What is Open Science? ft. Dr. Juan Pablo Alperin

By Amplify Network Date: May 24, 2022 Tags: Podcasting

Amplified is an audio blog series about the sounds of scholarship from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network. From open access to open data to community engaged practices and public scholarship, the open science movement is making waves across the university. It’s a larger movement in academia toward making our research more transparent and accessible. This month on Amplified, I’m joined by leading thinker on Open Science, Dr. Juan Pablo Alperin of Simon Fraser University. Juan shares his insights into the open movement, where it got started and how scholarly podcasting fits into the conversation.


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Stacey Copeland: Welcome to Amplified, a podcast about the sounds of scholarship from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network. [music fades out]

[00:00:13] I’m your host, Stacey Copeland. Hey. Have you heard of open science? I know, I know you’re probably saying, ‘Stacey, but this is a podcast about sound scholarship, not science!’ But what if I told you I’m doing open science right now, and I don’t even need to break out the test tubes. From open access to open data to community engaged practices and public scholarship, the open science movement is making waves across the university. It’s a larger movement in academia toward making our research more transparent and accessible. This month on Amplified, I’m joined by a leading thinker on the open science movement, Dr. Juan Pablo Alperin of Simon Fraser University. Juan shares his insights into the open movement, where it got started and how scholarly podcasting fits into the conversation.

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Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:01:26] I’m Juan Pablo Alperin. I wear many hats, but amongst them I’m an associate professor in the Publishing program at Simon Fraser University. I’m also the scientific director of the Public Knowledge Project [PKP], which is an initiative that does software and generally promotes open access publishing. And I’m also the co-director of the Scholarly Communications Lab [ScholCommLab], a research group that is tackling all kinds of different issues around scholarly communications and research dissemination.

Stacey Copeland: [00:01:51] You know, here at Amplify Podcast Network, we’re interested in podcasting, of course, but we’re also interested in these bigger questions about what it means to be doing scholarship today. Who is it for and how are people accessing it? I know Hannah especially turned me on to your work, and we’ve been really interested in a lot of the questions you take up with PKP, the Public Knowledge Project, as well as the ScholCommLab. But what I wanted to start us off with is something in our first talks together in kind of preparation or my homework for our talk today, UNESCO’s Open Science and really questions about what it means to be doing open science. What is open science to you as someone who is so deeply invested in it?

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:02:32] Open science has become a very sort of hot topic in our in our world. I think in the earlier years, the conversations about scholarly communications focussed very much around open access and about making research objects, particularly publications, available to a public. And that’s where a lot of sort of the origins of much of my own involvement in the work of the public knowledge has been. But I think over time, as we, I think as a community have grown, but also as the rest of the world has caught up to understanding the value of openness, there is a broadening out from that very narrow sort of focus of open access on the academic publications and to a definition of something of open science that looks not just at them giving access to the work that’s happening within academia, but rather opening the doors of academia to the public and to a broader set of audiences. So to me, the part of open science that gets me excited is this idea that we can open up our processes and what we do, not just for transparency, which I think is important, and for giving people an opportunity to see what it is that we’re doing, but rather to involve them and to have them be included in those processes and helping to shape questions and helping to participate in the work.

Stacey Copeland: [00:03:45] The UNESCO’s open science recommendations are still pretty new. It was 2021, it looks like. And you brought up some of the language that they use, big words like big, significant words like transparency and accessibility and inclusivity, which, you know, get thrown around a lot but do carry a lot of action behind them in practice and in the context of open science. If you could give some examples, where have you seen terms like transparency, accessibility and inclusivity actually being taken up in practice in thoughtful ways?

