli et al (2015): Thinking About “Open” Science

By James Porter, University of Leeds, UK

As a research community we’re being urged to “open” science up like never before. Whether it’s our research results, methods used to make sense of them, or even the underlying raw data itself, everything we do should be made freely and easily accessible to the widest variety of people possible, in the widest variety of ways. Already great strides have been made. As Leonelli et al (2015) note, we’ve seen the push towards “open” access of published research results; “open” data deposited in repositories; and “open” source licenses for research materials (e.g. codes, models etc). All of this edges us closer to the ethos behind “open” science or Science 2.0. That is, to encourage greater equality, widen participation, and stimulate innovation.

Indeed, “open” science has already been heralded as a success. It’s helped scientists find answers to decade old problems. Scientists at the University of Washington struggling to discover the structure of a protein that helps HIV multiply, turned to developers of Foldit, for example. As an online game, players are asked to rearrange the protein to find its most stable configuration, likely to be it’s natural form. Within three weeks over 57,000 players had arrived at an answer, which was published in Nature Structural. None of this would have been possible if that research had remained hidden from public view behind journal subscriptions or locked away in our ivory towers.

It’s somewhat ironic, then, that we’re being asked to make things “open” yet constantly reminded to refrain from sharing our findings prematurely. This is due in no small part to a prevailing institutional culture of publish or perish (i.e. REF); the creep to commercialise science and lockdown intellectual property or block rivals (e.g. OncoMouse); and concerns over allowing others to cast doubt or breed misunderstandings (i.e. UEA leaked emails). How science is opened up so that it’s usable and useful, not just available; who should be doing it – early career researchers or established professors; and when research is released – before/after publication; are all tricky questions that researchers must grapple with today. “Sticks” and “carrots”, as Leonelli et al (2015) argue, may incentivise “open” science but it’s unlikely to fully succeed unless the underlying institutional and social norms/values governing research are addressed as well. Many of these institutional and epistemic norms touch on the changing spaces of science engaged by geographers.

The UK government, for instance, has set the Met Office on a course for “open” science. In a pointed rebuttal to critics who claim that it has stifled innovation through a monopoly over meteorological and climate data, the Met Office is set to “open” things up. The once fine distinction between data used for non-commercial purposes and commercial ones is no more. Today, a new policy breaks data into one of three categories (open, research and managed), which dictates who can access it and what they can do with it (not everyone can be trusted, apparently). Making the data fit into these categories ignores its hybrid, contested, and evolving nature, where it may start life as one thing but over time change as more things are added. Efforts to make the data manageable not only reflect politics to do with their construction and circulation but also reflect the tension faced by the Met Office to give away and make money from its data/services.

Much of the logic behind the “open” science movement shares similarities with neoliberal thinking. Will making raw data freely available via repositories reduce inequalities between the data-rich and data-poor, or simply allow those with the resources, capacity and infrastructures to increase them? Will the ability to reproduce, verify, and challenge research results bolster the status of science, a la Robert Merton, or make it harder to differentiate rigorous science from junk science, making it easier to sell for PR purposes? And does opening up research results, data and materials, constitute a valuable endeavour in itself, or one that’s only realisable when equipped with the right expertise?

Yes “open” science is certainly welcome in exposing a whole raft of cultural practices (and politics) we take for granted in academia today and helps us respond to the needs of the twentieth-first century. But before we fully embrace “open” science we need to think critically about its politics. Critical scholars have told us time and again how neoliberalism worsen inequalities, reduces participation, and restricts innovation to only marketable products/services. We need to ask for “whom” is science being opened, how “democratic” is that process, and of course what deep-seated politics are being advanced as things get opened-up? These are issues Leonelli has raised in relation to biology in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, but tracing these unfolding dynamics in relation to geographical data and in open access journals like Geo is up to all of us.

About the author: 

Dr James Porter is a Research Fellow in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. James’ work specialises in how institutional politics shapes the production, and in turn, use of environmental knowledge for policy, through the lens of science and technology studies (STS) and the management of risk/uncertainty.

References:

Leonelli, S. et al. (2015) Sticks and Carrots: Encouraging Open Science at its sourceGeo: Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.2.

Reflexion: Does the logic of the University sector allow space for Open Science? A response to Leonelli et al.

By George Adamson, King’s College London, UK

How does a researcher gain legitimacy? Within the UK context legitimacy is increasingly informed by the 6-yearly Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise, which drives departmental funding. Researchers must demonstrate entrepreneurial innovativeness, international relevance, and situate the wider relevance of their research against a shifting definition of ‘impact’, as well as being able to demonstrate the ability to attract and maintain a satisfied student body. In a hyper-competitive academic market, such neoliberal codes of success are increasingly important. The Open Access issue must be considered within this context.

The fields of historical- and palaeoclimatology (my own disciplines) have made large strides towards the kind of open access described in the paper by Sabina Leonelli and colleagues, recently published in Geo (Leonelli et al, 2015). Web-portals such as the National Climatic Data Center  provide a repository for the results of published climate reconstructions. Further moves are being made towards the establishment of repositories of raw data, particularly narrative information from sources such as diaries, personal correspondence and government reports. Such descriptions of meteorological variability and climate-related phenomena and activities can be used for both quantitative reconstructions of climate in the past and for a multitude of perspectives on human-environment relationships. The ongoing ACRE (Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth) project, run from the UK Met Office, are envisaging a dynamical global 4-dimensional database of historical weather that incorporates data from state-of-the-art reanalysis through to cultural interpretations of climate. This is in addition to existing databases such as Euro-Climhist  and the tambora.org archive (the climate and environmental history collaborative research environment).

Such approaches are important for encouraging the cross-disciplinary work that is increasingly recognised as necessary within the field of climate change research (Hulme 2011). Online repositories also allow for a public ownership of climate data, an endeavour that can be at times frustrating, given the ways that climate data are used by some elements for personal attacks on climate scientists. This is not to say that such endeavours are imprudent. The sharing of climate data should ultimately break down, rather than reinforce disagreements. Citizen science projects such as Old Weather (oldweather.org) take public ownership even further, with non-academics actively involved in the data management process.

Such ownership, however, can only really be partial. The institutional culture outlined above creates huge pressure to analyse, interpret and publish before any data is shared. Departments, competing for ‘world class’ research outputs, are reluctant to relinquish ownership of data before outputs are be generated. The goal of ‘research for all’, as witnessed from outside the academy, is at odds with this individualised logic within. This is a long way from Science 2.0, at least within geography. To reach the point where science can be undertaken in collaboration with any interested parties would require a paradigm shift in the way that Universities are run and what is prioritised, something which could have been given more emphasis in the paper (Leonelli et al, 2015). The ongoing implications of the 2012 European Commission Recommendation (EC 2012), which recommends a fundamental change in the way academic careers are evaluated to include data-sharing, will therefore be interesting to follow. Such a cultural shift would not be unwelcome.

About the author: 

Dr George Adamson is Lecturer in Geography at King’s College London. George’s research is situated at the interface between palaeoclimatology, environmental history and climate change adaptation and policy.

References:

European Commission (2012) Recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information. Accessed on 12 November 2014

Hulme, M. (2011) Meet the humanities. Nature Climate Change 1 177-179

Leonelli, S. et al. (2015) Sticks and Carrots: Encouraging Open Science at its source. Geo: Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.2.