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  • Writer's pictureValeria Pettorino

The three O's

Open Science, Open Innovation, and Openness to the World. Those were the three O's among the policy goals promoted in a speech in 2015 by Carlos Moedas, who served as European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation from 2014 to 2019. The idea had been there for a while: in 2007, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data from Public Funding. Already in 1972, in France, the Stellar Data Centre was created, renamed as Strasbourg astronomical Data Centre (CDS) in 1983, dedicated to the collection and worldwide distribution of astronomical data and related information. Open science is discussed within the CosmoStat group at CEA where I work at present; CosmoStat makes software publicly available. Personally, I first heard about this idea some time before 2002, when my uncle Prof. Roberto Pettorino, with his ability to recognise societal transformations and motivate people to cooperate in addressing shared challenges, invested his work and energy in the digitalisation and open access of the whole bibliothecary system of the University Federico II in Naples, initiated FedOA open archive and CAB, which now carries his name in his memory: you can read (in Italian) about this story in here.

I have been reading about this topic, from different perspectives and within different meetings. It is a topic of discussion within my field, in meetings I attended, for example to coordinate activities within different experiments, or within the Programme National de Cosmologie et Galaxies; it is part of the tasks within the Marie Curie Alumni Association I am part of, within the Policy Work Group I joined in June 2020; it is matter of discussion of the UNESCO global consultation on Open Science with the aim of gathering inputs from all the regions and all the interested stakeholders, through online consultations, regional and thematic meetings, in a 2 year process that will lead to a UNESCO Recommendation in 2021. Attending in July 2020 the UNESCO regional consultation for Western Europe and North America was then a good opportunity to hear about the idea, challenges, and different stakeholders involved in the process. Open science is also one of the use cases discussed by S4D4C ERC funded programme within the context of using science for/in diplomacy for addressing global challenges.

What is referred to as Open Science is based on the idea that scientific knowledge of all kinds should be openly shared as early as possible in the research process. This includes Open Access to publications and data, Open Methods and Open Source, Open Evaluation,

Open Infrastructures, and Open Educational Resources, and Citizen Science. In parallel, Open Innovation is a related, and somewhat complementary concept, which aims at opening up the innovation process so that knowledge can circulate more freely and be transformed into products and services that create new markets, fostering a stronger culture of entrepreneurship.

It means sharing of knowledge not only within a discipline, but across disciplines, with industry and with society at large. It's associated to the concepts of reproducibility, transparency, international cooperation, and as a way to make society participant of goals, results and challenges as early as possible along the process.

There are benefits in the medium and long term and potential to address global challenges more efficiently. There are also costs (for infrastructures, repositories, data, high speed connectivity, training to a systemic change with respect to the past so that noone is left behind) as well as many actors involved in the policy implementation. Commitments are increasing, although there appears to be some caution in the implementation. While in physics we are used to check the open Arxiv every day, this is not the case in all disciplines, most publishers are from west or northern countries, and the Arxiv includes only one aspect of the scientific process (papers). Examples of shared platforms developed so far are the European Open Science Cloud, the COVID19 data portal, the European Virtual Observatory EURO-VO.

Among the many aspects at play within this matter, I highlight here a few aspects that captured my attention, as I understand them.

Early career researchers, excellence and rewarding strategy: the process that leads to open science goes hand in hand with a revision of the rewarding strategy which is now in place, in particular within academia: while international collaborations are growing, the reward system still focuses on the individual, on papers and on where these papers are published. It encourages to highlight specific and focused individual contributions in order to proceed in the career, in competition with others, rather than promoting collaborative work or interdisciplinary skills. Open science is a good opportunity to highlight that science is typically not advancing because of a single ‘hero/genius/lead'. It is rather built up on cooperation, trust, shared knowledge, delegation, management proactive in searching for feedback, team effort, in which many people, with complementary skills, contribute to scientific advancement from different perspectives, with different observations, with different ideas, with different methodologies, in a framework in which excellence needs a new composite definition. As also noted by the Global Young Academy representative during the UNESCO consultation, early career researchers (and I would say all fixed term contract holders) are then one of the actors involved in this transformation.

Science Validation: how can we make sure that we don’t all make the same mistakes, i.e. by all using the same software without challenging it? Usually, one of the ways in which science validates its results is via independent searches (either with independent methods, or with independent teams addressing the same challenge); this has also, for example, encouraged ‘blind analysis’ (in which a team performs its data analysis without seeing the final result, in order to avoid being biased by the consensus approach) and ‘challenges’ (in which different teams proceed in parallel and compare their results at the end). I wouldn't consider this as an obstacle to open science, and in fact transparency is a further opportunity to allow for more verifications of the whole scientific analysis, as highlighted in the image above; it rather shows that open science strategy is also connected to science validation strategies, and related policies need to consider how to guarantee that validation is made independently. I am particularly interested in this aspect, having coordinated a challenging validation for Euclid space mission, awarded with the Euclid TEAM Prize.

Recognising best practices and value skills related to them: as discussed in occasion of the UNESCO meeting for International Day of Women in Science, I suggested that UNESCO could consider to officially recognise best practices in open science: this would allow to promote open science initiatives, would motivate scientists to contribute, and by doing so help building an open science community, overcoming difficulties that may be related to having data or codes accessible (ex. in work and costs needed to build and maintain platforms, or in making sure that numerical softwares are well documented for everyone to read, understand, use). At present academia has some difficulty in hiring software developers and software engineers, with salaries which are not competitive with the ones in companies: while a scientist expertise in necessary to understand what we need to implement, software engineers are needed to identify how to do it efficiently, developing numerical softwares which are readable, well documented and sharable with the community. Both roles have their value, and complementary roles.

Further reading, videos and resources:

Open Science, by the European University Association

Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research (Youtube Webinar)

Observations: What is a Virtual Observatory?, by ESA Science and Exploration

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