How an Open Science agenda for a discipline is created

Tobias Dienlin talks about his experience with Open Science

Photo of Professor Tobias Dienlin

Three key learnings:

  • An Open Science agenda needs prominent co-authors from the discipline.
  • An Open Science agenda is well visible if it is published in a renowned journal.
  • An Open Science agenda needs scientists who patiently promote the issue.

How did you come to Open Science generally?

TD: If I had to describe it in one word, I’d have to say Twitter. But also passion, interest and complete conviction. Open Science truly is something that touches the innermost part of me and I do have a certain do-gooder streak. I was very often disappointed with the usual research practices which are in complete opposition to the Open Science idea. I had been aware of many problems for a long time and when the Open Science movement finally achieved momentum, especially in psychology, it was my maximum intrinsic motivation to be a part of it. For me, Open Science isn’t work, it’s something that interests me. And one day I arrived at the point where I wanted to bring this topic to communication science. I saw a certain discrepancy between the relevance Open Science had for me and the complete ignorance of it which reigned in communication science. I no longer wanted to discuss this only on Twitter, but more widely in our community. In the end I rounded up a few colleagues who shared my view. And in the course of this we jointly wrote a large-scale paper to introduce the Open Science idea into our discipline. The title is “An Agenda for Open Science in Communication”.

How did your Agenda paper come about? Were you the initiator?

TD: Yes, I was the initiator. We had a core group of eight scholars. At the end, there were three other colleagues besides me who really pushed this. All the authors of the paper made a contribution, but the work was not shared equally. Very early in the process I offered to be the primary author. This means you feel responsible, you address it proactively, you take decisions. It’s true that I pushed the paper as the one mainly responsible for it, but the other authors offered great support. At the time of publication, the last author, Claes de Vreese, served as president of the umbrella organisation ICA International Communication Association. This, of course, gives the paper a very different political weight. That was important. Many of the authors already used some of the practices we recommend, so they can rightly say “I stand for Open Science”. It’s more of an awareness creating paper. The fact that prominent representatives of the discipline were involved helped to be taken seriously.

Did you write actively to prominent representatives such as Claes de Vreese and ask for cooperation?

TD: Yes, we started in a small, informal circle. I can still remember the moment when we said “We’re going to do this now.” Then it became clear with whom to talk about this, so we met at the next conference and gathered names. It was clear from the start that we wanted to do this in a big way. We wanted to keep this inclusive, very much open and also diverse if possible. Of course there is a clearly Western, male, white bias in the whole association, but it was still important to us to address scholars with different backgrounds. We actively wrote to people to pitch our project and asked them if they wanted to be a part of it. Then we started a collaborative writing process with divided tasks. But one colleague and I co-wrote a large part of it and edited it so that it would have a uniform flow. All who were involved collected and contributed lots of ideas and colleagues substantiated these ideas with corresponding papers, so that we got lots of good papers from many corners.

The paper is a kind of manifest that can be signed. How did you disseminate the paper in communication science? How did you try to get as many signatories as possible?

TD: There are quite a few who signed, but then again not that many, I think. Measured by the value of the paper I think the response is okay. We always said “think big”. We talked to the flagship journal of communication science, that’s the Journal of Communication. We were lucky to meet an editor who was open towards the issue. Normally, the JOC accepts only original research papers but the editor realised early on that this was not one of the usual papers. He liked the idea of picking up this topic and sent it to the whole Editorial Board. Not to external reviewers as would have been the normal procedure. And he also told us he wanted to do a Special Issue with it, as a Leading Paper on Open Science in communication science. Publication gave a unique selling point to the paper and it was widely perceived within the discipline and it has been cited very often. I tweet a lot about the paper and about Open Science and give lots of talks.

Would you recommend to economists to create a similar process?

TD: I already said that I as primary author pushed the paper and the topic strongly. And I noticed that it was necessary to do that. You need scientists who express their opinion on Twitter, for example, and you need scientists who give talks on Open Science. And I notice that some of the co-authors are rather quiet. That’s why you need scientists who live Open Science and promote it. But I also believe the ideas are so strong that they will prevail. I did not think our enterprise was risky. The time for this idea has just come.

What is your recommendation to early career researchers who have an intrinsic motivation to practise Open Science but who are thwarted when it’s a matter of the next job?

TD: Yes, there are two things here: idealism and pragmatism. There’s knowledge-orientation on one side, careerism on the other. I think it’s a challenge, just as in whole life, to find a balance between conviction and pragmatism to move ahead in your career. It means that sometimes you have to make individual decisions that you didn’t plan for in your path. But I have no respect for people who are only interested in their careers. We scientists are paid by society to produce knowledge. Society does not care if I am successful as an individual, it cares that science is being done, that research-based solutions are found. If we scientists mess things up because we are only caring about ourselves and therefore produce unreliable results, then we’ve got a problem. One of the major currencies in the science system is recognition. So we need to think about to whom we give it. I notice that those young researchers who swim against the careerist tide and who live their convictions receive lots of recognition. These are the same scientists that I myself respect and honour more. But we also run a risk of Open Washing. People who do Open Science today are the early adopters, they are different from those who do it later, the late majority. Open Science can improve the quality of research but need not primarily do it. Open Science mainly helps because it gives us tools for evaluating research. But Open Science is no guarantee for good research. We need to be clear about this.

