Open Science Award Winners: Insights and Findings From a Pioneering Practice

Interview with Ronny Röwert

In his doctoral project, Ronny Röwert (TU Hamburg) investigated why researchers practice Open Science. To do this, he focused on those researchers who have been practising Open Science for a relatively long time and to a very extensive extent, namely Open Science award winners from the German science system. In this interview, he reveals what we can learn from these pioneers in the field of Open Science and why we should all dare to be more courageous.

What did you find out in your doctoral thesis? What motivates scientists to do Open Science?

I was surprised myself at how many reasons there actually are for practising Open Science. I was able to crystallise 14 motives in total as reasons. In addition to the familiar personal reasons, such as citation advantages or the desire for recognition for one’s own work, there are also reasons that are relevant to the research community, such as that one’s own research is used and striving for efficient work or new collaborations. However, I was also able to find a few reasons that had not yet been discussed in the literature, for example, a sense of belonging to a pioneering community, like being anti-mainstream, or sense and impact orientation are also part of it. Therefore, if I spend so much time on it, and in science this is often also leisure time, then it really has to make sense, and that is why many people say that it has to be open.

The exciting thing is that they all gave at least three or four reasons, and always altruistic as well as careerist reasons in equal measure. Thus, you cannot say that these are the do-gooders and these are the ones who do it selfishly. Rather, it is always an interplay of very personal and social reasons, and perhaps also a few altruistic reasons. There are many reasons, and perhaps we need to take more account of this if we want to support researchers in establishing Open Science.

Could you identify different types in terms of motives?

I thought there were types like the egoist or the do-gooder. But in the end, I had to realise at some point that the exact opposite is true. The core result for me is that there are no types. Even with a scientist who says she only does it to make science better, you can find relatively valid personal reasons such as citation advantages. And at the other extreme, a scientist who said he was totally egoistically driven, showed convictions about what the science system and society should look like and his own part in it, which are quasi selfless reasons. Exactly these two extremes, which at the same time also unite the other extreme, that is the core result.

What conclusions do you draw from this for communication with researchers about Open Science?

The existence of several reasons for Open Science must also be in the back of our minds if we want to address researchers and bring them along. Then we have to argue in a diverse, multifaceted way, on different levels, and not just cite one or two social reasons for Open Science.

How do you explain these results?

All of them emphasise the enormous effort involved in Open Science and that it is also a big resource issue, even if they themselves do not practice it in quite such a pioneering way. It is, in the words of the Open Science laureates interviewed, like “an extra steep hill” or “the extra 20 percent of the mile they have to go”. If it is that much effort, then there must be several reasons for it. Actually, they all give many reasons for doing it anyway. For me, this is also the key to understanding why it is so complex, why so many motives are at work.

Are there differences in motivations, for example in career stages?

You can see that those who feel a strong sense of belonging to a pioneer community are particularly convinced and implement Open Science very consistently, for instance they insist on it in all projects. Especially when you do cooperative research, it is also a negotiation process.

The other aspect is career advancement. The desire to re-use one’s own methods and results and to prepare them in a way that makes it easier for others to continue working with them increases when one has actually been in the science system longer. Because some reasons are not yet comprehensible at the beginning of a research career. Nevertheless, there are no such strong patterns and at some point, I had to say goodbye again to this type thinking and acknowledge that the result is so multi-layered.

What differences could you observe between the various disciplines?

Through its influence on socialisation, the discipline has a decisive influence on the formation of identity and the understanding of one’s profession as a scientist. In awarding the prizes and awards for Open Science, the juries paid great attention to a balanced distribution of disciplines, so that despite my small sample, it represents many disciplinary contexts, from computer science and psychology to sports science, history and literary studies. In data-driven disciplinary contexts such as economics or quantitative sociology, Open Science understandings and practices are catching on more quickly, while in disciplines, which previously had less Open Science affinity, such as architecture or history, the idea of Open Science is being lived out in more diverse ways, for example through increased Citizen Science approaches. Ultimately, each discipline, must define for itself how Open Science can concretely enrich research practice, including the professional societies.

Motives for Open Science practices

What are the strongest drivers?

The top one is definitely re-use. The second motive is to gain citation advantages. The third is the public interest, as I mentioned. That means, for example, that in publicly tax-funded research projects, one aims to justice to satisfy society and make the results accessible. After that, there are soft drivers such as an orientation towards impact and meaning, for instance that everyone says, “I’m not going to make all these efforts just to end up being one among many. That is why they position themselves in this pioneering role.

