The European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, announced that the Commission will be seeking ways to promote open access to scientific research and open data, a movement known as Science 2.0.
Science 2.0 advocates researchers make a greater effort to share information and embrace collaboration made possible by new digital network technologies. Transparency, accessibility and reproducibility of research benefit when you put science in more people’s hands, explained the Commissioner.
Shifting to fully open data and open access will have “potentially far-reaching changes in the way we do science and research,” noted Geoghegan-Quinn while addressing delegates at the EuroScience Open Forum conference in Copenhagen on Tuesday (25 June).
Ninety per cent of all the data in the world had been generated over the previous two years, said the Commissioner, quoting research from SINTEF, a research institute headquartered in Norway. This data exists in thousands of hours’ worth of research, experiments and periodicals and should be free to access online, she added. Physical or digital barriers – library doors or online paywalls – should be removed.
There’s an inherent risk to radical change, she admitted. However, “It can't be denied that we're seeing a transformation in how science is organised and how research is performed.” Barriers are falling. An estimated 50 per cent of scientific papers published across nearly 40 countries in 2011 are now available for free, said Geoghegan-Quinn.
“We need a better understanding of the dynamics of Science 2.0 and its possible impacts on science and research policy in particular,” said the Commissioner. “We want to discuss with the wider public whether we have identified the key drivers and constraints, the incentives and benefits.”
Within the next fortnight a public consultation will be launched inviting members of the public to register their views on Science 2.0, so that the Commission can fine-tune its analysis.
Science 2.0 in action
Science 2.0 is a wide-ranging concept but countries, institutes and individuals already are practicing variants across Europe and further afield, said the Commissioner.
Sharing information on failures can help others to avoid dead-ends and redirect research into more promising areas, she said. Scientists working on the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration that mapped the genome, shared data prior to publishing. Researchers are sharing and verifying data and findings at increasingly early stages, before they publish, for example through Europe-based sites like Research Gate and Mendeley, she added.
Social media is becoming more prominent for academics too, she noted, citing the ten million researchers who have a presence on the US-based Academia platform. Research Gate also has a feature, called Impact Factor, which takes into account the impact of scientific documents in social media.
More people can be seen taking part in science. Examples of citizen science, the term used to describe collaboration between professional scientists and citizens, are proliferating. Tools like the Zooniverse portal are already demonstrating how thousands of people can be involved in conducting the research itself, in areas as diverse as astronomy, ecology or climate science, she said. Elsewhere, the EU-supported SOCIENTIZE project is using digital tools to get thousands of people participating in research, for example by asking them to report if they catch flu in order to monitor outbreaks and predict possible epidemics.
Geoghegan-Quinn acknowledged that there may be some resistance among scientists about aspects of the transition to Science 2.0 as well as discussion about what, exactly, the term means. The potential benefits of open access data are not always obvious. There are good reasons not to make all data openly available: to protect intellectual property rights in order to develop a commercial product; for reasons of privacy, data protection, confidentiality or national security, the Commissioner listed.
“If you're not crazy about the term 'Science 2.0', the last part of the consultation lets you suggest a better name,” she added.
Geoghegan-Quinn, closer to the end of her tenure was also reflective about her role. “When I became the European Commissioner in 2010, research and innovation were not discussed in the European Council as often as they deserved” to be, she said. She praised the research community for pushing its case so “cogently and persuasively”.
The issue of data protection was raised at the end of the session by a concerned researcher in the audience. Changes to EU data protection legislation were suggested by the European Parliament’s committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs (LIBE) in October last year in response to revelations of systematic monitoring by US National Security Agency (NSA). LIBE’s suggested amendments are designed to toughen up the rules that protect personal data but many, including the European University Association (EUA) and the Wellcome Trust, are worried that they may also threaten data sourcing for scientists.
“It’s highly unlikely I’ll be the Commissioner engaged in the final discussions on this proposal,” said Geoghegan-Quinn. “I hope our successors will faithfully support our proposal [when deciding on the right balance].”
Memo on European Commission’s proposal for data protection reform here.