Open access as a first step for open science

Open Access and Open Science

By David Ramírez-Ordóñez

[The Spanish version of the post is available here]

Having access to research results is a very good first step of a much longer path. Framing open access in its general context is almost like the end of a chain that derives from the green route (the self-archiving) and the golden route (the publication in Open Access journals), but it is worth starting to go through the chain backwards.

The big picture

In this graphic you can understand the taxonomy of open science.

Along with open access are:

  • Open data
  • Reproducible open science
  • Open evaluation
  • Open policies
  • Open tools

Offer access to the “source code”

A simple way to interpret this big picture is through the idea of offering the source code. Among software developers, a program has two parts: 1) its source code, which allows modifications and in turn generates 2) the “executable”, which is the program running.

If we take the idea of source code to the example of a word processor, one could say that a pdf document is the “executable”, the result of the writing, and its source code is the word file that generated it. Those who have tried to modify a pdf will know that it is much easier to modify it if you have access to the Word file that produced it.

This is why I like to think that those who, besides opening the result of an investigation through open access, offer access to the “source code” of their research, are like the neighbour who puts flowers on his balcony: it helps to beautify the neighbourhood. It will help researchers in their field of knowledge have more to advance their research.

Other forms of source code: the data

If the research has data, it is very common to see articles or books with graphics. Following the metaphor of opening the source code for the data, we would have to give access not only to the graphics under open licenses, which would be the “executables” in our software example. The tables with the data, for example an Excel file, would be the equivalent to the source code.

With this data file we could not only generate the same graphics found in the article or book published in open access. We would also have the possibility of making other graphs based on the same data, doing different analyses or even mixing different types of data to obtain new results.

Publishing data is a way to start with open data, another component of open science.

Tools and reproducible science

In my last two examples, the pdf file and the document in Word and the graph and the data in the Excel file, I used as an example two very popular tools, but they are not free tools. Although we have become accustomed to using them for their popularity, we must pay a license for their use. There are multiple options in free software to avoid a paywall.

Libre Office for example has Writer, which is the equivalent of Word, and Calc is the equivalent to Excel. If we apply the metaphor of giving access to the source code, but this time on the tools, the result is not only to mention with which tool we create the article, but to allow anyone to download these tools and use them.

In this way, open tools and reproducible science are being covered. When you give others the possibility to replicate your experiments and measurements and do the same, you help science advance faster.

The role of librarians in open science

One of the principles of open access is access to scientific publications without technological, legal or economic barriers. If we start to expand this principle to open science we are promoting not only access to information, but also the development of informational capabilities. If we expand it a little bit more, what we are defending is the Human Right of access to information and freedom of thought without technological, legal or economic barriers.

Additionally, supporting open science ensures more and better opportunities to guarantee digital preservation: how many of us can access digital files produced in software that are no longer available in the market? If only 20 years ago we used floppy disks, how will we be able to access the information produced today in 20 years? Will we have the ability to access and reproduce these documents without legal or economic barriers?

This text was written in Ghostwriter using markdown to export it to html, the format in which you will surely be reading this article. The source code can be downloaded in this link and this work is in the public domain since its creation. Although it is not a scientific article, I believe that the principles of open access and open science can be applied to other types of information. It’s my way of putting flowers on my balcony.

Extra: Meanwhile, in Latin America

In Panama (October 22 to 24 – 2018), many people from civil society were working in the Panama Declaration on Open Science -document in Spanish- and librarians from Colombia, Argentina and El Salvador were involved to promote not just Open Access but also Open Science. Maybe you can replicate this with your library association.

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