“Science should be truly cooperative, open and in responsible relationship with society”

Some notes I made of the book “Open Science: the Very Idea”, by Frank Miedema

During the summer holiday I had planned to read Frank Miedema’s book on open science, and so I did, during some afternoons at the beach. During reading I made notes, and in this blog I highlight a few parts of this interesting book, however please do not consider this as a proper book review. Major parts of the text I use in this blog are taken from the book, and by the sake of readability I have not always put them in the right quotation. Also I have only copied a few of the many references that are provided per book chapter at the bottom of this blog. For the more interested reader, please refer to Miedema’s book!

The reason I had put the book on my reading list, is because I am and have been strongly advocating open science in and at the places I work and have worked. My attention the past two years has slightly shifted, because of a change in working environment, but open science still remains a passion and I was curious whether Miedema would bring new insights or updates that I might have missed in the past period.

Science as a closed system

Miedema starts with stating that “how science ought to be done is still determined by old ideas”. There is the “mythical” narrative about the Scientific Method of the “hard” sciences. This Scientific Method, or Standard Model, or “The Legend”, echoes what used to be the dominant philosophy and sociology of science until the 1960s. Scientists were proposing hypotheses, and its derived statements, and were testing these statements, with the result of falsification or support (or partly) from the observed evidence. This resulted in acceptance (“belief”) or required improvement and a new cycle of testing. Here science was / is a closed social system within society that decided itself who is excellent.

This quest for certainty has failed. The legendary image of science does not match with the practice behind the doors of our faculty departments and laboratories.

So, as Miedema further claims and has evidenced by many references, we should admit that science in the real is done as we do it. We should be frank about the fact that every claim, theory, method, action based on this process is fallible, and may be improved, corrected and rejected by a better alternative. Research is guided by our common cognitive and cultural values. Knowledge is tested in interventions and (social) actions in practice. So knowledge claims are fallible and always up to scrutiny and tests.

Change is needed

Of course the Science in Transition initiative by Miedema and others is extensively reported in the book. And some occurrences that in the end lead to how we now look at (open) science. However, as Miedema writes, “the topic of the perverse effect of the abuse of metrics and how they invite or even enforce strategic behaviour of scientists was and is still hot”. And one of the major (still current) problems is that although there might be a generally felt frustration by the majority of scientists in academia, the academic leadership does not immediately recognize, flatly denies or rebuts “but this is how science is” when issues are discussed. It is at this management level (not in the daily environment of researchers) where a change is needed.

I bumped upon an hippo in a square during my holiday, perhaps something similar as the elephant in the (university board) room, talking about the need for change?

Agents for change

Let me use two of the many examples / occurrences that Miedema addresses in his book and that led to a more and more generic acceptance that there is an urge to change.

  • “Stapel” happened and was enough evidence that the system could lead to wrong behaviour. (Short explanation from Wikipedia extracted 15 August 2022: “In 2011 Tilburg University suspended Stapel for fabricating and manipulating data for his research publications. This scientific misconduct took place over a number of years and affected dozens of his publications.” ) Many reports (another one here, both only available in Dutch) followed. The main root or cause of this misbehaviour was seen in “… requirements of numbers of publications, the order of authors, responsibilities of co-authors and repeated publications of similar results”. Or as Miedema later puts it “when the journal paper is the goal instead of a means to an end of having true societal or clinical impact”.
  • As prelude of open science, the roots and development of Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI) stems from a series of different initiatives to increase integrity, ethical, legal and social responsibility and to intensify multidisciplinary research to integrate social science with technical sciences and innovation. In 2011 the EU took the initiative to unite these movements and ideas under the banner of RRI as part of Horizon 2020. There is much more to say about this, but perhaps the best phrase to repeat here is by Von Schomberg: “… to  give a broader base for the justification of research and innovation beyond assumed economic benefits and increase of competitiveness”. This requires, according to Miedema, a reflexive mode of research that is responsive to all kinds of social impacts that it will bring or has brought about. And it demands more inclusive codes of conduct, research ethics and scientific integrity. RRI means doing “science with society”, in which the relationship with society was integrated and institutionalized such that it could be anticipated, reflected upon and be opened up to the diverse stakeholders and publics.

An Open Society is required

So the plea for “a pragmatic theory of scientific inquiry, that is open, non-dogmatic and pluralistic, inclusive and contextual” is made by Miedema. Where scientific research is seen as a means to an end. With the ultimate aim to address and alleviate problems and issues that prevent people from living the good life, and to achieve reliable knowledge. Therefore science must constantly engage with the public(s). Policy issues get a very different, more practical context, if representatives of the public that is concerned and affected are involved. There the turn to open science is made, because the opening up of science should ideally promote equality, inclusion, and diversity of research agendas. This requires an Open Society with Deweyan democracy and safe spaces for deliberations where a diversity of publics and their problems can be heard. Research starts with a problem in social life or something the scientists assume lacks proper understanding and is a cause of uncertainty.

The EU open science agenda sets the scene for a different way to do science and research, i.e., in a truly cooperative, open and responsible relationship with society. And this is continued in Horizon Europe, where RRI will meet open science in a sphere of deliberative democracy and value-driven research.

Personal note

The above is a somewhat dry overview of the notes I took when reading this book. What I take with me is that it is essential to involve a “diversity of publics”, not in a “scattered” way as is done with the National Science Agenda, but via representatives of the public that is “concerned and affected”.  And that open science has a “longer” root than I knew, but perhaps also the confirmation of what I already realized, i.e., that some of the changes should and can only be executed with the true belief and example of and by our academic leaders. I hope that our new National Programme Open Science 2030, the actions related to recognition and rewarding, and the Open Education ambitions will bring about the necessary changes.

A tiny selection of the many references

Commissie Levelt, Commissie Noort, Commissie Drenth, Falende Wetenschap: De frauduleuze onderzoekspraktijken van sociaal-psycholoog Diederik Stapel, 28 november 2012, https://www.rug.nl/about-ug/latest-news/news/archief2012/nieuwsberichten/stapel-eindrapport-ned.pdf.

Commissie Verkenning Herziening Gedragscode Wetenschapsbeoefening, adviesrapport, October 2016, https://www.universiteitenvannederland.nl/files/documenten/Domeinen/Onderzoek/eindversie%20rapport%20definitief.pdf.

Dewey, John, Reconstruction in philosophy (enlarged ed.), Beacon Press, 1948.

Dijstelbloem, Huub; Huisman, Frank; Miedema, Frank; and Mijnhard, Wijnand, Why Science Does Not Work as It Should And What To Do about It, Position Paper, October 17, 2013, http://www.scienceintransition.nl/app/uploads/2013/10/Science-in-Transition-Position-Paper-final.pdf.

Miedema, Frank, Open Science: The Very Idea, Springer, Netherlands, 2022, https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/51498.

Von Schomberg, René, Prospects for technology assessment in a framework of responsible research and innovation. In M. Dusseldorp and R. Beecroft (Eds.), Technikfolgen abschätzen lehren, Springer Wiesbaden 2012, https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-531-93468-6_2.

Von Schomberg, René, Why responsible innovation. In Von Schomberg, René (Ed.), The international handbook on responsible innovation: A global resource. Edwar Elgar Publishing, 2019, https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/gbp/international-handbook-on-responsible-innovation-9781784718855.html.

Wilma van Wezenbeek
16 August 2022

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