Reciprocal critique is only possible in reproducible research

Jakob Kapeller talks about his experience with Open Science

Photo of Professor Jakob Kapeller

Three key learnings:

  • Reciprocal critique is essential for scientific progress. Yet critique is only possible if research output and processes can be reproduced as transparently and intersubjectively as possible.
  • Journals which are administrated by large scholarly associations can often make academic output available at much lower prices than commercial providers.
  • More openness can break historical path dependencies or powerful gatekeeper positions in the field of scientific discourse.

How do you describe your general attitude towards Open Science?

JK: For me, the question of openness in science in general and of the free availability of research output in particular is mostly of an ethical dimension: why should the results of publicly financed research, which is funded by the general public after all, not be freely available? In this respect, the production of science often differs fundamentally from other areas in the public sector, whose services and infrastructures are basically open to all. But in science, additional barriers must often be overcome to be able to access and use such research outputs. These additional barriers and restrictions essentially benefit a small number of international publishers with high market power and record-breaking rates of profit which rely on hidden subsidies from public research efforts and university library budgets. In this area, the topic of open science addresses fundamental issues of distribution and justice, since the actual costs of replicating and reproducing knowledge are rather low.

Openness in research also has an epistemological function: if we follow Popper and assume that reciprocal critique has an essential function for scientific progress, then from this the imperative follows to make research output and processes as transparent and intersubjectively reproducible as possible. Therefore openness has a positive correlation with this fundamental value of gaining knowledge.

I won’t deny that openness in my own research has positive instrumental effects also – my Open Access publications on average have more readers, more citations and more attention. Of course I’m happy to benefit from these advantages, but these are not really my focus.

Is there a connection between Plural Economics and Open Science?

JK: Since Plural Economics in general advocates more openness in the science system, there are of course some philosophical intersections. These become evident in the context of the question of who is involved in research processes. Research in the field of economics which is highly visible and considered to be truly excellent is still dominated to a large extent by the USA and Anglo-Saxon countries, whereas authors from the Global South are barely represented in the discipline’s top journals. Of course this has something to do with the intrinsic quality of the work. But it seems highly unrealistic that there should be no excellent research in the Global South. Once you ask about the reasons for this unequal representation of contributions and ideas, it quickly becomes clear – among other things – that researchers from the Global South just face higher barriers. And the limited availability of literature is the first essential impediment which further increases the existing asymmetries in the research landscape.

More openness thus coincides with the potential to dismantle existing hierarchies – which are exceptionally steep especially in the discipline of economics – and to break historical path dependencies or powerful gatekeeper positions in the field of scientific discourse.

And finally there are certain complementarities between these subject areas in my own daily work: if I lay out my literature overview rather broadly in the spirit of plurality, or if I want to try to merge methodological procedures from different disciplinary contexts, I systematically depend on being able to access a wide range of literature. Here again openness is very helpful, because it reduces the time needed for viewing and archiving relevant literature and thus we can be more efficient.

Could you give us a Best Practice example from your own field?

JK: It is surely one important practice to make all publications available on other, cost-free distribution channels as far as it is possible. Working paper series and public repositories are essential assets that enable us to circumvent costs and access barriers in a sensible way. More subversive elements, such as using SciHub or publishing your own papers on private homepages, are also workarounds that enable us to maintain scientific discourse apart from profit-oriented platforms. I consider such practices to be morally legitimate even if they can be legally precarious.

Have you had concrete experiences that surprised you?

JK: One concrete observation on this topic is that journals administrated by the large scholarly associations can make academic output available at much lower prices than commercial providers. These are more able to profit from scaling effects, but copyright gives them a near monopoly when it comes to individual academic papers. Therefore we find an enormous price differential in practice: allegedly inefficient, non- profit-oriented associations deliver more value for money than a market-based allocation. One probably surprising note which emphasises this insight is that the American Economic Association, which has a very positive attitude towards markets as instruments of social organisation, does not trust the market mechanism in this respect and continues to self-publish its journals.

Thank you!

Dr Doreen Siegfried conducted the interview on 29 December 2022.

About Professor Jakob Kapeller

Jakob Kapeller is Professor for Socio-Economics at University of Duisburg-Essen and heads the Institute for Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy (ICAE) at Linz University. His research interests are economic development and social change, the history of economic and political thought, human action in institutional contexts, political economy and heterodox economics, and the philosophy of the social sciences. His research has received awards from the Keynes Society, among others; he received the Kurt W. Rothschild Prize in 2016 and several times the K. William Kapp Prize of the European Association of Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE).


ORCID-ID: 0000-0002-7538-9706



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