Why openness benefits research

David writes: Dr Heinrich Hartman is a new colleague of mine, who, having been working in the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University, has just returned to Germany to start a new job in a leading semantic web research group, that of Steffan Staab at the Institute for Web Science and Technologies, University of Koblenz-Landau.  What follows are our thoughts about research openness, that relates to our decision, described in the next blog post, to merge our bibliographic citation projects.

The following text is jointly authored by David Shotton (david.shotton@zoo.ox.ac.uk) and Heinrich Hartmann (hartmann@uni-koblenz.de)

Transparency is essential for trust and credibility in the research community, and true openness brings great opportunities for academia. The internet facilitates the free flow of information and knowledge, and permits new forms of communication both for researchers and for the general public. Already, today’s children can listen freely on the internet to university courses taught by world-leading scientists, and everybody has the best encyclopaedia ever written (Wikipedia) at their fingertips.  These are real game changers. Opening up the research literature is the next logical step.

Open publishing

We believe that the current academic publishing model – whereby researchers give their content to commercial publishers and then buy it back from them at enormous cost by means of journal subscription fees – has become absurd, since it is no longer helping the researcher to distribute his or her findings, but rather prevents the work from being widely read, by hiding it behind subscription pay walls.  Would it not be much better to let this information flow freely, accessible to everybody who wants to read it!

Of course, such a vision of openness for academic publishing raises issues of finance and quality control – who will pay for open access publishing, and how can we ensure that scientific rigor accompanies open publication.  While the internet enables dissemination of information at a fraction of the cost of traditional print publication, publishing clearly involves more than electronic dissemination.  It is for this reason that we, with others, are presently planning a high level conference on modern scientific communication, entitled Rigor and Openness in 21st Century Science, to be held in Oxford next spring.

However, new publication funding models are being developed, particularly in the United Kingdom, where Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust are insisting that papers reporting research results obtained as a result of their research funding should be published under an open Creative Commons CC-By attribution licence when an article processing charge (APC) is levied, so that the works are freely available for text mining and re-use [1].  What is significant is that they are backing their words with funding to enable it.  Cameron Neylon has recently written a commentary in Nature about the importance of this [2].

Furthermore, peer review is being carefully examined by several forward-looking publishers to determine how well open alternatives to the present system of confidential review actually work.

The role of social media in science

Much academic research is done in relative isolation, because topics have become so specialized that there may be only a few experts in the whole world who really understand each particular research problem.  These experts may be located on different continents, and may not know about one another – a situation that is particularly true for Ph.D. students and other young researchers, who may not yet be familiar with the literature in their field, and who may have formed few personal relationships with colleagues in other institutions through attendance at research conferences.  New forms of academic social media can play a role here, to catalyse interactions between geographically separated academics, and many experiments in this area are being conducted.

Academic social media can also play an important role in filtering the wealth of new articles published every day, and in alerting people to the small fraction of these that are most relevant to them.  Typically, junior researchers rely on recommendations from friends and colleagues about which articles are worth reading, but if academic social media can be used to broaden this recommendation network, they will provide a significant service.

Fears and benefits of openness

Of course researchers, particularly early in their careers, are cautious about sharing their discoveries too early or too widely, for fear they may get ‘scooped’, since they naturally and quite properly wish to obtain credit for their own work by being the first to publish it.  However, what is often missed by people of this mind-set is that working openly with other people can have benefits too.  It can be a lot more fun, can lead to more sustainable motivation, can result in incredibly rapid collaborative progress, and hence can often lead to better results.  An essential pre-requisite for this is the willingness to share one’s ideas and making contact with like-mined people.  An example of a researcher who practices openness in his day-to-day research is Georgio Gilestro, Lecturer in Systems Neurobiology with the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, who publishes his research group’s Open Lab Book online.

Our personal experience, not at least in the joint Open Citations and Related Work developments described in the next blog post, is that you gain more than you loose by being open!

Reference

[1]       Wellcome Trust announcement: Open access: CC-BY licence required for all articles which incur an open access publication fee – FAQ. Available from http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/stellent/groups/corporatesite/@policy_communications/documents/web_document/WTVM055715.pdf.

[2]       Cameron Neylon (2012). Science publishing: Open access must enable open use.  Nature 492: 348–349.  doi:10.1038/492348a.

‘Likes’ joins the semantic web: cito:likes

A ‘like’ button is a well-known feature in communication software such as social networking services, Internet forums, news websites and blogs that permits a user to indicate that he/she likes, enjoys or supports certain content.  Internet services that feature ‘like’ buttons usually also display the number of users who have expressed that they ‘like’ a particular item of content, providing a quantitative estimate of the strength of support for it.

In particular, the ‘Like’ button is one of Facebook’s social plug-ins, which can be use on websites outside Facebook as part of Facebook’s Open Graph.  It is valued by advertisers who wish to attract ‘likes’ for their products (and who pay Facebook for the privilege), but its use has aroused privacy concerns because it permits Facebook to track visitors to participating sites, even if they not Facebook users, giving Facebook a vast amount of information about who visits which sites.

Like it or not, however, this form of social communication has now become an integral feature of online social interactions.  For this reason, we thought it would be worthwhile to enable encoding of such ‘likes’ as open linked data, in the form of a new object property in CiTO, the Citation Typing Ontology.

This new property, cito:likes, has the following definition:

“A property that permits you to express appreciation of or interest in something, or to express that it is worth thinking about even if you do not agree with its content, enabling social media ‘likes’ statements to be encoded in RDF.  Use of this property does NOT imply the existence of a formal citation of the entity that is ‘liked’.”

An exemplar usage of cito:likes (in Turtle format) is:

sioc: <http://rdfs.org/sioc/ns#> .
foaf: <http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/> .
today: <http://opencitation.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/> .

today:cito-likes a sioc:Post ;
	sioc:has_creator [ 
		a sioc:UserAccount ; 
		sioc:account_of [ 
			a foaf:Person ;
			foaf:givenName "David" ;
			foaf:familyName "Shotton" ] ] .

<https://www.facebook.com/silvioperoni> a sioc:UserAccount ;
	sioc:account_of <http://www.essepuntato.it/me>;
	cito:likes today:cito-likes .

To our surprise, we found that existing ontologies did not include such a property – a search in the excellent new LOV (Linked Open Vocabularies) service revealed that no other open ontology contains the same concept as is now represented by cito:likes.

The Trait Ontology has trait:likes, but this object property has a gender-related domain, and its definition indicates that its usage is designed for expressing sexual fetish preferences.

Schema.org at first sight appears to have something resembling cito:likes, but inspection of schema:UserLike reveals this use to be specific for events.

Even the SIOC ontology, a product of the SIOC initiative (Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities) aimed at enabling the integration of online community information, which is described in an award-winning paper from DERI [1], lacks the concept ‘likes’.

So here we offer cito:likes, a property (like all other cito properties) without domain or range constraints, permitting it to be used in a wide variety of situations.

Like it? Click the Like button below!

David Shotton
Silvio Peroni

Reference

[1]     John G. Breslin, Andreas Harth, Uldis Bojars, and Stefan Decker (2005). Towards Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities.  In Proc. ESWC 2005 (A. Gómez-Pérez and J. Euzenat, Eds.); Lecture Notes in Computer Science 3532, pp. 500–514.  doi:10.1007/11431053_34.  Available from http://bit.ly/KQ2iK4.

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