The Tao of open science for ecology

I think we can all agree that science needs to be transparent, shared, and reproducible. Recently, however, the discussion about “open science” has been conducted mostly in online forums and less so in publications (hopefully Open Access ones!). This is why Hampton et al decided to publish their idea for the path for open science in ecology for all to see – even those who are less active on social media.

Hampton et al see ecology as a field where the open science revolution is taking place at a more slower pace than in other fields. So what they call for is:

“greater communication, cooperation, collaboration, and sharing, not only of results, but also of data, analytical and modeling code, and potentially even fully documented workflows of the processes—warts and all—that lead to scientific insights”

Indeed this might scare a few ecologists – especially the old guard who may not be used to this amount of sharing and transparency.

“Though foreign and perhaps frightening at first, these changes in thinking stand to benefit the field of ecology by fostering collegiality and broadening access to data and findings.”

Thus, Hampton and colleagues lay out three changes in the mindset of researchers that will help scientists, specifically ecologists, transition to more open science:

1) “Data stewardship instead of data ownership” – Understanding that you do not own your data. If you plan to publish your findings to help advance your field, you must understand that your data are owned by the entire scientific community.

2) “Embracing transparency throughout the data lifecycle” – With the shift from print to online format journals, we are now easily able to share all aspects of the research in full detail. This means sharing the details and code used for data acquisition and curation all the way through the code and methods used to generate analyze and present those data.

3) “Accepting critique in public” – With more sharing of data and results comes more responsibility, and opens us up to more criticism (particularly online). The only way to prevent this is to keep your cards close to your chest up until publication, but that will only decrease your chances of presenting the best and most accurate research to your peers:

“adopting open practices throughout the scientific endeavor makes it possible to receive and incorporate critiques before our research products are complete. That is, by risking the possibility of being briefly wrong in public, we improve our chances of being lastingly, usefully right.”

Basically, we all need to be better sharers and have thicker skin.

REFERENCES:
Hampton, S. E., Anderson, S. S., Bagby, S. C., Gries, C., Han, X., Hart, E. M., … Zimmerman, N. (2015). The Tao of open science for ecology. Ecosphere, 6(7), art120. doi:10.1890/ES14-00402.1

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About Noah Snyder-Mackler

I'm a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University. Broadly, I study non-human primate genetics and genomics. More specifically, I'm interested in the interaction between behavior, genotype, and gene expression in response to social stress.
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