How ‘open’ is open science?

Open science is the term given to “the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open notebook science” (Wikipedia 2013).  Ultimately, the aims of open science are to make it easier to one, publish scientific knowledge and two, to  communicate it several audiences, thus striving to make it as “open” as possible.

An obvious advantage of open science is that it will allow scientists to communicate their knowledge with more ease to other science research teams, and in turn, allow them to collaborate with one another to supplement each other’s findings. Elizabeth Pisani, journalist from The Guardian, suggests, “shared data will mean more and faster progress. It will also mean better quality data” (Pisani 2011).

While this sounds so great, I think this is an utopian view of the effects of open science. For me, it makes me question what information we are receiving as an audience with access to open science.

When it comes to the publication of scientific knowledge and research, the media plays a vital role in transferring the study results and information to the audience. However, when journalists write a story, they are subject to “publication bias: the phenomenon where studies with boring, negative results are less likely to get written up or published” (Goldacre 2011).

This video adopts a satirical approach to address publication bias when examining which science stories make the news: 

* Video by Hansen &  Licciardello, 2011, ‘The Hamster Wheel: Science in the Media’.

The video uses the example of the popularity of cancer research stories. Using the case study of the way cancer stories are covered in the media, a negative connotation of open science is that it allows for the audience to be overwhelmed by particular scientific research studies and results about medical stories that are subject to publication bias. For instance, across various print and television news outlets in Australia, when a ‘new’ research study emerges about a ” new cancer scientific breakthrough”, this can hold certain implications. First, it can create false hope in the audience. It is important to remember that when this information is released, it is released via media platforms and subject to journalistic practices and aspects of story telling. When journalists report a story, they do so according to the story’s “newsworthiness.” Sometimes, they can sensationalize the story, and can hold negative connotations with health and science stories as it can suggest a cancer research or latest vaccine is available now and we have found a cure for cancer! This can not only instill false hope in the audience, but also question the reliability and validity of the scientific research and science field, as we are confronted with a mass swap of new ‘breakthroughs’ which I know makes me question “how do I know if this is actually true?”

So as the publication of scientific research is becoming more accessible, we must remember that it is subject to publication bias, and as an audience, we must be wary of the source and credibility of the researchers behind the study.

List of References

Goldacre, B., ‘Researches Don’t Mean to Exaggerate, But Lots of Things Can Distort Findings’, in The Guardian, 13 August 2011, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/12/bad-science-exaggerated-study-results > , accessed 14 May 2013.

Hansen, A. &  Licciardello, C., 2011, ‘The Hamster Wheel: Science in the Media’, in The Chasers, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B5TLrjpOhI >, accessed 15 May 2013.

Pisani, E., ‘Medical Science Will Benefit From the Research of Crowds’, in The Guardian, 12 January 2011, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing > , accessed 15 May 2013.

Wikipedia, 2013, ‘Open Science’, in Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_science > , accessed 14 May 2013.

 

 

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