The Open Rorschach Test

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Glenn Hampson

Mar 3, 2022, 5:15:54 PMMar 3

If you have a second…


I was reading a report today on open science from the Rathenau Institut in the Netherlands ( This is really neat group, and their report is very interesting. But what it made abundantly clear to me is that there are really several disconnects in our global conversation about open science, and these disconnects are making us talk past each other:


  1. Definitions of open: The Rathenau report talks about open science as being “democratized” science, not open access and open data. Democratized science is science developed with help from the public, reflects public interests and concerns, benefits from contributions by the public, and is accessible by the public (written in plain language). In this sense, an OSI-ish approach to open science that focuses just on open access and open data is a threat to the more society-focused version of open science in the sense that it reduces the society focus to just access---i.e., our obligation to make science more open ends with simply making everything more visible. In this sense, the Rathenau version of open isn’t even on the DARTS spectrum---it’s on a different spectrum entirely, with axes like inclusion, normative influences, and participation. Access is a common axis. So maybe we need to come up with a broader DARTS spectrum to account for this?
  2. Definitions of science: I wrote about this many years ago for SCI. Basically, the definition of “science” now exists in the wild. It doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. In the Rathenau report, science means things like monitoring water quality and developing psychiatric treatments---definitely science, but not of the same ilk as searching for Higgs-Boson particles or developing new COVID vaccines. So, when we talk about opening science, this makes infinitely more sense for some types of “scientific” endeavors than others. We knew this already, but this report brought home the really starkly different conversation happening here between, say, psychologists, who might see a clear path to open science, and clinical researchers working on the next lifesaving vaccine, who see a path strewn with barriers related to IP rights and so on. There is variation by field, obviously---we knew that---but more fundamentally, there is variation by how each of us sees and defines “science.” And finally,
  3. The EU is way ahead: Here again, we already knew this too, but the EU seems at least a decade ahead of the rest of the world in terms of thinking about open and creating and experimenting with open policies. To the extent the EU’s knowledge and enthusiasm can translate into effective and sustainable global policies for open, great. But so far, anyway, it seems to be more the case that the EU’s solutions aren’t entirely applicable to a global audience. And that’s fine, as long as these solutions aren’t intended for a global audience. But this third pinch point might help explain some of the tensions in this policy space----i.e., that the EU is much farther down the road than everyone else, but that road may not be the right one for everyone else to follow.


That’s it---just want to get this on paper for you. If you have a chance to skim the report I’d love to hear what you think, on or off list.





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