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Open Science

Competition is a major pillar for most societies/systems that we live in. Science is not only no exception to that rule but on the contrary as (aspiring) scientists we compete for a lot of things such as funds, jobs or places to study. In this text, I will argue that open science and collaboration is way out of this mess. Making science (more) open will not transform our society in the blink of an eye though, but it is still a starting point and they are good reasons to embark on it. Besides that, I will also talk about my own motivation, my (meagre) experiences and endeavours with the aim to set a good example as a young researcher in cognitive neuroscience. This text reflects my current conception of open science and might be therefore subject to change every now and then.

What is open science?

To sum it up: open science is about sharing your work (e.g. code, results, ideas and writing). In a broader sense, open science is about reproducibility, transparency and openness (Gilmore et al., 2017). The minimal definition of open science that is public availability of research output (i.e. publications and data; OCED, 2015) is insufficient and does not go far enough. For instance, without proper code sharing, people still have to waste time constantly reinventing the wheel. Why should someone spend hours on programming something that already exists in someone else’s drawer? It is a massive and unnecessary waste of resources. Beyond that sharing more than just data and research outputs might inspire other people as they read your code or thoughts and take things to a direction you would have never anticipated. Open science is not just about being altruistic and collaborative, but there is also benefits for the individual (see below).

A more radical version of open science is called open notebook science which goes far beyond just sharing publications and data because one tries to make as many parts and aspects of the research process as possible publicly available. Regular or even daily updates about research ideas and uploading the bits of codes one used to solve a problem or to analyse data are what open notebook science is about. Notebooks such as RMarkdown or Jupyter are very helpful tools because .html files can be easily generated with them and then shared.

Why should (cognitive neuro-)science be open?

Sadly, far too many findings in cognitive neuroscience are not reproducible. As critical scientists, we should aim for reproducibility to make evidence-based decisions possible and foundations of theories solid. The current lack of confidence in science might be at least to a small part attributable to the lack of reproducibility. On that front, openness in science helps to increase reproducibility of methods (i.e. getting the same results applying same tools and analysis on the same data), of results (i.e. collecting new data yielding same outcomes) and inferential reproducibility (i.e. independent researchers coming to similar conclusions after replication or re-analysis; Gilmore et al., 2017). From my own experience I know how hard it sometimes is to spot an error in one’s own work. Public availability of code enable other people to help you with that. Another aspects concerns learning how to program. When I started to learn how to code it was immensely helpful to look at examples of code which were more related to what I wanted to do (e.g. writing the code for an experiment) than to look at generic tutorials. Looking at other people’s code is a great source of inspiration.

What is in there for the individual?

I already pointed out that one individual advantage is that people may point out flaws in your code, which is a good thing because everyone makes mistakes (even closed source people/corporations) and when they are pointed out to us we can learn from them. However, people feel that they might be at a disadvantage if they share too much of their work. This might more true in some research fields, but less so in cognitive neuroscience. As your code saves other people time, you can save time by using other people’s code. For me, it is very rewarding to see that my work is recognized and used beyond occasional publications and citations. It makes me happy that people write e-mails to me, in which they state that a function or script I uploaded helped them. It is also kind of rewarding if people whom I have never met ask me for help. It is nice to know that my work made a difference for someone else. Concerning open notebook science, I also like the idea to leave a record of your thoughts and ideas behind because there is never enough time and one does not know what happens next. You do not even need to be alive to make an impact. Another aspect is the fact the communication helps to refine and advance ideas. Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist (1805) expressed this idea in his work “Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden”. Immature thoughts and mere ideas are extended when they are communicated. Sharing those in your open notebook/lab diary will make them more concrete and fathomable.

Open science and societal aspects

Another point for open science is that it can be a way to overcome ubiquitous competition and serve as an example that a collaborative society is possible. Proponents of capitalist production often argue that competition serves as a catalyst and motivator that propels progress. I however think that competition impedes progress by the inherent and necessary waste of resources and by missing out on collaborations without the fear of losing something as a true source of inspiration. Reward and recognition motivate people, while inspiration and sharing of ideas is what truly propels progress.

With that being said, progressive people/movements should support open science and open source endeavours and analyse their potential for it is about the future we want to live in.

References

Gilmore, R. O., Diaz, M. T., Wyble, B. A., & Yarkoni, T. (2017). Progress toward openness, transparency, and reproducibility in cognitive neuroscience. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 5–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13325

Kleist, H. von. (1805). Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden. Retrieved from http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/-589/1

OECD (2015). Making open science a reality. OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers, (25), 112. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jrs2f963zs1-en