The evolution of open science – how digitization is transforming research

Dr. Stephane Berghmans talks about open science and its requirements

Stephane Berghmans, DVM, PhDIris KisjesDigitization is constantly transforming the way we conduct research. Terms like open access, open data, transparency and collaboration are widely discussed in the scientific community as well as in politics and the media. This month, various field experts met to discuss Science 2.0 – Science in Transition at the Quadriga Debate in Berlin. The buzzword combines innovative forms of research and publication processes that aim to benefit research collaboration, participation and the interaction of science with society. During the panel discussion, different questions were raised such as “How does digitization change research and publishing processes?” and “What are the limits of Science 2.0?”

Dr. Stephane Berghmans (@StefEurope), Elsevier’s VP of Global Academic & Research Relations, took part in the panel, after which we spoke about developments in open science and where they might take us.

Q: People often use the terms Science 2.0 and open science interchangeably. Do you see any differences between them?

The site of the Quadriga Debate at the Allianz Forum in BerlinFor me, open science and Science 2.0 are different sides of the same coin. Science 2.0 initially came from the digital transformation and describes the technological tools associated with this development. While these tools are also an important part of open science, this goes far beyond technology. It describes a bottom-up movement within the research community that is taking place right now.

Q: How has the research and publishing environment changed through open science? What do you see as the most important changes and improvements open science has brought?

In the academic world, we see a profound movement: openness, transparency and sharing are expected to increase through open science. With access to experts, data and technology, a publisher like Elsevier is able to make the financial investment to develop innovative solutions, allowing the research world to be more collaborative and efficient. A good example for this is Mendeley, the social network for scientists that joined Elsevier in 2012. Mendeley answers newly arising needs, for example with the new Mendeley Data that has just been launched and enables researchers to put their research data online to be cited, shared and secured.

Looking back to when I did my PhD and Postdoc, literally all my work was on paper and only a small part on my computer. Today, just under 50 percent of the researchers still use paper. The other 50 percent use electronic media such as Excel, Word, OneNote etc., and only a small fraction solely work with connected electronic devices. Thus, we are in a situation where we definitely need new ways of storing data and recording research. With the experts, data and technologies we have at Elsevier, this is one of the tasks we are able to fulfill.

Q: Speaking of a digital revolution: Would you describe the changing nature of science as a revolution or an evolution?

Open data on its own will not have much value if it is not structured, discoverable and enriched. (Cartoon by  <a href=" "> Auke Herrema for the Research Data Alliance.</a>)  I strongly believe open science is an evolution. We see this in regards to research evaluation and metrics. Recently someone said that in the world of Science 1.0, the Impact Factor was the gold standard to evaluate research. The demand to assess the world of research still exists today. However, the evolution we see is that there is a need for a broader horizon in metrics.

While especially the societal impact of research is becoming a topic of interest for more and more people, Elsevier among others is developing new metrics to be able to measure this influence. Thus, we recently acquired the start-up company Newsflo. Newsflo has access to more than 500,000 sources of news, giving us the opportunity to see which researchers, universities or recent discoveries are being talked about in the media. This allows us to assess one aspect of the societal impact research can have.

Q: What does open science mean for a publishing house like Elsevier? How has the role of publishers changed with the progressing digitization?

One of the most important tasks for a publisher like Elsevier is to keep listening to the scientific community. Today, the needs of researchers are different than what they were some years ago. We see this, for example, through the growing importance of open publishing and open access. But in fact the development goes beyond the actual open access publishing of research.

When I was a postdoc, I was working on zebrafish to help establish a new model organism to study cancer. At that time, the only way for me to get recognition for the methods I was developing was to be mentioned as an author in papers by other scientists that used my methods. Today, Elsevier has an open access journal called MethodsX that gives researchers the opportunity to publish their method. The same applies for the data that I generated through my methods. Again, the only way to get recognition was to be mentioned as an author in papers by other researchers. Today, we have open access journals like Data in Brief, which allow you to publish and describe your data and thus get recognition for your research.

