Open Science: A Challenging Scientific Innovation

Researchers endeavor to set up collaborative platforms for non-Western science.

Posted Dec 24, 2020

Open Science has made science more transparent, and accurate
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The scientific community is experiencing a paradigm shift in the framework of scientific enquiry, research, and research accessibility. Open Science, a scientific movement, is doing rounds globally; both developed as well as developing countries are excited to use this intellectual platform to advance research in their countries. Open Science aims to increase transparency and openness in scientific knowledge and inquiry by the modes of collaboration between scientists and digital technology. 

A commentary by Sanderson Onie, postdoctoral fellow at the Black Dog Institute, Sydney, was recently published in Nature. It mentions the importance of setting up an efficient system in Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) in order to get hale findings from open science. Furthermore, existing open science communities can be traced to resource-rich countries and this creates additional challenges in generalizing open science research to LMICs, due to the differences in resources available for research. 

Open science revolves around the idea of transparent science, collaboration, and reproducibility of research data, but all these seem far away for LMICs that lack resources or infrastructure to set up or use an open science system. This lack of resources can be attributed to deficits in grants and modern technology, inaccessibility to research literature, and spatial constraints in research labs. The absence of such basic resources makes open science unaffordable for LMIC scientists. Thus, there is an obvious difference, as indicated by Onie, in the integrity of the open science system, quality of research, data, findings, methodology, and the needs and goals of researchers based on their geographical whereabouts.

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It is essential for all the countries to have laws for protecting the research data and ownership.
Source: Enis Eksoy/Getty images

Shockingly, an online survey conducted to find out the usage of open science platforms by researchers revealed that in 2018, only 11% of researchers considered sharing their data with members of the scientific community whom they did not know. This can be attributed to the lack of policies with regards to protecting and copyrighting research data in some countries. Furthermore, the issues faced by LMICs can also be linked to the origin of open science. The open science system was conceptualized by the European Commission in the hope of building on existing science, gaining free access to existing science, and to quicken the process of scientific inquiry by using assimilation, collaboration, and cooperation among different scientists. The underlying issue was that this proposed plan was easily executed in resource-rich countries who had similar and standard research protocols, guidelines, and policies as opposed to LMICs, whose research plans and policies are still premature to handle the pressures of open science.

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Collaboration between different researchers while using data from an open science repository
Source: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Another aspect that is crucial for the successful execution of an open science framework is the clarification of how this approach is better than the traditional models of research. Most LMICs have difficulties successfully publishing using the traditional model and hence, for these countries advancing to the open science system is very challenging. For instance, author Gayathri Vaidyanathan revealed in her article that Indian scientists are forced to publish their work in low-quality or dubious journals due to cost constraints. This shows that some LMICs are lacking in systemic, financial, technical, and policy levels that are essential to functioning within open science. Though there are difficulties in enforcing open science in LMICs, researchers are nonetheless very excited to work towards it. These efforts are reflected in collaborative projects like ReproducibiliTea and by tracing policy decisions through projects like The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP). 

There is also a need for engaging in communal science as this would help in shifting the attitude of the scientific community. Furthermore, members of the scientific fraternity, especially highly recognized journals, often gauge the authenticity of the paper based on the geography of the researcher. This is evidenced by more papers being accepted from western countries annually. This problem can be tackled by setting up communities that regulate the fair inclusion of non-western studies, including diverse members on the editorial boards, or by encouraging studies that involve collaboration. It would be also useful to encourage culture-specific investigations and non-generalizability of a study to a culture whose participants are not represented in the sample. Another option is to ensure that certain protocols with regards to inclusivity of international cultures are established so that non-western studies are not gauged through a western lens. For instance, encouraging clear communication when calling for papers, as well as making systemic regulations to accept culture-specific work from time to time would aid in increasing both the quality as well as quantity of LMIC research. In a nutshell, for open science to embody openness in data, access, source, methodology, and standards, it is essential that every individual stands an equal opportunity to partake in its making and execution.

This post was written by Urvi Mange, a Junior Research Assistant at Monk Prayogshala, India and a postgraduate student pursuing her MSc in Neurocognitive Psychology. Her interests lie in social, developmental, and behavioural psychology.