5 Questions with Brian Nosek, Co-founder of the Center for Open Science

Q&A series with ECS OpenCon 2017 speakers

Brian Nosek

Brian Nosek, co-founder of the Center for Open Science

ECS will be hosting its first ever OpenCon event on October 1 in National Harbor, MD. OpenCon will be ECS’s first, large community event aimed at creating a culture of change in how research is designed, shared, discussed, and disseminated, with the ultimate goal of making scientific progress faster.

Brian Nosek, co-founder of the Center for Open Science, will be one of the featured speakers at the upcoming ECS OpenCon.

The following conversation is part of a series with speakers from the upcoming ECS OpenCon. Read the rest of the series.

ECS: What was the “aha moment” when you knew the Center for Open Science (COS) was needed?

Brian Nosek: COS began as two laboratory projects with a minimal budget, and a simple idea of testing the reproducibility of current research and building some tools to improve it. From the start, we wanted to help build a future in which the process, content, and outcomes of research are openly accessible by default. All scholarly content would be preserved and connected and transparency would stand as an aspirational good for scholarly work. All stakeholders would be included and respected in the research lifecycle and share the pursuit of truth as the primary incentive and motivation for scholarship.

For the launch of COS, it was less “aha” and more “whoa, we can do this?” Our lab projects received some media attention. One of the outcomes of that was that a number of funders contacted us with interest in the work. In particular, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation offered to support us and provided a very generous donation to elevate our aspirations from small lab effort to nonprofit organization.

ECS: What are the most urgent challenges in achieving a more open science future?

BN: We believe an open exchange of ideas accelerates scientific progress toward solving our most persistent problems. The challenges of disease, poverty, education, social justice, and the environment are too important and too urgent to waste funding on studies lacking rigor, outcomes that are never shared, and trying to extend results that are irreproducible.

Our mission is to increase the openness, integrity, and reproducibility of scholarly research. We work on ways to make the process, content, and outcomes of research openly accessible for others to discuss and build on. It is possible for all scholarly content to be preserved and connected, and for transparency to be expected and rewarded. To that end, we build infrastructure to support open sharing of research, conduct training to teach the best practices for designing and building open projects, and work towards changing the incentives that reward researchers for their outcomes and less for their curiosity and rigor.

ECS: Tenure and promotion practices rely heavily on the journal impact factor as a metric, and which inhibits openness in research. How can the scholcomm community change practices to validate and recognize open research (beyond open access publication)?

BN: In the present scholarly culture, openness and reproducibility are values but not standard practice. Incentives driving researchers and service providers do not promote these values. For researchers, the currency of reward is publication. Publishing frequently in the most prestigious outlets possible is the gateway to jobs, promotion, tenure, grants, and awards. Whether the research is open or reproducible is rarely relevant to publication success. Instead, publication depends on achieving novel, positive, clean outcomes. In a competitive marketplace, researchers may make choices—even unwittingly—that increase the likelihood of publishable outcomes even at the cost of their accuracy. Without transparency or efforts to evaluate reproducibility, the loss of accuracy may go undetected decreasing the credibility of the published literature.

For service providers, the dominant monetization strategy is to control access to the research process, content, and outcomes via purchase or subscription business models. Such models are desirable for their profitability, but create exclusivity of research access. Those without the advantage of resources have limited access to research and greater barriers to becoming contributors or applying the research to solve problems. Further, lack of openness is a direct barrier to reproducibility and to connecting and exposing the research lifecycle.

Increasing openness and reproducibility will increase the efficiency and quality of knowledge accumulation and application. Increasing access to the content and process of producing research outcomes will increase reproducibility of the evidence, and facilitate replication and extension into new domains. False leads will be discovered and discarded more quickly and true leads will be elaborated more efficiently. Increasing access to research outcomes will facilitate inclusivity of all individuals with motivation, skill, and insight to contribute new knowledge and facilitate application of knowledge to solving humanity’s pressing problems.

We envision a future scholarly community in which the process, content, and outcomes of research are openly accessible by default. This includes the following goals:

  • All scholarly content is preserved, connected, and versioned to foster discovery, accumulation of evidence, and respect for uncertainty.
  • Scholarly service providers are incentivized to compete on quality of service and maximizing transparency of process and content.
  • Institutions evaluate researchers based on both the content of their discoveries and the process by which they were discovered.
  • Funders have full insight into the activity and outcomes of their research investments to more efficiently achieve their mission and guide future investments.
  • Researchers prioritize getting it right over getting it published, and receive credit for scholarly contributions beyond the research article such as generating useful data or authoring code that can be reused by others.
  • Reviewers provide feedback at all stages of the research lifecycle and openness introduces potential for credit and reputation enhancement for reviewing.
  • Librarians apply curation and data management expertise throughout the research lifecycle, not just retrospectively.
  • Consumers have easy access to the evidence supporting scholarly claims.
  • All stakeholders are included and respected in the research lifecycle.

ECS: COS developed and launched the TOP Guidelines; how is the uptake progressing and what are the barriers to getting even more uptake?

BN: The TOP Guidelines provide a set of standards for journals, funders, and institutions to adopt to encourage or require their authors, grantees, or funders to be more open with their research. More than 3,000 journals and organizations have become signatories to the TOP Guidelines, most within the past year, and we expect that number to keep growing. Right now, the main challenge that journals and organizations face is making decisions about adoption of the guidelines and implementing those decisions into their policies and procedures. We have developed a lot of materials to help adopting organizations do it efficiently, but they need to make the commitment to move into implementation.

ECS: What role can these satellite OpenCons play in advancing progress in research?

BN: A lot of the barriers to adoption of open practices is lack of awareness and knowledge about how to do it. Many younger researchers really do want to be more open and transparent in their research, and they see the scientific value in providing equally open, accessible information for others to build on. The role events like OpenCon play in making educational opportunities available to researchers and organizations like ours cannot be overstated.


There’s still time to register for OpenCon! If you’re already registered for the 232nd ECS Meeting, click here to register for OpenCon. The event is also open to the public. If you’re not attending the 232nd ECS Meeting but would like to attend OpenCon, click here to register.

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