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Should open science focus more on open methods?

Open science is now recognised as a key driver in improving the quality of scientific research, with widespread support amongst researchers and global organisations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Many open science initiatives focus on the availability of research datasets ie, the concept of open data, but a recent article calls for an open and transparent approach to reporting research methods too.

In his article, Dr David Crotty explains that with the traditional format of journal publications, many valuable methodological details of a research project are cut due to space limits. Although it would be ideal to capture the whole research workflow, researchers are time limited, so creating a detailed public record of all their daily activities is unrealistic. However, as the next step to open data, Dr Crotty says that access to research methodologies would allow validation of the quality and accuracy of published data. He argues that open methods have at least as much potential for re-use as open data due to their broader applicability, with methods papers being amongst the most cited article types. Indeed, many recent Nobel Prizes have been given to researchers who created scientific approaches that have subsequently been widely applied by other scientists.

Open methods have at least as much potential for re-use as open data due to their broader applicability, with methods papers being amongst the most cited article types.

Open methods would require the public availability of detailed documentation of the procedures used to gather and analyse data, with options including:

  • publication of a standalone methods paper
  • better use of supplementary materials to document methods in detail
  • deposited documentation in a repository such as protocols.io.

Following the model of the open data movement, input from a wide variety of stakeholders will be needed to implement open methods, with similar standards (such as the FAIR Guiding Principles) and suitable repositories. Their value will need to be reflected by funders and institutions to encourage the time investment by researchers. Publishers will also play a key role in normalising the open methods paradigm for authors, with some publishers already having created specific journals and repositories to facilitate better methods reporting.

In the words of Dr Crotty:

“Now is the time to move this forward. Put simply, transparency around research methodologies is essential for driving public trust and accurate, reproducible research results.”

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What do you think – are open methods as important as open data?

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