Open data is definitely the next big challenge in science. Data is a valuable product of science which is underutilized and shared. In part this is because data needs to be stored and hosted. And because it needs to be retrievable and reproducible the data needs to be curated, indexed and a good search engine applied to it. As a reaction to this development, we will soon expand our open data pilot at Elsevier to include more journals to make raw supplementary research data accessible. In addition, we are starting a new data profile pilot to enable authors to provide instructive summaries of the data their research generates. We have also combined various pilots and surfaces to create an open access infrastructure in support of the White House Initiative of the United States. And we are developing prototypes for data search, meaning tools that allow you to search all the open data that is being put out there.

The development of these new tools requires heavy investment, and we can expect that companies, from small start-ups to large publishers like Elsevier, will be offering them as paid services. As true as it is for open access, we should all be aware that “open” does not necessarily mean “free” for open science either. For example, open data on its own will not have much value if it is not structured, discoverable and enriched. The private sector is well-positioned to offer expertise and the resources to drive innovation.. It will also be ready to accept risks that the public sector might not be ready to take. Finally, a company like Elsevier can contribute to the start-up ecosystem that will nourish open science for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Q: Which other stakeholders are involved in this development, and how? And why is it important to have conferences or discussions like the Quadriga Debate on Science 2.0?

One comment I recently heard was that when moving from open access to open data and open science, the biggest challenge has been the drastic increase in the number of stakeholders. Beside researchers and the scientific community, one of the most interesting stakeholder groups is citizens.

Elsevier has numerous initiatives to support the development of citizen science. We have a monthly prize called Atlas, which honors articles published in our journals that had a significant impact on people’s lives around the world. The winning article is presented in the form of a lay summary alongside interviews and expert opinions. We also train early career researchers to write lay summaries of scientific articles and put them in contact with authors of papers which had a societal impact to this end. The lay summaries are made available to citizens in the STM Digest and provide great insight into academic research. We were also involved in the Pint of Science initiative, which brings scientists into pubs around the world, giving them the opportunity to get in touch with early career and non-professional researchers to present their work and exchange experience. Elsevier supported the first German edition of Pint of Science in May this year, and it was a great success.

Another important stakeholder group in the discussion around open science are politicians. The role of a politician is quite tricky these days. If you put too much pressure in form of regulation, you might hinder some of the initiatives that have only started to arise. What we need is a middle path between the top-down approach of governments and the bottom-up approach of open science. That is exactly what the European Commission will aim to do with the Stakeholder Forum they are launching to help set a European Open Science Agenda.

Q: Where do you think Open Science will take us? How can we ensure that science benefits from technological innovations in the best possible way?

I see open science as an extremely important evolution in the field of research. I believe that the future of open science really lies in the hands of the next generation of researchers. It is our task to provide them with the right training to be able to fully optimize their open science needs. For this reason, the European Commission funded FOSTER, the Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research program. Also, private initiatives from researchers and the new Elsevier Publishing Campus provide free training resources and information for early career researchers. Initiatives like these that target future generations of researchers are crucial to helping research processes develop.

Stephane Berghmans

As VP of Academic & Research Relations, European Union, for Elsevier, Dr. Stephane Berghmans (@StefEurope) oversees EU strategic initiatives, partnerships, and stakeholder needs. He is a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine with a PhD in genetics and molecular biology. Stephane was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, where he studied cancer at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. He moved to the drug discovery biotech sector in 2004, first in Cambridge (UK) and then Portland, Oregon, as Director of Biology. He joined the European Science Foundation in 2009 to head the Biomedical Sciences Unit, managing the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC) and focusing on science policy and strategy. Stephane joined the Global Academic & Research Relations team at Elsevier in 2013.

The Quadriga Debate

The Quadriga Debate is an event format by Stifterverband that serves as a platform for discussing controversial questions relating to science and research. Top-level representatives from business, science and politics discuss and debate new developments and trends that influence our society. Since 1920, the motto of Stifterverband has been “gifting education, creating knowledge, enabling innovation.” The motto is supposed to symbolize the shared responsibility by businesses and foundations for science and education in Germany. With the Quadriga Debate, Stifterverband aims to provide a forum for science-policy issues discussed at the interface of business, politics and science.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Iris Kisjes (@Kisjes) has worked at Elsevier for seven years, the past four in communications. She is currently Senior Corporate Relations Manager, based in Amsterdam. She has a keen interest in the knowledge economy, especially in relation to the valorization of science and the longevity of the higher education system.

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