Open Science and Research Integrity
Open Science and Research Integrity
In Europe, the ECoC has become the key reference document for questions related to research integrity, although variation in how national codes of conduct are framed interestingly persist. In the following, it will be expounded how open science relates to the principles and good practices of the ECoC from the point of view of the consulted stakeholders. The following analysis is not necessarily exhaustive of all potentially relevant issues related to open science and research integrity.
The ECoC is based on the following principles:
(ALLEA, 2017, 2, emphases in original)
Two focus groups, that took place within the framework of ROSiE, explicitly addressed which values stakeholders believe should underpin open science to ensure it is implemented responsibly and with integrity. Participants in the first focus group expounded that from their points of view the principles of the ECoC also apply to open science and suggested that the respect principle could be broadened to explicitly include respect for data, especially data of others. Putting increased emphasis on the importance of respect for data could potentially help alleviate concerns about scooping that might contribute to the reluctance of many researchers to share data already early in the research process.
Participants of the second focus group agreed that the principles of the ECoC also apply to open science, yet mentioned several further values that might also merit consideration as principles of responsible open science:
Stakeholders strongly emphasised that a successful transition to open science presupposes a research culture and environments that endorse and promote open science practices and that existing research environments are insufficiently supportive. One senior researcher even referred to the current research system as failing with regard to the provision of incentives to reward open science practices.
Thus, a crucial pathway towards fostering a culture and environment supportive of open science would be the widespread adoption of research assessment and funding schemes that enable and reward researchers who act in accordance with good open science practices. Most current assessment systems were perceived as inadequate by stakeholders, for example because opening up research processes early increases risks of being scooped. In other words, researchers who share ideas and/or data early in the research process, risk that their ideas and/or data are used by other researchers who could potentially generate and publish results faster. Unless performance assessment systems stop prioritising results and the number of publications over transparency, fears of being scooped are likely to create barriers to open science.
While stakeholders almost unanimously agreed that open science practices require funding because especially data management can be costly, views on existing research funding schemes varied. Some stakeholders stated that RFOs are currently the engines of the transition to open science, especially in countries where open science has not yet been recognised as an important issue in national research policy. Others, however, were far more sceptical. The sceptics pointed out that a full transition to open science would not only require open science mandates and support by flagship RFOs, such as the EU, but also endorsement and support from smaller national RFOs because they actually fund the majority of research in Europe.
Interestingly, no consulted stakeholder based in the EU referred to inadequate technological infrastructures as a major problem. In light of results from stakeholder consultations conducted by UNESCO (2020), this finding is likely specific to high-income countries, where access to technical infrastructure, such as the European Open Science Cloud, and technical equipment is mostly given.
At the 7th World Conference on Research Integrity, which took place in Cape Town, South Africa, the topic of open science was addressed from a low- and middle-income country perspective and raised the question of how to end exploitative research practices and how to dismantle systematic exclusion, which have been common research practice for decades.
In ROSIE, these issues raise the question of what role open science can play in embedding ethical and responsible research behaviour and fostering a culture of research integrity, for example by adhering to local data protection standards, adapting informed consent forms to local requirements, or feeding back research results to local communities so that citizens in lower income settings see benefits from research that has often been conducted with their data or in collaboration with local researchers.
Nevertheless, related topics from the areas of research ethics and integrity, such as the need for ethics approval, informed consent, or the prevention of plagiarism, were raised during the interviews. In addition, the interviews revealed a strong awareness of the importance of promoting open science, especially where access is limited. Lack of resources for conducting research is a frequently mentioned problem. This includes lack of access to literature, since full text is usually locked behind paywalls. One inrviewee suggested that journals or publishers could introduce two distinct categories of publications. One that is open and one that requires payment of an affordable amount. This should be based on the target audience and their background.
