Blog Open Science – José van Dijck

Open science: major differences between disciplines

The Academy has long been a staunch advocate of open access to the results of scientific research.

In 2003, it was one of the first signatories of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, and in 2005 it joined forces with NWO in setting up Data Archiving and Networked Services, or DANS. The Academy has also been outspoken in its advisory opinions. In 2012, we published the advisory report Responsible research data management and the prevention of scientific misconduct, and in 2016 we presented Opening the book on open access during the Dutch presidency of the European Union.

To ensure that we live up to our good intentions, in 2010 the Academy adopted a policy of open access and digital sustainability for its research institutes. In 2016, we added more focus to that policy by adopting a set of data principles and a specified data policy. The following year, we published a list of open access do's and don’ts. The Academy is further emphasising the ‘green route to open access’ – also known as self-archiving – by encouraging researchers to upload a version of their paper or article to a repository, i.e. a digital archive for publications and data. With regard to green open access, the Academy places publications under embargo for no more than six months. That is in line with the official statutory provision stipulating that an author may publish an open access version of a short scientific work after a ‘reasonable’ period (Section 25fa of the Dutch Copyright Act). Some publishers, however, still impose much longer embargos, up to 18 months in certain cases. There is an absence of case law on this matter, so the precise interpretation of this section of the Dutch Copyright Act has yet to be determined.

In early 2017, the Academy gave its wholehearted approval to the Netherlands’ National Open Science Plan. The plan was signed by ten knowledge organisations and sets out the Netherlands’ aims concerning open access publishing, optimising the reuse of research data, and assisting and rewarding researchers in that regard. All the signatories want to give researchers as much support as possible in their pursuit of open science, as well as the recognition and appreciation that they deserve. It is, for example, hypocritical to argue in favour of open access on the one hand while on the other requiring researchers to publish in top journals that are not open access. That should have consequences for how we assess research, research proposals and researchers.

The road to open science is long and full of obstacles. I would like to identify a few of those obstacles explicitly. The first is that research funding agencies must be aware that there are costs associated with providing long-term access to research data. We must make it crystal clear that ‘open’ does not mean ‘free’. The second obstacle concerns the enormous increase in privatised data. Although public institutions do their best to ensure and maintain open access to data, researchers are increasingly coming to depend on large tech firms that restrict access to ‘their’ data even though they in fact extract that data from the public domain. Whichever way you look at it, the open data movement should be one that benefits both public and private parties.

Open science can succeed:

  1. if it can count on extra funding
  2. if private parties – publishers and tech firms – acknowledge their responsibility
  3. if it becomes an international matter and 
  4. if we allow for differences between disciplines. The Netherlands is doing well to lead the way and to have a National Plan for Open Science (as well as a platform to implement it), but science transcends national borders and that means that agreements should, first and foremost, be made Europe-wide. And there is no ‘one size fits all' for all disciplines, of course: in the years ahead, we will need to determine the extent to which open science can play a role in each and every domain or discipline.

José van Dijck