Open Science has an image and behaviour problem

This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened on Twitter. A direct series of insults towards researchers for expressing their view on a matter relating to ‘Open Science’.

Yeah, that’s not helping.

This was a response to a debate about whether or not we should cite preprints from around a month ago, but sparked a new wave of discussion recently.

While it is perhaps easy to understand the frustration of some when encountering the same sort of resistance over and over, and going through the same debates, this in no way justifies a lack of civility in our public discourse about the matter.

Open science is supposed to be about improving science and science culture, but it often feels like many of its advocates are actually making a lot of the public discourse much more unpleasant, and that very actively damages their own cause.

– Anon, based on this conversation.

Yes, this is a problem. And no, it’s not trivial.

This is an enormous problem for the ‘Open Science movement’ as a whole. One of the core principles of ‘Open’, to me, is inclusivity. So much so, that I just made it one of the key points of Module 1 in the Open Science MOOC. This sort of behaviour does not foster a culture of inclusiveness; it does the exact opposite. Aggressive behaviour, whether intentional or not, makes people feel they can’t have public discussions about these things without fear of getting shouted down or insulted by people in the ‘in group’. This ultimately drives away engagement, stifles diversity, and slows down progress.

It doesn’t matter if it’s just a few people too – a few bad apples spoil the bunch, and all that. What matters is that it happens, is part of a collective image, and is distinctly exclusive behaviour. I think at least a small part of this has to do with the labeling of people in the ‘in group’ as ‘Open Science Advocates’. It doesn’t do well to homogenise a diverse group of people with a single label or identity, in this case. I feel this sort of legitimises bad behaviour of those on the inside, as they can excuse it, particularly when much of that ‘advocacy’ is driven by passion and principles. It also polarises people into being ‘open’ and ‘non-open’, which are definitive ends of a huge multi-dimensional spectrum in science. The consequence is creation of a divide, and ultimately these sorts of conflicts.

Responsibility lies with us all

What we have to remember is that Open Science is a social movement. This means that we have to be sure that all communities and demographics feel welcomed and invited to participate in discussions, and not excluded from them. It can be easy to let our emotions and frustrations and interfere with this, that much is understandable. But we can be better and stronger as a community by actively preventing this. I’m not innocent either, and have in the past said some things I regret to others on social media. What matters, though, is using those experiences to become better for ourselves and others.

When we see bad behaviour, from and towards anyone, it is each of our responsibilities to call it out. Preferably via a civil note in private, rather than any sort of public shaming. If we see this sort of behaviour happening and don’t try and stop it, then we’re complicit in allowing it to happen. This is especially the case when it is happening within our own communities or social circles. Don’t turn a blind eye, as that never solves anything.

And it doesn’t matter that this sort of behaviour is actually fairly widespread on social media. What matters is being better than that. Taking the moral high ground, engaging with those who you don’t agree with in a courteous manner, listening instead of insulting. These are all things that we should be practising on social media, because that’s just doing this stuff right. At the end of the day, we want a social environment where people feel welcomed to share their views without fear of retaliation.

3 thoughts on “Open Science has an image and behaviour problem

    1. Something to do with the numbers, I believe. Last year, it received more than 15,000 applications! There has to be a filter mechanism. The satellite events are a fantastic way to be involved if you can’t make it to the big show.

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