Mötesplats Open Access 2016: Open Science needs infrastructure

The two-day conference Mötesplats Open Access 2016 MOA2016 was held 26-27 April 2016 in Stockholm, Sweden. It was arranged by Kungliga Biblioteket together with Stockholm University. My conclusion is that the conference showed that there are severe deficiencies in the policies and infrastructure required for Open Science, even if the idea of Open Access is fairly well established in Sweden.

I will not review the entire conference. The presentations are available here and the Powerpoint slides are available here. Instead, I will discuss the main unsolved issues that I think the conference brought into focus.

The Swedish Government was represented by Eva Stensköld, a public servant who has been involved in Open Access issues at the Department of Education. She discussed the government’s generally positive view of Open Access, and it appears that they have accepted the views of the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet, VR). It was pretty clear from her presentation that VR are driving the policy of Open Access, not the government.

I asked Stensköld why the research infrastructures are not involved in the discussions about Open Access and Open Science. Her response was that since the infrastructures only have short-term financing, they were not considered essential for the discussion at this stage.

I think this response highlights the fundamental problem with Open Science in Sweden currently. The very fact that the infrastructures have only short-term financing is a serious problem in itself.

The Open Access policy aspect is under reasonable control, although the costs for so-called APCs (Article Processing Charges) are increasing at a worrying rate.

But this is is a minor point compared to the big issue: Open Science needs a system for stable long-term storage of data. The universities are by law required to keep research records archived for 10 years, but everybody knows that this is not done properly. Some scientists could, if forced to, dig out 10 year old data when asked. Others most certainly cannot, e.g. because the responsible Ph.D. student or postdoc has left the lab, and no-one knows where the primary data is. The infrastructure the individual researcher would need to comply routinely with the 10-year rule simply is not there.

For proper Open Science to happen, it is essential that there is long-term storage infrastructure in place. Open Access can be achieved by publication policies, but Open Science requires that data is stored so that it can be made available, and this requires proper infrastructure, and serious commitment from all involved, from the government, VR, universities and researchers.

It is painfully clear that no-one wants to deal with this issue head-on. The government and VR say that the universities already have the responsibility for the 10-year rule. The universities usually point towards the individual researcher, or try to ignore the issue completely.

SUNET, the Swedish University network has purchased the services of box.com, but this is not widely known among researchers, and it is unclear if this arrangement can be used to satisfy the 10-year archiving requirement. Some universities, such as Stockholm University are providing figshare, a more sophisticated, research-oriented service in this area. None of these initiatives appear to have been aligned with an explicit strategy for Open Science.

Sweden is a nation with about 9 million inhabitants, the same as an ordinary largish Asian city. We have more than 30 universities, and 6 computing centers. If we are going to be serious about Open Science and data handling in general, we must get our act together. We cannot mess around with numerous different solutions set up in a hap-hazard fashion by the far-too-many different actors in the Swedish system.

As to the conference proceedings in more detail, I would like to highlight two talks: The first is the keynote speech by Heather Joseph, Executive Director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, SPARC. The message was simple: The research community needs to set the default to Open Science. Do check out her presentation and talk!

Another good talk was that by Gustav Nilsonne, who described the practical issues of how to gather data from several previous studies of a concrete scientific question, and how such a meta-study, powered by better statistics and more data, could yield interesting new results. The take-home message: Without the data made available by the previous studies, this could simply not have been done. If more data had been made open, an even better study could have been done.

The audience of the conference consisted almost entirely of librarians from Sweden and adjoining countries. No harm in that. But if Open Science is going to be successful in Sweden, the researchers themselves have to be part of the process.

The attitude in the discussions was sometimes a bit slanted towards the argument that scientists have to be forced to comply with Open Access and Open Science directives. I think this is exactly the wrong approach. The issues have to be thought of in terms of what tools can be put into place to help the scientists in their daily work.

Open Science can only happen if individual researchers see the benefits of the strategy. This means that both incentives and infrastructure has to be designed accordingly.

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