“Openness is everything, and its importance is increasing”Name: Ari Asmi
Position: Research project co-ordinator
Institution: University of Helsinki and ICOS ERIC infrastructure
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ORCID ID: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3933-4684
An interview with Ari Asmi on 30 May 2017
“No one should be able to reserve research material for his or her own use simply because that person thinks he/she might write another paper on the basis of the material later.”
In recent years, particularly after the hacking of the e-mails of the climate scientists at the University of East Anglia, climate and environmental scientists have noticed the fact that there is also another reason for open research data. The question is not just about philosophy of science; openness of data can also serve as proof that the data has not been manipulated unethically. Transparency makes your argumentation much stronger. Furthermore, it makes it possible to show where your conclusions have been derived from.
What frustrates you most about the current systems? If you could change one thing, what would it be?
“I’m afraid that research data remaining closed will lead to a situation where it is more and more difficult to rely on the conclusions of scientific research.”
Another interesting possibility would be to grant open data awards. This could give a little push to increase the appreciation of openness. As we all know, part of researchers’ work is to promote themselves and to raise their reputation. Hence, we need concrete proof that open data is improving the reputation of researchers. Of course, the award dynamic is just an offshoot and side issue. Real scientific research includes the sharing of evidence. Similarly, the correct scientific method of research includes reporting. No one questions reporting in article form because it is part of the system and the reward system supports it.
“If we at the same time remain in a closed system, it will be an easy job for pressure groups to drive their own goals.”
If the current closed data state of affairs continues, and given the current political pressure against science, I think it will be bad for us. And I’m not talking about climate research alone. If a research topic or research area has any social importance, and if we at the same time remain in a closed system, it will be an easy job for pressure groups to drive their own goals. Their arguments could be just as strong as the researcher’s arguments if there were no supporting data on which the researcher could base his or her claims.
A few years ago I was at a meeting in China. At that time, the results of the measurement of air quality were not public in China, even though the study was conducted by universities. We, as Europeans, did not want to tell them what to do. However, a group of local academics and older professors felt that the measurement results should be openly available. They wrote a letter to the Academy, and stated that the practice is incorrect and should be changed. I don’t know what happened afterwards, but in my view this is an illustrative example: the change started from researchers, with an issue they deemed necessary. Such cases give us faith.
Another positive thing is the students’ response to the current situation. They have been surprised that very often research data is not openly available. It’s strange to them, and they ask why it is not open. I then have to answer that it is because of practical reasons.
The development of the tools must also be taken into account. Tools for data processing are improving all the time. And when tools get better, publishing of data becomes increasingly easier. Eventually, the effort needed for publishing might diminish so that publishing is accomplished more easily.
“Students and scientists wanted to be scientists, but they were forced to be academics.”
In the current system, incentives are very strange, and they are not necessarily beneficial to science. Recently I tweeted an article that discussed how students and scientists wanted to be scientists, but they were forced to be academics. The difference is that an academic writes articles and tries to get them published in journals rather than trying to do the best possible science. The point is that people are forced to maximise the incentives instead of doing the best science. Whatever the indicator is, people try to maximise their interests in relation to that indicator.
Copyright: Creative Commons CC-BY Licence University of Helsinki
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