Has the present generation of scientists taking the reins now, like you, a chance to revolutionise the science system? Or is the development generationally independent?

TD: I would say there is acertain correlation but it’s not very strong. There are some Open Science proponents who have quit science because the science system no longer corresponds with their values. The Open Science movement is primarily a bottom up movement, a grassroots movement. Open Science is a matter of debate in PhD clubs. And there is a certain chance that the generation who researches intensively, and those are the young ones, carry along older researchers who are more often science managers. There are some among the older generation who share these ideas in terms of content and who are happy that there is more room now for Open Science. There is no hard divide between the generations because the arguments are very much about ethics. Nevertheless I expected to get more pushback for our paper from successful quantitative scientists. Because indirectly we challenge them to do their research differently. But the response has been almost nil.

In your Agenda paper you also write that science needs new metrics. What would your ideal look like?

TD: I would say Open Science must become one more deciding factor in a matrix that already exists. As in Open Science next to thematic compatibility, third-party funding success, publishing successes, sympathy. Then performance while presenting and negotiating. And Open Science must of course be listed as another criterion, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Open Science is an umbrella term for a number of phenomena such as Open Access, Open Data, Open Educational Resources, Open Methodology, Open Source right down to communicating science to society. How can you reduce this to one criterion in an existing matrix?

TD: Of course more is better than nothing, but you don’t have to do everything you named. I am also interested in the problem of how decisively you present the issue. Do you do it invitingly? Or do you make demands? I think you should aim for a certain balance as you don’t want to come across as aggressive. I think a statement on your own position on Open Science in appointment interviews would be great, as a question in the hearing for all candidates, so they position themselves. The appointment commission can also check the CVs beforehand to see what candidates have done for Open Science so far. That will get the tanker moving slowly.

If you want to transform an entire discipline such as communication science or economics, which formats for exchange do you see as established in communication science, for example? What are good formats for dialogue that can get the topic sustainably into the minds?

TD: Twitter is turning into a market place for scientists. This is increasing in all disciplines. When I started on Twitter you could find the cool kids there and the people of conviction, but not the careerists. They only joined over the last two, three years. Twitter is also very much relevant. Another factor are publications and reviews. Scientists want to have publications and if a reviewer critically remarks that Open Science is lacking, maybe even turns down the paper because of this, then scientists will optimise. Discursive formats are especially useful for spreading the topic. Unfortunately, you mostly reach only those who are already interested. Other formats, such as this series of interviews, are also beneficial.

What is the role of science policy in your opinion? Would you agree that science policy must tighten the thumb screws or would this fuel Open Science Washing?

TD: I believe more helps more. I think it makes sense in any case and I believe it must come from the outside. Third-party funds are a huge opportunity for Open Science, because next to publications it’s the most important aspect for a career. Funders don’t care about the career of a scientist, they want to fund the gaining of knowledge. I think if science policy demanded that scientists must publish in Diamond Open Access to get funding, then these same scientists would do it. In publishing it is completely absurd what kind of margins private publishers realise and how much money taxpayers must spend on research. Which would be unnecessary if journals were edited by the learned societies, for example, and if it were not based on a capitalist system. We scientists only want to get into these journals for our reputation, we don’t get paid for this. If we could get the journals into the hands of the science system, for instance of the learned societies, we would have advanced in a big way.

Do you see Open Science as a matter of knowing about tools and options? Or is it a matter of acceptance?

TD: Sure, much of it is about knowing. You need to spread and multiply information about Open Science first. I never tire of starting right at the beginning again and again in my Open Science talks, just to create this awareness, especially among the older generations. Because it is super relevant to create an awareness of the problem. I have incredible respect for Brian Nosek because he has succeeded in making Open Science Framework so user-friendly that it is very easy to use. It’s important to make applications usable. But some things are just more difficult. Coding for example is a new skill that scientists must develop, just like programming, doing statistical power analyses etc. And that will also become a new distinctive characteristic. 

How do you establish Open Science as the standard in practice?

TD: It’s important to have the cool scientists on your side. Open Science must be cool, fun, exciting, so that I want to do it. In the end, however, I believe that everything that helps reduce resistance and make work more pleasant will be beneficial.

Thank you!

The questions were asked by Dr Doreen Siegfried.

The interview was conducted on February 23, 2022.

About Professor Tobias Dienlin

Professor Tobias Dienlin is Assistant Professor for Interactive Communication at the Department of Communication, University of Vienna. Previously he was at University of Hohenheim where he gained his PhD in 2017 with a thesis on “The Psychology of Privacy”. He studied psychology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz from 2006 to 2012.

In his research, Tobias Dienlin focuses on privacy and well-being in the context of new social media usage. He is also interested in Open Science as a cross-cutting issue.



Twitter: @tdienlin




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