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Open science: Preaching what I practice

January 22, 2015

door_open_book_science_fiction_data_mind_face_AI_intelligence_creativeOpen science isn’t one thing – it is a set of practices that range from making sure your papers are openly accessible (which is relatively easy), to open notebook science, which makes the process open – and not just the results. Open notebook science is, of course, much more demanding.

I was very pleased to be invited to Science, Innovation and Society: Achieving Responsible Research and Innovation last month. I was asked to speak on the topic of open science – a great opportunity to preach what I practice. Or at least try to practice. Doing good science research is hard, but making that work open imposes an extra layer of work.

In my short introduction during the open science panel I suggested three levels of open science. Here are those slides:

In my view we should all be practising level 0 open science – but don’t underestimate the challenge of even this minimal set of practices; making data sets and source code, etc, available, with the aim of enabling our work to be reproducible, is not straightforward.

Level 0 open science is all one way, from your lab to the world. Level 1 introduces public engagement via blogging and social media, and the potential for feedback and two-way dialogue. Again this is challenging, both because of the time cost and the scary – if you’re not used to it – prospect of inviting all kinds of questions and comments about your work.  In my experience the effort is totally worthwhile – those questions often make me really think, and in ways that questions from other researchers working in the same field do not.

Level 2 builds on levels 0 and 1 by adding open notebook science. This takes real courage because it opens up the process, complete with all the failures as well as successes, the bad ideas as well as the good; open notebook science exposes science for what it really is – a messy non-linear process full of uncertainty and doubts, with lots of blind alleys and very human dramas within the team. Have I done open notebook science? No. I’ve considered it for recent projects, but ruled it out because we didn’t have the time and resources or, if I’m honest, team members who were fully persuaded that it was a good idea.

Open science comes at a cost. It slows down projects. But I think that is a good, even necessary, thing. We should be building those costs into our project budgets and work programmes, and if that means increasing the budget by 25% then so be it. After all, what is the alternative? Closed science..? Closed science is irresponsible science.


At the end of the conference the Rome Declaration on Responsible Research and Innovation was published.

Alan Winfield is Professor in robotics at UWE Bristol. He communicates about science on his personal blog... read more


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