Have you also identified factors that inhibit researchers’ motivation for Open Science?

Yes, everyone mentioned very similar reasons. On the one hand, it is the whole career logic in science. On the other hand, there are general conditions, such as the fact that publishing in Open Access is sometimes simply too expensive, and other understandable reasons. These include research ethics issues, that if sensitive data is collected, it cannot be made openly available straight away.

You said in your talk at the tenth Open Science Conference: “Research Culture eats Open Science Strategy for Breakfast”. What did you mean by that?

I wanted to say a bit more pointedly, following Peter Drucker, that the most beautiful strategies are probably of no use because Open Science is about the core of the research culture. That means that the whole socialisation, how I present myself, how I move in everyday life, how I talk about my own research, how I act tactically, usually follows unwritten laws. If we really want to change something in the research culture, then we have to go to the core of socialisation and perhaps also start very early with young researchers, when they first really come into contact with research, for example when they produce their first data set. I think we also have to tackle other fields, such as lobbying more in professional societies, approaching the research training groups, the junior research groups, precisely where researchers are formed. Otherwise, the best Open Science strategy will be eaten for breakfast.

What advice would you give to Open Science avant-gardists to inspire their colleagues?

First of all, they don’t usually see themselves as Open Science avant-gardists. All the people I interviewed had this in common: although they had received an award for it, at the beginning of the interview they all said quasi shyly: “I think you’re interviewing the wrong person. I don’t actually do Open Science that much.” The bottom line is that it is unrealistic to completely open up your entire research practice. You won’t find that with anyone. I would advise describing as concretely as possible how you do it in order to convince colleagues. In other words, a literary scholar who discloses the negotiations with publishers, who shares sample emails about it, who says where it did not work out sometimes. What they learn from this for the next time, for the next application for a research project. In exactly this concreteness. We need to convey this more strongly, and we really need to awaken this realistic picture plus this spirit of research. Perhaps these different motives could also be a support. Talking about them and accepting that everyone has different reasons. What drives you, why could you imagine making an effort towards Open Access or open research data management in your next research project?

What tips do you have for early career researchers who are asking how they can best implement Open Science?

To put it bluntly, I would dare something like courage outbursts. In practical terms: maybe once a year, set yourself a reminder and go on a two- or three-hour retreat with yourself, perhaps also with colleagues. Why do I want to implement Open Science? How can I make my own research practice more open and transparent? Because I think there is such a force of normality that overwhelms you, and then you just rush after the next funding application or write the next grant application and so on, and actually forget what possibilities there are, even obvious ones. Then you simply exchange more information with the research data, repositories for the disciplines or your own university library about how it is actually possible to make publications openly accessible. I think at least once a year is a good time to talk about it. That would be my personal tip.

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Our questions were answered by Ronny Röwert.

Ronny Röwert (German) is a research associate at the Institute for Technical Education and Higher Education Didactics at TU Hamburg (TUHH). After studying economics and working at CHE Consult, Kiron Open Higher Education and the Stifterverband, he researches and teaches on digital and openness practices in educational and academic contexts. He shapes these topics, among other things, by coordinating the joint project “Open T-Shape for Sustainable Development”, within the framework of which the SDG Campus is being developed.
Portrait: Ronny Röwert©

The post Open Science Award Winners: Insights and Findings From a Pioneering Practice first appeared on ZBW MediaTalk.

The Physics & Astronomy Category Recipient of the PLOS ONE Early Career Travel Award in the Physical Sciences Is…

Thank you to all community members who submitted applications! We are delighted to announce the first recipient of the PLOS ONE Early Career Travel Award in the Physical Sciences. Chintan Parmar, Research Fellow at Dana-Farber

The PLOS ONE Early Career Researcher Travel Awards in the Physical Sciences

Early career researchers (ECRs) are very much at the heart of what we do at PLOS. Last year alone, PLOS ONE published more than 20,000 research papers, undoubtedly with tens of thousands of ECRs as

Balancing nutrient diets determines how ecosystems age

FranzGround young

From rainforests to rocky glaciers, the life of an ecosystem is rooted in the balance of nutrients in its soil. Shifting levels of soil nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) define how ecosystems evolve, and understanding the dynamics of these key nutrients can help ecologists identify crucial factors to help mitigate climate change.

