Open Science at any cost?! Dialogue seminar at Almedalen Week

Open science is about making research more accessible to society. But how do we get there and what obstacles are in the way? These were the questions raised at an Almedalen seminar on 2 July 2019, arranged by VA (Public & Science).

From left: sign language interpreter, Johanna Hansson, Kerstin Tham, Thomas Neidenmark, Gustav Nilsonne, Martin Bergman, Cissi Billgren Askwall, Anders Sahlman. Photo: Fatima Memic / VA.

Thomas Neidenmark, policy officer for Open Science at the European Commission, talked about the Commission’s vision for open science. By becoming more open and more co-operative, research can be higher quality, have greater impact and give more value to society.

He described it as a paradigm shift. In order to facilitate the transition, the European Commission will establish an infrastructure, the European Open Science Cloud, where researchers will be able to share data, skills and expertise.

“The question is, how far along will Sweden be when this is implemented,” said Thomas Neidenmark.

He stressed that there are expectations for the EU Member States, who jointly decided to go towards Open Science. In order to develop standards and indicators that measure goal fulfilment, all countries need to be coordinated.

The public wants to be involved

Martin Bergman, a researcher at VA, talked about the public’s attitudes to science and researchers. Three-quarters of the Swedish population believe that it is important for the public to be involved in research.

“About a third of Swedes also agree to directly contributing to research. I would argue that this is a lot – corresponding to about two million adults”, said Martin Bergman.

In the annual VA barometer the participants have also stated how they want to be involved. The largest majority of participants are willing to contribute by collecting data or donating material.

In another study about two-thirds of the participants thought that it was very or fairly important that the public is involved in life science research. The study compared the attitudes in Italy, Czech Republic, UK, Germany, Spain and Sweden, as part of the EU project ORION Open Science.

We need to make our knowledge available, support our politicians and make our data available using digital technology.

Kerstin Tham, Vice-Chancellor at Malmö University

A young, open university

Universities have a key role in opening up the scientific community, said Kerstin Tham, Vice-Chancellor of Malmö University.

“New research-based knowledge is needed to solve global problems. Society also needs more well-educated members and have more people who can critically assess information in order to meet the polarization among the public. Students are crucial to societal change and need to be involved in society in a variety of ways during their education.”

Publishing research results openly is a matter of course for Malmö University, although there are some challenges.

“We need to make our knowledge available, support our politicians and make our data available using digital technology. But we also need to take responsibility for finding financing models to do so,” said Kerstin Tham.

I am proud of our Swedish politicians who are trying to conduct a knowledge-informed debate and I’m happy that there is a consensus that we need to move towards Open Science. At the same time, we need to respect that the culture in the scientific community takes time to change.

Gustav Nilsonne, researcher Karolinska Institutet

Democratic infrastructure

Gustav Nilsonne, a researcher in neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet and founder of the Network for Evidence-Based Policy, talked about the importance of researchers making their data available, both for other researchers and for those who contributed data.

“The European Commission demands open access, which is good, but it is strange that researchers themselves have not been able to provide this,” said Gustav Nilsonne.

At the same time, he was delighted at the high demand for knowledge and for researchers’ perspectives.

“I am proud of our Swedish politicians who are trying to conduct a knowledge-informed debate and I’m happy that there is a consensus that we need to move towards Open Science. At the same time, we need to respect that the culture of the scientific community takes time to change.

Johanna Hansson, chair of the Swedish Library Association, sees libraries as part of a democratic infrastructure:

We create places where researchers and the public can meet and where we can talk about research in an understandable but yet notsn’t dumbed down.

She emphasised that the libraries equip people to be citizens, educate and increase their thirst for knowledge. Ultimately, this is about the legitimacy of research among taxpayers.

Authorities and welfare services also need access to the latest research in order to make well-informed decisions.

“This is why we are pushing so hard for open access. By using libraries and knowing how to find information and relate to sources, you understand what research is and how knowledge is formed in practice,” said Johanna Hansson.

From left: sign language interpreter, Johanna Hansson, Kerstin Tham, Thomas Neidenmark, Gustav Nilsonne, Martin Bergman, Anders Sahlman. Photo: Fatima Memic / VA.

Citizen Research

The around 60 participants at the seminar split into small groups and discussed how the public can be involved in research. Several mentioned crowd-sourcing and citizen science – that citizens can contribute to the development of new research-based knowledge through the collection, examination and analysis of data.

Anders Fundin, research manager at SIQ, the Institute for Quality Development, mentioned how companies and civil society organisations can be involved early on in the process, for example by developing research questions together with researchers.

Anna Jonsson, senior lecturer at Lund University, who researches collaboration, thought that it has become more difficult for researchers to collaborate with public authorities and organisations – despite much talk about the importance of collaboration, probably because of cut-backs and lack of time.

Politics, money and patients

Two politicians commented on the suggestions from the attendees. Betty Malmberg, Member of Parliament (M), highlighted research where patients and their relatives are involved – from the very beginning to the point at which results are presented. She also mentioned the example of a blog that Jönköping International Business School started which was very well received and gave new perspectives from the public.

Ilona Szatmári Waldau, Member of Parliament (V), stated that citizens who participate in research projects need feedback on how they have contributed to the development of new knowledge.

She also said that politicians should make it easier for the public to access research results, and specifically mentioned that government research data, such as SMHI’s, should be openly available.

Both politicians considered it to be higher education institutions and researchers who should lead the work of opening up science. Politicians can contribute by involving the public more in research, for example through providing funds in the next research bill.

The participants argued that the responsibility for Open Science is shared. Research funding organisations, schools, study associations, companies, the public sector, libraries and the media also have a responsibility.

In recruitment, especially for key positions, it is also important to ensure that there is enough knowledge and expertise about open science.

Thomas Neidenmark, policy officer Open Science at the European Commission

Reward open science

The fact that the merit grading for engaging in open science needs to be increased was also raised during the discussions.

”We should put a value on collaboration, although politicians cannot put an exact price on how much it is worth. Instead it must be up to individual institutions to make such decisions,” said Betty Malmberg.

Sven Stafström, Director General of the Swedish Research Council, agreed that the issue of incentives is important.

“It must be carefully thought out and the researchers need to be involved in the process. It will take some time but I think everyone agrees on the direction.”

Thomas Neidenmark agreed that researchers need to be rewarded and valued when promoting open science.

“In recruitment, especially for key positions, it is also important to ensure that there is enough knowledge and competence about Open Science.”

Kerstin Tham considered that research is of higher quality when it is done in collaboration with various social groups:

“Therefore, it is sad to hear that researchers find it more difficult to cope with collaboration today. And so we need to value when research is communicated and made available,” said Kerstin Tham.

The open science dialogue needs to continue, especially with the researchers themselves.

“The European Commission believes that all research will gain tremendously through open science. Anyone who can use their data in an efficient manner has a great advantage in the knowledge-based economy,” Thomas Neidenmark rounded off.

/ Cissi Askwall


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