Dear contributors to our blog

Thanks a lot for your replies and contributions (see comments on my last blog post). They succeeded in turning my short argument into a rich and useful discussion. – I found the comments by Roger E. very interesting. He provides a fascinating case of citizen science (Hammerdirt) and also shows very well that being fully part of modern AND open science is not an easy thing to do (“most people will abandon the project”) and I agree that we can expect that those who will stay are really good.

Thus, his proposal regarding a centre to support and encourage these people “who stay” is an interesting idea. I have no clue how this proposal could be further discussed and developed into some concrete policy plan but I think that our Council should be part of and possibly co-lead this debate.

And now I want to turn to the concept of open science. I agree with Florian H. and Daniel D.: open science is not just about publishing but this is not at all what I said!

I was fortunate to enjoy a long-standing collaboration with Paul David – an economist at Stanford who wrote a lot about the economics of science in the 1990s – and clearly the concept of open science I am referring to and which has been developed by David and other economists is much more complex than “a simple injunction to publish research findings”. It is defined as an institution, which provides a specific professional activity – science – with a set of complex incentives, norms and values which makes it extremely powerful for achieving the rapid diffusion and accumulation of reliable knowledge – an incredible source of productivity growth from the 18th century to our present time. And actually what David and others did was to conceptualise the Mertonian norms of the Republic of Science (sometimes summarised under the mnemonic of CUDOS) using a modern microeconomic analytical framework.

According to them, the main striking feature of open science as a professional institution concerns first the cooperative character of inquiry, which involves discussions, debates and communication among peers as well as the tasks of checking and verifying the findings of academic colleagues. Such a cooperative character is rather unique in our current social institutions dealing with knowledge and innovation (who else devotes time and effort to writing research surveys in order to optimise the access and use of scientific knowledge within a given field of inquiry?). This unique character thus increases the reliability of knowledge and encourages the construction of reciprocal trust in what the other colleagues have done, which in turn facilitates cumulativeness and progressivity (I can stand with complete confidence on the “shoulders of giants”). A second aspect of openness concerns the disposition of knowledge: the full disclosure of findings and methods forms a key aspect of the cooperative programme of inquiry. And this aspect is obtained via a fine incentive mechanism known as the priority rule – a collegiate reputational reward system based upon accepted claims to priority (in other words the person who discloses new knowledge first is recognised as the author or inventor and will obtain reputational gains that they can then realise through various mechanisms).

To summarise, open science is a social institution – a unique set of conventions, incentive structures and institutional mechanisms – that reinforces general trust in the knowledge produced by other scientists and a commitment on the part of everyone to rapid disclosure and wider dissemination of discoveries and inventions. These two aspects complement each other to achieve socially beneficial spill overs among research programmes and encourage rapid replication and swift validation of novel discoveries – a super-efficient social process of knowledge production and diffusion.

That’s what open science is about – a complex set of incentives and norms (which by the way started to emerge in the 16th and 17th centuries), whose publication is one obvious output but certainly not the driving force. And it is this complex set of incentives and norms that is, I think, the key component of a professional activity (academic scientist) that is difficult to transfer to non-professional communities of research. But the comment and description by Roger E. makes me more optimistic now than a month ago – so this blog is very useful (at least to me)!!