A new model to understand N and P dynamics over different time scales was described in the PLOS ONE paper, “Nitrogen and Phosphorus Limitation over Long-term Ecosystem Development in Terrestrial Ecosystems”. Recently awarded the Ecological Society of America’s prize for an outstanding theoretical ecology paper, the study determines whether N or P are more likely to limit the productivity of ecosystems over short, intermediate and long timescales. Author Duncan Menge explains the background and results of their study:

How do N and P levels change with the age of an ecosystem like a rainforest?

A good question. Levels of both N and P are very low in very young ecosystems (which typically have rocky soils; see picture above), higher in intermediate-aged ecosystems (see picture), and often lower in old ecosystems.  How N levels change relative to P, though, is a trickier subject.  The best-studied sites show relatively low N in younger ecosystems and relatively high N in older ecosystems, but there are some places that show opposing trends.

Prior to your research, how did theoretical models assess the impact of these two nutrients on ecosystem dynamics?

Prior to our work there were a series of conceptual developments, which I will call “the classic model,” but there was no previous mathematical model of N and P dynamics during long-term ecosystem development.  The classic model states that ecosystems should progress from N deficiency in younger ecosystems to P deficiency in older ecosystems, as is seen on the best-studied sites.  According to the classic model, this happens because of the differences in where N and P come from.  P is present in most rocks, whereas N is not, so P inputs are largely controlled by the weathering of rocks.  Consequently, very young ecosystems have large P inputs, whereas very old ecosystems have small P inputs.  On the other hand, N comes primarily from rain, so N inputs don’t necessarily depend on ecosystem age.

Franz500yearsite_groundYour paper mentions that these models don’t account for several possible trajectories of ecosystem evolution. What was missing? 

There are a number of missing elements that jumped out as potentially important.  First, the input side of the story isn’t as simple as “P comes from rocks, N comes from rain.”  P also comes from dust that is blown in from upwind, whereas N can also come from organisms like soybean or alder that “fix” N from the air.  Second, N and P losses from ecosystems should be as important as inputs in determining N and P levels, but these weren’t the focus of the classic model.  These facts have been known for a long time in the scientific community, but no one had looked at what their implications might be for ecosystem development.

What was your new model and how did it cover these aspects?

Our model is novel for a couple of reasons.  First, we considered a broader set of N and P input and loss dynamics than the classic model, which made for a richer set of possible ecosystem trajectories.  Second, the type of mathematical analysis we did was unlike anything previous researchers had done in this particular field, and made it possible to pin down the types of conditions that might lead to different soil conditions.

What were some of the key data accounted for in your model that were overlooked in previous analyses?

Aside from the input and loss dynamics mentioned above, one piece of data we keyed in on was that microbes in the soil have an easier time accessing P than N in dead plant material.  Again, this “preferential P mineralization” is something that has been known for a long time, but we thought that the effects of this quirk might not be fully appreciated.

What were the main findings of your analyses?

In addition to the classic “N limitation to P limitation” path, our model shows that many other trajectories are feasible.  For example, if dust deposition is high and N-fixing organisms are abundant in young ecosystems (as they often are), an ecosystem might start out P limited and end N limited.  One of the more surprising findings was that the levels of N and P in soil organic matter (mostly dead plant material) don’t necessarily correspond to N versus P limitation in an intuitive way.

What are some of the practical applications of this model- for example, for developmental activities in rainforests, or human activities planned in other ecosystems?

Whether N or P has a greater effect in an ecosystem has important implications for many environmental issues. The most important application is enhancing our climate models.  Excess N can be transformed into a greenhouse gas, whereas P cannot.  So, a better understanding of nutrient levels will improve predictions about the extent of climate change.

Congratulations to the authors on receiving an ESA award for this outstanding research paper!

Citation: Menge DNL, Hedin LO, Pacala SW (2012) Nitrogen and Phosphorus Limitation over Long-Term Ecosystem Development in Terrestrial Ecosystems. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42045. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042045

Photos by Duncan Menge:

top: the rocky soil of a very young ecosystem, Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand.  The rainforests in the valley formed by the Franz Josef glacier are some of the best studied ecosystem development sites in the world.

below: a rainforest on 500 year old soil near the Franz Josef glacier.

PLoS ONE Authors Receive “Best Environmental Epidemiology Paper” Award

Authors James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis have received an award from the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) for their much talked about paper, “Social Network Sensors for Early Detection of Contagious Outbreaks“, published in PLoS ONE in September 2010 (read our interview with the authors here.) The Society named the article the “Best Environmental Epidemiology Paper” of 2010.

On behalf of PLoS ONE, we extend our congratulations to Fowler and Christakis!