For UEF’s researchers, teachers and students, access to massive electronic publication archives is something that can be taken for granted, and the growing popularity of open access publishing adds to the amount of research data available. However, information is not free just because it is available electronically. A lion’s share of the UEF Library’s budget for acquiring new information resources is spent on electronic publications.
As members of the academic community, it’s easy for us to get fooled by an illusion of freely available research data, as it is always just a few clicks away through our library. Unfortunately, however, this kind of access to information is limited to the university network and the walls of our library. Of course, it is possible for people outside the university to gain similar access to research data by purchasing individual articles or e-books directly from publishers and to view these on their own computers. However, not many who need information can afford this, and the materials available freely online aren’t often enough for those looking for in-depth research data.
Despite the increasing popularity of open access publishing, the exponential growth of electronic resources has increased the proportional inequality between people needing information. At the global scale, this inequality is even more tangible. In developing countries, researchers seldom have access to publication archives like the ones we’re used to in Western countries. I have noticed that visiting researchers from Africa in particular have been excited about the opportunity to use our electronic collections. Membership in an academic community has become a major divisive factor between people needing access to information.
When looked at by title, the number of electronic publications and e-books acquired by UEF is large. However, due to the way these publication packages are composed, they also contain plenty of material that is irrelevant to our research focus. Moreover, they also lack some sets of publications that are crucial for us. There is a clear need to step up investments in the acquisition of electronic publications in the field of human sciences, and we can’t ignore the need for traditional printed journals, either. For human sciences, publication archives constitute an infrastructure similar to those of hard sciences. The range of publication forums in human sciences is considerably broader than in hard sciences, and this makes it difficult to include all relevant channels in the publication packages purchased.
Open science and open access publishing will not reduce the need to purchase access to electronic publication archives in the near future. This is a vicious cycle: we need to pay to maintain access to scientific publications – the alternative would be to be stuck behind a pay wall. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – and that’s a fact we need to keep in mind.
Finns still believe in science and education. Only organisations responsible for the internal and external security of our society are trusted more than universities and colleges. The Finnish Science Barometer 2016 – a study of the attitudes and opinions of Finns towards scientific and technological progress – proves this without a doubt. How come is this outcome so clear in times of post-factual populism, alternative facts and doctrines? Obviously, it has something to do with our previous experiences of how science and education have influenced our lives. This trust grows from our country’s fast development from a poor agricultural society to a modern innovation system with a working welfare economy. It is widely accepted that this success story is largely based on research and education. In a similar manner, the value of education has been experienced by citizens at an individual level. It pays off to have a higher education.
Today, citizen trust in science is being tested in many levels. Some of the megatrends reshaping and shaking the reliability of information in general are the new media and growth of populism, among others. The information flow is no longer one-way traffic, it is interactive allowing creative participation, but unfortunately also manipulation. Sometimes it feels like the loudest voices and biggest mouths represent the biggest truth in social media. And what a shame it is to see that some of the world’s political leaders ignore the value of science and turn into proponents of alternative facts. How to maintain trust in the power of science in such world?
One-way reporting of scientific achievements through TV news, newspapers and the like is old-fashioned and too boring for young people. Social media should be taken as an opportunity to articulate science in an interactive way. This should create mutual interests among scientists and the surrounding world. This could even develop into citizen science – one of the cornerstones behind open science and open innovation thinking. Similarly, education programmes should be open to interactive learning and, again, with young minds. The developments in the knowledge environment, however, do not define trust alone. Finally, trust will be based on how well science and education can fuel our intellectual and material resources towards a better future.
Commerce, search engines, social media and other actors of the digital world meticulously record in their databases the purchases we make and the websites we visit. Already now, they know a lot about us and our preferences, and would be more than happy to include register data on us in their databases, if only legislation allowed. For these actors, the management of large data sets and their systematic analysis is an everyday activity, and a seemingly productive one as well.
In scientific research, natural sciences and medical sciences have long-term experience in the management of large data sets. In human sciences, linguistics has been a pioneer in Finland through the national FIN-CLARIN consortium, which constitutes part of the European CLARIN network. The attitudes in human sciences towards data resources known as big data haven’t been unreservedly positive. The new way of producing information with its computational models and artificial intelligence, as required by big data processing, has even been regarded as a threat to hermeneutic research. On the other hand, advocates of big data have highlighted the opportunities it offers in the analysis of large data sets by using the above mentioned methods.
Within human sciences, there is an agreement on the fact that the amount of big data is growing exponentially in tandem with the digitalisation of our society and the digitisation of previously created, historical materials. The usability of these data sets, on the other hand, is promoted by investments in open science, multiplying the number of potential users. Big data can’t be ignored or hushed away in human sciences either, as evidenced by the appearance of theme issues in the field’s journals and the emergence of publication series devoted to big data, for example Big Data & Society from 2014 onwards. Semi Purhonen and Arho Toikka provided an excellent analysis of the significance of big data for research in social sciences in an article published in Sosiologia (1/2016). According to them, new methods allowing the use of large data sets and the change in the ratio between quantitative and qualitative methods are revolutionary. Computational methods enhance transparency and repeatability in the analysis of text materials. After presenting this view, a radical one in the context of human sciences, the authors note that the new computational methods do not undermine the significance of context-related understanding and substance-related expertise.
The fact that mastery of the computational methods is not included in the basic methodological tool kit of social scientists – or humanists for that matter – is largely overlooked in the discussion relating to digital humanism and big data. In order to mine relevant and in-depth information from big data, the researcher must be well versed in the phenomenon and its contextualisation, and the researcher also needs to have expertise in data collection and data analysis pertaining to large data sets. When presented to an individual researcher, the challenge seems and is too great to overcome. In-depth mastery and analysis of big data in social sciences calls for multidisciplinary collaboration involving at least computer science and statistics. Big data challenges the paradigms relating to the production of scientific information in human sciences, and also calls for our educational system to renew itself. The utilisation of exponentially growing data sets must not remain the privilege of the few, but needs to be harnessed to serve the development of society at large.
Daniel Sarewitz analysed excellently in May issue of Nature how the pressure to constantly increase the number of scientific publications pushes down quality. The number of publications continues to grow exponentially, and because we tend to think that more is good, this is considered to be favourable for science.
However, more could also be bad. It is widely accepted that an increased share of published research is unreliable. The production of poor-quality science, the responsibility to cite previous work and the compulsion to publish create “a vicious cycle” and decrease the overall reliability of research.
The quality problem has been recognised in biomedical sciences, but similar negative feedback also occurs in other areas of research. According to Sarewitz, the problem is likely to be worse in policy-relevant fields such as nutrition, education, epidemiology and economics, in which the science is often uncertain and the societal stakes can be high.
Sarewitz suggests that avoidance of this destiny would, in part, require less frequent and more selective publication. However, are the current publication practices overall appropriate and the most feasible way to make scientific research available? Should we adopt the context of Open Science in a wider perspective than just publishing in open access journals?
This would mean a shift from the standard practice of publishing results as an individual paper toward sharing and using all available knowledge at an earlier stage in the research process. That is for science what the internet has been for social and economic transactions: allowing colleagues to interpret the research and end users to be involved in the production of ideas, relations and services, and in doing so, enabling a new operational model for science.
Open Science in a wider sense is yet a very complicated and dimly seen entity, requiring numerous ethical, legal and technical issues to be clarified and solved. However, it requires a shift from the “publish or perish” to the “open your science or perish” culture, involving the indicators for scientists to merit in doing that.