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:04:19] I really like the UNESCO definitions and the recommendations and those are they were just ratified recently, but the work going to put those together has been ongoing for the last several years – because open science, I think, really is trying to tackle many different aspects of some of the challenges in the way that we’ve been doing scholarship over time and the way that scholarship has evolved. And one of those has been to tackle what I think coming from hard sciences has been seen as a sort of a reproducibility crisis, not just hard science, but psychology has also kind of grapple a lot with the questions of reproducibility. So I think that there’s some aspects and some people that are very pro open science are very focussed on this questions around transparency and research integrity, which is around we need more honesty in the way that research is done. We need to have more trust in the way that scholarship is being carried out and opening up what we do by by sharing our data, by pre-registering the work that is going to happen is a way of ensuring that the work that is being done and what’s being published can be trusted. And I think that that is opening up for scrutiny for the academic community and for the public. There is a relationship between that and the other forms of openness that I think the open science community is trying to push towards, but the questions of participation and inclusivity, I think, are better demonstrated when we look at things like community science projects. Where researchers actually are going out into the community and listening and co-creating questions and identifying problems with those communities.

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:05:44] And there’s a lot of really wonderful examples of projects. Traditional citizen science orientation, which is also part of the open science definition. We would see things like having the people out, citizens, regular people out in the world, helping to collect data. And so projects like I naturalists, which have been ongoing for a really long time, are a way of sort of collecting data about the sort of flora and fauna that’s around us. But participatory or community science projects don’t just use citizens as a data gathering mechanism, but rather going out and working with those communities to really understand the one project that I really love in Argentina has been working trying to identify an insect that causes the Chagas disease. And they were trying to sort of understand how that the spread and the reach of that bug was changing due to climate change and started off by trying to work sort of as a citizen science project and realised that they were not getting the community buy in. But then starting to work with the communities to really see why are they interested in helping to participate in these projects. And then started doing sort of a science outreach, explaining and educating the audiences about the dangers of the disease. People in the communities already knew how it was afflicting them, but what they wanted to know was how they could get responses. And so they tied in the research into a community health response. And in that way, started sort of working with the community to develop. What are the questions that you’re wanting to know about this bug and about this disease? And so the projects sort of developed. So I think that turns out to be a very nice sort of example of how you can start off by thinking, Oh, I want to open up to the community, but you end up kind of realising, Oh, you need to go work with them and understand what problems are out there.

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:07:25] Long winded way of saying so that’s the community participation side of open science. And then there’s one that ties more into the conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion that were that are very sort of front of mind, particularly in a global north context today. And so for those in the audience likely very aware of how those conversations are shaping a lot of what’s happening in academia. Open science is also trying to address some of those questions, but by trying to break down the barriers to participation in doing research and scholarship and there’s a move towards changing research assessment practices that is that is tied to this and moving the focus away from only traditional publications and saying, look, we want to open up, so public scholarship forms are part of this. So people that are doing some of this work, often that work has fallen on sort of marginalised communities and to say that is also valuable scholarship and so we want to make sure that that’s included. So there is that opening up of the kinds of outputs that we want to see and the kind of work that we want to do as we open up what we understand to be science, as we open our understanding of how we create knowledge that we can have that kind of greater participation from those whose work has been undervalued for so long.

Stacey Copeland: [00:08:41] Open science, which really is more of a movement and a mentality than it is a specific set of practices, let’s say, and think examples are so important. There’s so many ways that it can be taken up across the board and as you say, like in the hard sciences or social sciences and humanities, but it is more about those senses of opening up and trying to integrate some of these recommendations you’re talking about.

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:09:05] I really appreciate that – the saying pointing out explicitly that open science is not really about a specific set of practices, but rather is about a changing of mentality. I think that’s very important. First of all, the term science itself is one that is exclusive of many different kinds of scholarship and activities that we do within academia, around knowledge creation. And so we need to make sure we don’t hold on too tightly to those terms. [stacey: mhm] Citizen science, for example, another one where where people might not even be considering themselves citizens. And this is work I was just doing in Colombia and speaking to someone that works with indigenous communities and they say, you know, they really don’t identify with either the term citizen or with the term science [stacey: right] because that’s not how they understand their place in the world, are they not? How they understand the knowledge that they create. So yes, we use the term open science as a convenience and as a shorthand to talk about a movement that is trying to really push for an opening of the walls of academia, of how we understand what knowledge construction is and what it is that our role as a university and our role as faculty members within those universities should have, and our attitude that we should take to the work that we do and to the people that we’re doing it for.

