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Open Science, the Future of Research

A University of Barcelona commission is charged with the task of setting out the strategic orientation of its open access policy

Open data, citizen science, free software, open revision, open access, research integrity—all these features and many more can be found under the category of open science, although each has its own story.

Abadal: “Science must be done with and for society, and this is one of the basic foundations upon which Europe has decidedly opted to move towards this model”

One of the keys to the rise of science has been its capacity to share results and develop collaborations. This principle has been applied since the beginning of modern science, first with the system of correspondence between scientists, and later with the publication of books and, nowadays, through articles published in specialised journals. Open science affects the entire process: data, instruments and even field books used during research.

“Open science is a paradigm shift in the way science is practiced. Its impact is related to globalisation and digital technologies, along with the demand for addressing social changes,” explains Ernest Abadal, Professor of the Faculty of Information and Audiovisual Media.

With this new model of science, it is also possible to foster the reproducibility of experimental results, one of the key features of the research system, as well as the reuse of data. In the view of Abadal, another core principle of this concept is that “science must be done with and for society, and this is one of the basic foundations upon which Europe has decidedly opted to move towards this model.”

Ignasi Labastida, head of the Office for Knowledge Transfer of the CRAI Research Unit, states that data must be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable, in line with the FAIR principles. This is the aim of large repositories such as the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), which Labastida defines as “the Google of data”.

Another area of concern is related to integrity in research, especially at American universities, where the phenomenon of fraudulent science is on the rise. A particularly contemporary example is emerging in the context of COVID-19: “The best way to fight against this kind of information is through openness and transparency, as advanced by open science,” observes Abadal.

The UB, a pioneer in open access policies

Since the approval in 2011 of the UB open-access policy, the number of open-access publications available has risen dramatically (currently it is at some 60% of total publications, according to data available from the Open Access Observatory). In 2019, a proposal was approved to activate indicators for measuring the percentage of articles available in the institutional repository, which could then be utilised in internal evaluation processes. This year an indicator has been included related to open access, weighted at 5% for research programme contracts in the faculties. For now, however, this indicator will not affect individual PDAs (academic dedication plans) of faculty members.

Since 2018 the University of Barcelona has an open science commission, whose task is to set out the strategic orientations of open-access policy at the UB. The commission is comprised of researchers as well as members from the governing body, the CRAI university library system, the Scientific Culture and Innovation Unit and the university publisher, Edicions UB.

Key open science data, University of Barcelona.
Key open science data, University of Barcelona.

Towards a new state policy

Although at this time there is no Spanish state policy related to open science, in 2018 the Open Science Commission was created, through the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT). This external organism, conceived as a consulting body for Spain’s Ministry of Science and Innovation, is currently working on the design of a National Open Science Plan. The working group is participated by all major relevant state institutions (Ministry of Science and Innovation, AEI, ANECA, CSIC, CRUE and REBIUN).

In the drafting of this plan the nations of reference are France and Finland, amongst others. As Labastida explains, “these countries have put together action plans along with creating infrastructure to put them into practice and do follow-up. Furthermore, in the case of France the plan has budgetary support.”

One subject currently being worked on is the model of what are called transformative agreements, contracts between library consortiums and publishing houses for the cost-free transformation of payments for publications in open access, all the while ensuring continuity of consultation rights to these publications. In Spain, these agreements are managed for the universities by CRUE, with four main scientific publishers: Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley and the American Chemical Society.

The UB has also started a project to evaluate the current situation of open science in Spain, highlighting good practices and offering recommendations to foster the implantation, development and consolidation of the open science model in the country.

The project is headed up by Professor Abadal’s research group, which for some ten years has analysed the evolution of open access and data in Spain. To carry out this analysis, the research group has been working with five core groups: researchers, directors of evaluation agencies, vice chancellors, journal editors and librarians.

Shared knowledge

From the very start, open science has been supported by the European Commission, which has placed it on the worldwide agenda. The eight ambitions identified by this organism are as follows: the future of academic publications; FAIR open data; the European Open Science Cloud; open education and skills; rewards and incentives; next generation metrics; research integrity; and citizen science. These ambitions have been analysed in a publication of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), with the participation of the UB, which provides recommendations in each of these areas.

In the most recent report of the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP) of the European Commission, developments in each of these areas are analysed for the period 2016-2020. Furthermore, this report calls on all representatives of the research system to participate actively in the cocreation, development and maintenance of “a research system based on shared knowledge” for 2030.

The report sets out five new attributes: an academic career structure that fosters outputs, practices and behaviours to maximise contributions to a shared research knowledge system; a research system that is reliable, transparent and trustworthy; a research system that enables innovation; a research culture that facilitates diversity and equity of opportunity; and, finally, a research system built on evidence-based policy and practice. “Research cannot be ‘excellent’ without such attributes at its core,” the report states. Despite disparities in perception between various stakeholders, which in certain cases would necessitate a broader debate between participating communities, there is no question that this is the course to follow.

In the following podcast, Ignasi Labastida analyses the state of open science at the UB.

Library of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Barcelona.
Definition and derivates of open science.