Last word: Big plans, little steps

Home Technologist 10 Open science Last word: Big plans, little steps

Universities and political institutions are all working towards opening up science. The challenge is to unite their different perspectives.


Nederland, Eindhoven, 4-3-2014. ir. J.H.J. (Jan) Mengelers (geb. 1953), per 1 maart 2014 voorzitter van het College van Bestuur van de Technische Universiteit Eindhoven. - voorheen voorzitter van de Raad van Bestuur van TNO.

Jan Mengelers on cooperation with industry:

Technical universities’ historical closeness to industry makes it especially easy for them to follow Open Science principles. The Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) was founded 60 years ago by the larger industries in the southern Netherlands to address their needs for engineering staff. Since then, the university has maintained a close relationship to industry: 15 per cent of our publications are co-authored by industrial partners, which places us in first place in international rankings. Sharing research more openly strongly benefits science, but it potentially jeopardises our cooperation with industry. Our partners, by losing exclusive rights to findings, also lose some of their competitive advantage. We are witnessing their growing nervousness over the current political push towards making publicly funded research as open as possible. Some are turning to privately funded research instead, though this prevents them from harnessing the so-called wisdom of the crowd – whereby progress is made faster when many participate, rather than when working alone. It’s a delicate balance.

Benefits for universities Opening up science will definitely benefit the stronger research institutions. However, it might worry those in a weaker position. This is nicely illustrated by the international robotic soccer competition RoboCup, which TU/e has won several times. Following every championship, the participating team’s work – such as their software and other technical details – is made freely accessible. This gives all an equal starting point for the next year, yet certain teams repeatedly beat the others to the finals. This shows that to succeed in such an open environment requires excellence in a specific field, as well as a multidisciplinary approach.

Changes in the research process The biggest change brought about by Open Science has been that today researchers no longer have the option to work in a mono-disciplinary environment. But adapting to this new reality takes time. It is no easy feat for fundamental physicists to learn to discuss the effects of their technology with sociologists. Though all scientists are aware of the need to be multidisciplinary, they tend to have a certain hesitation about it as it takes them out of their comfort zone.

► Jan Mengelers is president of the Eindhoven University of Technology.

Portret Robert-Jan Smits, DG onderzoek en innovatie bij de Europese Commissie

Robert-Jan Smits on the phenomenon of Open Science :

The way science is done is changing rapidly because of the exponential increase of data, the availability of digital technologies to mine the data, the enormous growth of the global science community and the increased demands of citizens for quicker solutions to societal challenges. We call this phenomenon “Open Science” and are convinced that it will lead to “better” science resulting in more innovation with greater societal and economic impact. Open access to publications and open access to data are at the core of Open Science. By sharing the data from research, making them interoperable and curating them, we will make science more effective and more efficient. The European Commission’s initiatives The European Commission is promoting Open Science and would like to see Open Access to publications and research data become the default approach. “Sharing knowledge as early as possible” should be established as the new standard in each member state, while allowing exceptions to protect commercial interests. The European Open Science Cloud – a virtual environment for Europe’s 1.7 million researchers and 70 million science and technology professionals – will soon allow easy storage, analysis, access and sharing of research data. The European Commission already leads by example: Open Access to publications is mandatory in Horizon 2020 and Open Research Data will become the default starting in 2017.

The essential role of researchers Open science is a bottom-up process, with researchers as the key players. We need to offer them the right skills and proper recognition for engaging in this challenging universe. This might lead to the development of new rewards systems inside universities. To seek the commitment and advice of all stakeholders on the development and implementation of Open-Science policies, the European Commission has established a structured and regular dialogue with the key stakeholders via the Open Science Policy Platform – which includes some 30 universities, as well as funding and research organisations.

► Robert-Jan Smits is Director-General of Research and Innovation at the European Commission.


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