Stacey Copeland: [00:10:21] Yeah. So I’m going to kind of pivot to a question, maybe putting you on the spot, but because I’m so interested in your work in relation to how we’re thinking about podcasting and podcasting as scholarship, what kind of role do you see scholarly podcasting playing in the world of open science or in open science conversation?

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:10:39] The scholarly publication, the traditional peer reviewed journal, is in itself a forum that ends up excluding people from being able to take part in it just by its very form. It is, no matter how open we make it in terms of it can be freely available, no matter how well-written it is. Some scholars do manage to write in ways that are very clear. They’re very rare, [stacey: yeah] but we do have some scholars able to do that. But it’s still a form that is – creates a barrier for people to be able to come in to the scholarship. And so I see things like podcasting as helping to bring those that might not be interested in reading scholarly publications into conversations about sort of intellectual things or about things that have to do with the deep thinking that happens within academia and that no matter what level those podcasts are pitched in terms of whether they end up sort of speaking in the more academies kind of and highly theoretical conversations or whether they grounded in something that’s very tangible and in the popular culture, no matter where they are in that gradient, podcasts have a way of showing or being accessible to people that would not otherwise be engaging with scholars and with academics.

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:11:51] I think it’s relevant for the open science conversation community it’s that it reasserts sort of the relevance of the university in society. It’s sort of saying, look, here you have scholars that are doing work and doing all of this deep thinking and coming up with things that might seem esoteric to some. But here is something, here’s a product, here’s an output, here’s something that you can engage with and you can see what is happening. And so it is giving them a window into the world of academia, but it can also – that window could also turn into a door where it can be a place where those people can then walk in and have an opportunity to engage in a conversation. And the podcast sort of lends itself to having that community engagement part right? Around – people can start leaving comments and reaching out and then there can be that kind of call response where the audience comment and then the next podcast, there can be some of those questions addressed. And and that’s not something that’s going to happen through a scholarly publication, a traditional one.

Stacey Copeland: [00:12:47] When I start to dig into a lot of the research around open science and of course a lot of the research that you’re doing with PKP and with ScholCommLab, there’s just so much to take in. I found myself really embedded in it now, but as an early career scholar interested in these ideas of open access and public engagement, I still find myself struggling when I want to talk to other people about it. Where they should start, if they’re interested in ideas of even just open access, where to start to think about how to do that with their work, or where to think about making their work more openly accessible to everyone, or bringing in more ideas of inclusivity and accessibility. A lot of people find it quite overwhelming at first if they haven’t had to think about it before right? So I was curious if you had maybe some recommendations of good starting points or even good starting questions for people who are interested in open science but haven’t had the opportunity to engage with it yet.

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:13:44] Yeah, I mean, we don’t all need to become scholars of open science and open scholarship [stacey: that’s right yeah (laughs)] like I have as I became interested in these questions. We don’t want even a majority of people starting to dedicate all of their time and energy into learning and becoming scholars themselves of these topics. But we do, I think, want to see a world in which academics in general have some of these questions front of mind. And so instead of pointing to specific resources, because I think that they’re so varied, depending on exactly what the point of entry, what the hook is for any individual scholar. I think that the main question that I always find myself asking, which is a very obvious one, but one I think we often lose sight of, is why do you why did we or why did you get into doing scholarship in the first place? What was the driving motivation? For some people maybe it is something about the discipline itself and they are sort of focused specifically on an academic community and just a curiosity about some set of questions. But for the majority of us it’s about wanting to do some good in the world and wanting to see some change in our society or helping to contribute to the betterment of our society in some way. And that looks very different depending on what discipline you’re in and what your own personal story is.

