Open Science in The Netherlands

In this article, Max Bautista Perpinyà (twitter @oliviodare) talks about the concept of Open Science (OS) and how it is transforming scientific research in The Netherlands.

Photo by AC Almelor on Unsplash

Any Mediterranean person arriving in the Netherlands will surely be surprised by the huge windows of the Dutch houses. The blinds are almost non-existent here, and the curtains are not usually drawn; in the north they simply open up to the outside to catch the few rays of sun available. When you walk down the streets of Utrecht, Maastricht or Den Haag you can keep an eye on the living rooms of the neighbours: you can watch them eating dinner, watching TV, or talking to the family. When I arrived, I was shocked to see the intimacies of other. Coming from the burning sun, I was surprised at the transparency with which the Dutch live.

Coincidence or not, consequence or not, science in The Netherlands follows the same pattern of transparency and openness. There is a growing movement within Dutch universities that promises to change the way science is done. Today, all over the world but especially in Europe, the Open Science movement is becoming popular. What is Open Science (OS)? The OS movement can be compared to the opening of doors and windows in dutch houses but in science, with the aim of improving transparency and honesty in research. I’m sure many of you are aware of the increase in the number of Open Access (OA) journals, which have no subscription price. With the emergence of non-print electronic journals, the production costs went down and the model changed. Thus, anyone can access the products of research. Thanks to OA, the cost of subscriptions, which are normally assumed by university libraries, has been considerably reduced.

But OS is not just OA. Open Science is a cultural movement within science that aims to deal with the reproducibility problems, the enormous pressure to publish (too much, too fast and with high impact, a sort of academic version of nice and cheap) and the fear of job instability. Newcomers to the research world are asking for a model based on cooperative work, honesty in scientific information and transparency about conflicts of interest. Instead of aggressive competition, young scientists around the world want to bring back to science the values that are often held in high esteem: objectivity and the disinterested search for truth. In my opinion, besides this romantic rhetoric about science, the OS movement shines above all because it encourages putting the community above the individual. Collective progress instead of personal triumph. Collaboration, not h-index.

If you are a scientist and you are attracted to these values, maybe Holland is your place. If you are already here, the perfect place to start is the ‘Open Science Communities’ (OSC). All Dutch universities now have their own community. These organisations are formed by researchers themselves, and bring together scientists from different fields and faculties. The CSOs organise all kinds of open days, journal clubs, symposia and workshops. These communities do just that: they create a sense of belonging that is often lost in the competitive jungle of the academic world. CSOs play a similar role to Spanish research groups abroad. The CENL in The Netherlands as well as the CERU in the United Kingdom, helps to bring together those scientific expats that decided to come together to create a sense of community. And besides this ‘feeling’, the meetings of OS and Spanish expats also serve to share tools and teachings.

Last week I went to the symposium of the Faculty of Science at the University of Utrecht and learned not only about abstract values, but also about concrete initiatives. For example, the e-labjournal, or GitHub as tools to share code and experimental methods; the great list of resources from Mozilla; the open source industrial machines from Global Village Construction Set; or the WorldWide Protein Data Bank from the molecular biologists. In just one day, I was bombarded with links, information and resources. But since I don’t build industrial machines or pipette molecules (not anymore, I’m studying History of Science now), I probably won’t use many of these tools. However, the talks made me think. These communities are a perfect scenario in which everyone brings what they know and take back what they need. The forum created by these CSOs encourages us to learn how each of us can open up our own science.

Within the world of the OS there is much to learn and to apply in this digital age. If you are in The Netherlands this summer, you will have many opportunities to discover the giant steps being taken to open the windows of science. On 29 May, the first Open Science Barcamp in The Netherlands will take place in Utrecht . It will be a new type of conference, with no predetermined session structure and that will look more like an ‘open-mic’. The idea is that both the format and the content will be open and that anyone can take the microphone and propose a topic for collective discussion. This new type of conference allows for more interaction and less artificial feeling, which promises to change how science is communicated (if you are interested in alternatives on how to communicate your science, just pick up a box and get on it). However, the OS knows how to coexist with more traditional forms of communication platforms: on August 27th in Wageningen the National Open Science Festival will take place. Don’t miss it if you want to keep up with the latest OS initiatives. The Open Science movement has deep roots in The Netherlands. Maybe it is due to the Dutch tolerance, the openness to foreign countries, or the initiative of its universities. The OS promises to change how science is understood and performed. Perhaps one day, when more windows are open, Open Science will be called simply Science.

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