Training, supervision and mentoring
Several stakeholders emphasised the importance of training in open science, research ethics and integrity, yet interestingly no references to open educational resources as a key component of open science were made. The stakeholder consultation identified three potentially important issues training initiatives should consider:
As regards mentoring and supervision, it was mentioned that currently many research groups are based on a culture not conducive to open science. When young researchers are socialized into such cultures, they are likely to perceive relatively closed science as the normal mode of conducting research and thus are likely to eventually help perpetuate practices that hamper the open science transition by inadvertently becoming negative role-models for the next cohorts of young researchers themselves. Thus, open science education should also consider the potential effects of informal education through, for example, role-modelling and education and create awareness for the benefits of open science conducted responsibly among supervisors and mentors.
However, different experiences were also observed. Often younger researchers already are aware of a cultural turn to open science, whereas views and practices of senior researchers are more diverse. In this view, the result is rather friction of research practices within some research teams along generational lines, rather than a continued socialisation into practices not conducive to open science. In this view, an eventual cascade to widespread endorsement of open science seems possible even if efforts to mobilise senior researchers in favour of open science fail, whereas the aforementioned view is more sceptical in this regard and suggests a need to turn them into change agents.
Overall, stakeholders stated that open science supports researchers in taking into account the state-of-the-art in developing research ideas because it removes access restrictions to the existing stock of knowledge. Moreover, it increases the importance of well-considered and transparent data management, which requires sufficient funding for data storage infrastructures and, especially, data management specialists who curate the data and manage access. This presupposes targeted funding for data management infrastructures and eligibility of data management costs in projects.
Challenges were mentioned by some stakeholders with regard to the absence of agreed-upon standards on how to actually open up science and share data, although other stakeholders were sceptical that general actionable standards can be developed across different fields of research.
An even bigger challenge many stakeholders referred to is that researchers often do not know how to reconcile open science with data protection and intellectual property rights. Faced with what is perceived as a choice between a “should” (open science) and a legal “must” (data protection and other legal obligations), researchers tend to refrain from following open science practices whenever they are unsure what to do. Adequate support structures, such as data stewards on the institutional level, could perhaps mitigate these concerns and help researchers translate “as open as possible, as closed as necessary” into practice.
Data practices and management
Open science depends on good data practices and management to ensure that shared data are compliant with the FAIR principles to the maximum extent possible and of high quality. This requires turning data management into an integral component of the entire research process as opening data retroactively is, in the words of an interviewed policymaker “close to impossible”. As stated above, this not only presupposes the availability of data management infrastructures, but also competent data managers because otherwise following open science practices would increase the already significant workload most researchers have to shoulder and presumably decrease support for the envisaged open science transition. In other words, data management needs to be funded, ideally on a permanent rather than a project basis to facilitate the development and cultivation of pertinent skills and to reap gains from specialisation.
In addition, it would be helpful to concretise what the FAIR principles mean in actual scientific practice in jargon-free guidance documents researchers from all fields of research can understand.
In general, it can be expected that open science facilitates collaborative working as it enhances transparency and facilitates access to and sharing of knowledge and data. However, the stakeholder consultation also showed that some legal frictions created by differences in data protection legislation and its national application even within the EU can exacerbate opening research processes because there are cross-national differences on which data actually can be opened. These frictions are even more pronounced in international consortia that include partners from outside the EU. Also, disciplinary differences in open science practices can pose new challenges to collaborative working because many open science policies were developed with a view towards the sciences and are not easily applicable to, for example, the arts and humanities.
Reviewing, evaluating and editing
The topic reviewing, evaluating and editing was prominently yet mostly indirectly mentioned by stakeholders because all issues related to creating research environments that reward open science have repercussions also on performance assessment schemes and research and researcher evaluation.
 ALLEA (All European Academies) (2017). The European code of conduct for research integrity, revised edition. Available at: https://www.allea.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ALLEA-European-Code-of-Conduct-for-Research-Integrity-2017.pdf (last accessed 23 January, 2023).
 UNESCO (2020). Towards a global consensus on open science: report on UNESCO’s global online consultation on open science. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000375217?posInSet=5&queryId=28473ea4-beb9-4029-9e75-fb5421b8f4a2 (last accessed 23 January, 2023).