STS Conference Graz 2016 Track: The Politics of Open Science

15th Annual STS Conference Graz 2016

The STS Conference Graz 2016 is the joint Annual Conference of the Institute of Science, Technology and Society Studies at Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt|Vienna|Graz (STS), the Inter-University Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture (IFZ) and the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society (IAS-STS).

Zotero Group: Open Science Bibliography

Chair: Katja Mayer (University of Vienna) and Stefan Kasberger (Open Knowledge Austria) organised a session devoted to the politics of Open Science. You can read the session report here:

Review of Track: The Politics of Open Science

Report by Katja Mayer

Open Science demands the highest possible transparency, accountability, and shareability in knowledge production, as well as the participation of (all) relevant stakeholders in the scientific process. Realms of Open Science practices include Open Access, Open Research Data, Open Methods, Open Education, Open Evaluation, and Citizen Science.

The notion of Open Science is enjoying great popularity at the moment: the European Union has recently adopted the term Open Science in its research framework programme linking it strongly to Open Innovation – modes of opening industrial design, production and paths to and from markets – and the vision of science enabling jobs and growth in general. The Dutch presidency of the European Union has put Open Science on its agenda and is pushing a call for action. In May 2016, the new Open Science policy platform was introduced to the public. Its mandate includes advising the EU Commission how to further develop and practically implement relevant policy. Besides, the main objective of the European Innovation Council is to “seek out and reward market-creating innovation” similarly like the European Research Council funding of basic research.

However negotiations about benefits and challenges of Open Science take place in many different arenas. We are witnessing big differences in the appropriation of Open Science practices and policies across epistemic cultures and geographic regions. The uptake of Open Science varies widely: from voicing concerns about knowledge capitalism by young academics or grass-roots organizations, to senior scholars and science administrator uniting publicly in negotiations of Open Access of publications with commercial publishing houses, to top­-down policy decisions against scholarly scepticism, last but not least to the DIY movements, such as bio-hacking.

The objective of our session was to discuss existing political tensions in open science practices and to gather thoughts on how STS can be made productive to study Open Science practices and politics, but also how STS can provide expertise for open practices and policies.

So in the session we were not only discussing existing political tensions in Open Science cultures, such as sharing versus privatization of knowledge. We heard several accounts of open science in practice, experiences with benefits and challenges, as well as limits of open and participatory methodology. Speakers invited us to examine diverse political dimensions of open practices, such as policy negotiations, visions of governance, disruptions in the academic publishing routines, inclusion of citizens or relevant stakeholders in participatory settings, and last but not least the development of guidelines or principles for a nationally coordinated transition to Open Science.

In his lightning talk with the title Open Science, Open Clubs Erich Prem drew our attention to the fact that although economists have long argued that scientific knowledge is a public good and have developed influential policies on this ground including an important argument for the public funding of science, science could also be regarded as a club – and scientific knowledge as a club good. There are high entrance fees and exclusion/inclusion procedures are complex. The role of technology providers in scholarly communication therefore has to be highlighted, as they represent the potential agents of change in the processes of commodification of knowledge based on IT.

Elena Šimukovič asked Open Access – the better access? Academic publishing and its politics and pointed to current discussions in academic publishing, research funding and science policy arenas. Several international initiatives have been recently calling for a large-scale transformation of the majority of scholarly journals from subscription model to Open Access. Such a massive transition would indeed affect not only business models and related cash flows but might be also expected to generate new inequalities in distributing resources among different regions or research fields. This presentation provided interesting insights into recent and current negotiation and policy processes.

Armin Spök introduced us to the challenges of implementing Open Science principles into regulatory science Open Science in GMO Risk Research (co-authors: Sandra Karner, Gloria Adduci, Greet Smets, Monica Racovita, Patrick Rüdelsheim, Christian Kohl, Ralf Wilhelm, Joachim Schiemann). Animal feeding trials with genetically modified (GM) food/feed are a longstanding controversial issue in EU regulatory science. Against this backdrop the EU- funded project GRACE tested designs for such animal studies, explored the use of other laboratory studies not requiring animals, developed guidance for conducting and analysing these studies, and provided advise to the European Commission on the value of these studies for risk assessment of GM food/feed. With an open science approach stakeholders were systematically involved in the planning and interpretation of the animal feeding and laboratory studies as well as in overall interpretation and conclusion. Experience gathered in the context of this project suggests that open science can facilitate dialogues on controversial regulatory science topics but also revealed limitations in particular in the participatory approach. It became clear that trust and discussion also sometimes need closed environments.

Magdalena Wicher proposed (Pedagogical) Ethnography as method for evaluating Open Science programmes. Two projects (an extracurricular educational programme for 10 to 12 years olds and a science festival in Vienna) have been evaluated with a multi-method-approach containing ethnography through (participant) observations, combined with focus groups, interviews and document analysis. One of her findings was that the goals of Open Science programmes are often too ambitious and broad, so they are getting lost in following (too) many goals than to have a clear focus on small(er) challenges.

The last presentation by Peter Kraker as representative of the Open Access Network Austria (OANA) working group “Open Access and Scholarly Communication was dedicated to The Vienna Principles: A Vision for Scholarly Communication in the 21st Century (Co-authors: Daniel Dörler, Andreas Ferus (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna), Robert Gutounig (University of Applied Sciences (UAS) JOANNEUM), Florian Heigl, Christian Kaier (University of Graz), Katharina Rieck (Austrian Science Fund (FWF)), Elena Šimukovič, Michela Vignoli (AIT Austrian Institute of Technology) The objective of this set of principles is to put forth a vision for a fundamental reform of the scholarly communication system. The document was created to trigger a widespread discussion towards a shared vision for scholarly communication. It should further serve as a blueprint or checklist for future development of visions of the transition to open science. (

Discussing competing values, ideals and visions in Open Science practices brought about several topics where STS expertise could help to open black boxes, as well as study controversies and knowledge production. STS approaches are specifically suited to investigate how science policy comes to a closure, to understand (and make visible) trade-offs, challenges and costs, but also who and what is invisible or not present, what is marginalized. It is very interesting to compare local settings and strategies for open science, e.g. open access. If you compare the NL, UK, DE, FR and AT for example, we see very different forms of advocacy and especially big differences of who engages in the political negotiations or controversies around OA. Whereas in UK or NL prominent senior researchers are raising their voices for OA, in DE and AT mostly representatives of academic institutions (libraries) and junior scholars are publicly supporting the OA movement.

Furthermore, studying prospected versus observed impact of research projects, the roles of technology providers, and the benefits and limits of participatory approaches in controversial fields of study. What forms of openness do we need to cultivate, what forms of openness are restricting good scientific practice? What forms of “open washing” are applied? Is openness just another term for responsibility? A particular topic for STS could be to look at the manifold relation between openness and trust. Another connecting topic is peer review and the whole context of evaluation of scientific quality in times of impact driven research and scholarship.

Skills and techniques of openness, the material dimension of sharing knowledge provide rich resources for STS inquiry. Organising engagement is another one of STS’s core topics to be tackled more in the future. Last but not least STS – its expertise has a long tradition of involvement in policy making – should be part of the negotiation, development and implementation of Open Science policies to help to establish reflexive processes and workflows for critical consideration.

In what regard could the topic of openness support critical practices in STS? We could learn about our own routines by examining how open they can be and actually are.

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