We are wrapping up our Open Access Week interview series with Dylan Wade Roskams-Edris, Open Science Alliance Officer for the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute at The Neuro.
What’s your title and position?
I’m an independent consultant working with various groups promoting Open Science, but my main work is acting as the Open Science Alliance Officer for the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute at The Neuro.
What’s your role with the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute (TOSI) at the Montreal Neurological Institute?
As Open Science Alliance Officer my main role is to work with other neuroscience institutes in Canada to facilitate their committing to Open Science. This can be pretty informal; a lot of my work involves simply talking to people across Canada—trainees, PIs, research assistants, people who run core facilities, institutional leadership; really anyone who wants to learn more about open science and how it might apply to them. It’s answering emails, chatting on Slack and Twitter, phone calls and virtual meetings. I can’t always help by providing the exact answers people want, but I can usually at least give some pointers, or send them a link to a relevant initiative, or know people they can talk to. These informal ways of growing the network of people who can work together to help each other do open science are not easy to measure in terms of KPIs (key performance indicators) but are really important.
On the more formal level, I help run TOSI’s Support and Partnership Framework. When TOSI was founded one of its primary goals was to help ten Canadian neuroscience research institutes commit to open science by creating a set of institutional open science principles. The Neuro has a set of open science principles. Those serve as the inspiration and starting point for other institutes but, if there is one thing we’ve learned as open science continues to increase in importance, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to implementing it. Under the Support and Partnership Framework TOSI supports other institutes in three ways. The first is by funding Seed Projects, which are projects that help build the infrastructure so it can actually do open science—infrastructure here is understood pretty broadly to include software, equipment, educational materials, personnel. The second is with Open Science Buy-in Projects, where we fund institutes to run a year long project to construct a set of principles—using The Neuro’s as a starting point—in consultation with their stakeholders and with TOSI. This is what the Douglas Research Centre did to design its principles. Third, institutional leadership can submit a set of open science principles that have been designed with their stakeholders to TOSI. If TOSI approves those principles it will commit to setting aside a portion of its endowment to transfer funds each year to support that institute in realizing Open Science. That’s how the Hotchkiss Brain Institute did it.
Why is open access /open science important to the Neuro?
The driving force is to help patients. Neurological diseases represent a particularly thorny set of problems. While a lot of diseases are complex, those that impact the nervous system are particularly tough to get a handle on for a number of reasons, including the complexity of the brain, the impact of social and economic factors, the lack of understanding for how the brain does what it does, and the fact that while researchers can take skin, or liver, or muscle samples relatively simply getting samples from the brain is always a really risky proposition. Because of these difficulties, combined with the fossilized strategies for moving discoveries from academia to the people who can use them to create products and services for patients as well as the traditional pharma development models, there is still little we can offer to the growing number of patients with neurological diseases.
The hope is that with open science, which increases the ability to participate in the generation of discoveries and the capacities for those discoveries to make their way into the hands of those who can use them to make patients lives better—whether we are talking about start-ups, physicians, patient advocacy groups, researchers, teachers, policy makers, pharma companies, device manufacturers, you name it—the rate at which we find ways of improving the lives of patients increases.
The Neuro has been a leader in the area of open science, launching its commitment in 2016. What has been researchers’ reactions to these goals?
It varies. For the most part the response is positive (though that may be a selection bias based on the people I talk to). There are all sorts of people who are itching to make their work easier to share, more usable, more impactful, to work with the shared resources of others, to spread the word. This is especially true in the younger crowd of trainees and early career researchers.
But there is a large and resounding note of confusion. Even for those who are enthusiastic, of which there are many, it’s the classic questions of (1) WHY should I spend time being open when it means I have to change what I do and that labor isn’t remunerated? (2) WHAT resources are there to help educate and support my efforts? (3) HOW do I go about finding out more and actually doing open science? (4) WHEN do I start and when will all of these new open science policies kick in? and (4) WHERE do I share my work if not in a high-impact factor, closed access or high-article-processing charge journal?
What are your hopes for the future of open science/open access?
My personal hope is that open science increases participation in the social activity that is science. Science has all sorts of woes at the moment: wasted resources, missed opportunities, not being responsive to actual needs, not having the impact it can, huge costs for the products created through applying scientific knowledge, and a lack of trust. The success of open science is largely dependant on whether or not those of us working in the space push it forward in a way that makes all of us—not just researchers and physicians and industry scientists, but everyone—active participants in the social creation of reasonably reliable truths we call “science.” Without that there is no ownership, no skin in the game, for the majority of humanity.
If that future can be realized, I think we can picture a day for neuroscience research when the work that is done involves solving problems that are grounded the actual needs and concerns of patients, involves global teams of contributors working on those problems without national or reputational jealousies, and using the resulting insights to create products and services that are actually accessible to everyone (not just the wealthy). That same idea can be extended out to all fields, from carbon capture to ecology to physics to sociology to law. What a world that would be.
What’s been the greatest challenges?
There are a few. A big one is just meeting people where they are. Different folks have different capacities and limitations, whether that’s time, expertise, freedom from constraint, privilege, patterns of behaviour. There is no single formula for making Open Science just be what we consider normal science. That’s one of the big reasons that having “mandates” alone isn’t useful. I think back to the strategy for culture change that the Centre for Open Science works with: you need to start by making it possible, then make it easy, then make it normal, then make it rewarding, and maybe then you can make it required.
Another big one is the competitive, scarcity-based mindset. The way we’ve built the research world makes people treat knowledge and the tools to generate it as scarce resources that need to be jealously guarded so as much advantage as possible can be wrung from them. This is all over the place in the ‘reputation and credit economy’ that is more or less universal in academia and is the absolute, unquestionable status quo in private industry. It’s hard to get people to break from that mindset and think more about abundance; to think that people can create knowledge and tools that everyone can and should be able to use. That’s the way information works. Me telling you a new fact, or sharing data, or a piece of code, or a patented method doesn’t take it away from me. I can still use it and now so can you. In fact, information and tools tend to get better as more people use them; I mean, that’s one of the underlying premises of science itself: the more generalizable (meaning generally useable by people to get the same result) the better something is. That kind of abundance is the natural state for information and is becoming more and more the case for hardware, reagents, and the other physical tools of research. Still, it’s hard to really get people to internalize that when their entire experience and environment goes the other way at every turn. To some extent I blame us trying to bootstrap the idea of physical property into the realm of the mind, but let’s not get me started on that or else this post will be even longer than you expected.
Any last thoughts?
Ha! To be honest I’ve probably already given you more than you bargained for. That being said, I guess my final thought is that the key to making open science the norm is to bring a combination of belief and compassion. Belief that being open is the way to make a better world and better science along with compassion that other people will be limited in their ability to do it. If you can get that balance right you can advocate while helping others without alienating folks. If anyone reading this finds that balance PLEASE LET ME KNOW YOUR SECRET. It’s something I still struggle with everyday.