JiscJisc Futures: research in the age of open science

Jisc Futures: research in the age of open science


The UK leads the drive towards a more open way of sharing science, says Jo Johnson

Science has always been an open enterprise; from the earliest days of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, scientists have read about the research methods and findings of their colleagues to scrutinise them, reproduce them and build on them for further discovery and innovation. 

We are committed to the success of UK science and research. In April 2018, the UK will launch UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), in the single largest reform to the UK science and research system in 50 years. It will bring together nine currently separate funding bodies to form a single agency with an annual budget of more than £6 billion. Science, research and innovation are central to the government’s industrial strategy, which follows the biggest increase in public science and innovation funding for nearly 40 years, providing an additional £4.7 billion by 2020. 

Open science

We are similarly committed to keeping the scientific enterprise open. Open science is a celebration of what is best in the scientific community: collaboration, internationalism and a desire for the furthering of human knowledge, and our endeavours at present are focused on three crucial areas: open access to research publications, open research data and open metrics.

In the area of open access, UK research funders were among the first to adopt policies mandating that research they funded be made open for anybody to access, free of charge. The Wellcome Trust was, and remains, a pioneer in this area, and the UK’s public research funders have also been global leaders. As a result, a large and increasing proportion of research papers from the UK are openly available for other scientists, businesses, patient groups and citizens.

When it comes to the crucial research data underpinning those publications, the UK has led the way in opening up these as well. Research data archives have been an important part of the UK research infrastructure for more than 50 years and in recent years they have been digitised, making it easier to discover, mine and interrogate datasets. Through the 2016 Concordat on Open Research Data, research councils, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and representatives of universities have also committed to a series of clear and practical principles for working with research data.

As research changes, the metrics that surround research change too. Hefce's Forum for Responsible Metrics and The Metric Tide report into the role of metrics in research assessment and management have advanced debate on the issues both within the UK and elsewhere. The recommendation of the report was the development of so-called "responsible metrics" that could be used to more accurately capture the value of research in a way that complements current metrics.

Open science is an inherently collaborative endeavour, and the UK is considered a leader internationally. At the 2016 G7 meeting in Japan, open science formed part of the final communiqué, in which the parties, the UK included, recognised "a growing need to share common international principles for open science and to put these principles into practice through open access to scholarly publications and open data". We are an active member of the European Open Science Cloud initiative, with British organisations among those shaping and driving the creation of a digital research environment for the 21st century, and we are learning from innovations abroad such as experiments at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University in Canada.

This commitment to open science is based upon the benefits that it can bring to publicly funded science in the UK. The number of open access journals and publications increases year on year, and more scientific papers allows for more scrutiny and an increase in the integrity of the scientific record. More research data available online means that researchers no longer have to repeat experiments and can instead base new hypotheses on existing, openly available data. Small and medium enterprises that previously might not have been able to afford subscription fees to scientific journals can access cutting-edge research material free of charge, increasing innovation in the UK workplace and getting new products to market faster. 

In this connected world, the move towards transparency and openness is proving irresistible, and the UK is leading the drive towards a more open way of doing and sharing science. As one of the most literate, highly educated populations in the world, the UK public has an appetite for scientific material that means that, with open science, the next great technological breakthrough really may come from anywhere.

Jo Johnson is minister for universities and science.

This article was commissioned by Times Higher Education in partnership with Jisc as part of the Jisc Futures series. Jisc is the UK's expert body for digital technology and resources in higher education, further education, skills and research. 

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