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:15:01] So that’s the first place where I start because I think as we explore what those questions are, we realise that we have an obligation to make sure that we’re engaging and contributing back to to that society. Not just in the very specific way that we think that we can contribute, but actually realising that the whole academic endeavour, that the whole reason that the public supports universities and that we get grants for doing our research is because there’s a belief that our general work can make that contribution. I then ask people to think about what are ways in which you can make sure that your work is getting out to the communities and society and can make the greatest impact? And as people start exploring that question, I think there is where like we can have conversations with your librarians, which I’m sure are all very well versed in any of these these topics, or even just start asking some of your colleagues who you see have a little bit more of that public orientation. How you do open scholarship and where you begin can be as simple as learning a little bit about how to publish the same traditional work that you were doing before and making sure that it’s going to be freely available.And it might just be asking a librarian, can I put this in my repository? And so it can just be freely available there. You don’t even need to change very much about what you do.

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:16:16] Or it could be as much like, well, could I start thinking about doing some public communication of my work. Or start thinking about, ‘Well, my work really is about a particular community, how can I start building relationships with those communities directly?’ You don’t need to know the terminology. You don’t need to know that – any fixed set of practices. You just need to have that – start asking yourself the questions of How could I try to open up what I do more? I think as anyone to start to brainstorm ideas of how to do that and asking some of their colleagues and friends about how they might be able to do that. You’ll naturally find yourself gravitating towards what are considered to be open science practices, but if you don’t call them that, that for me, that’s okay. I don’t care about people learning about open science. I care about people changing their attitude and approach about what they owe to society.

Stacey Copeland: [00:17:07] That totally segues into a whole I’m going to have to have you back to also then segue this conversation into some of the politics around what counts as scholarship and all of your research you’ve been doing on research assessment with the ScholCommLab too. But this is great. I think this is a great introduction to the idea of open science and the ways that we can start to at least think about our research in that way and maybe the role that podcasting can play for scholars in that bigger picture. Being a guest on one, starting one yourself, writing it into your grants, to really think about the way that you’re engaging with the public, with your research, and asking that question of what got you into this in the first place. So thank you for taking the time today Juan.

Juan Pablo Alperin: [00:17:49] Juan.No, it’s a pleasure. I think like you say there is a whole other area of how do we make sure that we support academics that want to do these things. [stacey: yeah (laughs)] That is a hard question, one that we’ve been exploring at the lab. So I do invite and you can put some of those links in the podcast notes. [stacey: For sure. Yeah.] So we’re happy to share those and come back at any time, but it’s really nice to get a chance to talk about these things. Thanks for the invitation. [music fades in underneath]

Stacey Copeland: [00:18:16]  Open science can be a daunting idea to dig into at first, but taking it a small step at a time can make a big impact. Whether it’s being a guest on a podcast, engaging in open peer review, asking your librarian about open access opportunities, or working with community to come up with your research questions. There are so many opportunities to make your research more transparent and accessible. A big thank you to Dr. Juan Alperin for joining us here on Amplified this month. If you have comments or additional thoughts on our conversation today or other Amplified topics, please do reach out. We’re always interested in hearing from other folks engaging with scholarly podcasting and alternative modes of academic publishing. Thanks for listening to Amplified, a podcast about the sounds of scholarship coming to you each month from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network.

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Guest Bio

Juan Pablo Alperin is an Associate Professor in the Publishing Program, the co-Scientific Director of the Public Knowledge Project, and the co-Director of the Scholarly Communications Lab. He is a multi-disciplinary scholar who uses a combination of computational techniques and traditional qualitative methods to investigate ways of raising the scientific quality, global impact, and public use of scholarly work. You can read more about Juan Pablo’s work at the ScholCommLab website https://scholcommlab.ca.

Additional Links

Public Knowledge Project – https://pkp.sfu.ca/

Rethinking Research Assessment, ScholCommLab – https://www.scholcommlab.ca/2022/05/04/findings-from-the-rpt-project/

UNESCO Open Science – https://www.unesco.org/en/natural-sciences/open-science

Intro + Outro Music: Pxl Cray – Blue Dot Studios (2016)

Written and produced by: Stacey Copeland