Een Hindernisbaan #NPOSestafette 

Rosanne is te bescheiden. Het heeft alles behalve lang geduurd voordat zij inzag dat onderzoekpraktijken in de wetenschap aan een opknapbeurt toe zijn. Open Science is daarvan het boegbeeld, maar dat symbolische woordenpaar staat voor veel meer. Zeker: wetenschap moet open zijn. Betaalmuren zijn een gotspe. Data moeten worden gedeeld. Protocollen moeten worden uitgewisseld. Codes moeten beschikbaar worden gesteld. Wetenschap is immers van en voor ons allemaal. Maar New Science betekent ook dat het wetenschapsbedrijf anders moet worden ingericht. De perverse prikkels moeten eruit en – hopelijk als gevolg daarvan – dubieuze onderzoekpraktijken (“questionable research practices”) moeten worden uitgebannen. Uiteindelijk moet dat leiden tot een andere manier van publiceren. Eentje die direct is, en interactief en dynamisch – en natuurlijk open. De technologie is beschikbaar. De digitale infrastructuur voor een Scientific Wikipedia is rap gebouwd. Platformen als Academia.edu, Mendeley en ResearchGate zijn het begin: een snelle, open en beweeglijke uitwisseling van data en bevindingen. Het is een kwestie van tijd totdat het monopolie van het selecte gezelschap van toptijdschriften wordt afgebroken. Daar wordt iedereen beter van: de maatschappij, maar ook de wetenschap zelf.

Het is inmiddels alweer 30 jaar geleden dat ik trots mijn eerste internationale publicatie in handen kreeg: een conceptuele beschouwing over principes van beslisgedrag in de Journal of Economic Psychology. Daarna volgde een decennium van publicaties zonder enig serieus empirisch werk. Hooguit nam ik hier en daar de moeite om wat beschrijvende statistieken of casusbeschrijvingen op te nemen om de theoretische argumentatie wat te stofferen. Perikelen rond kwesties als “publication bias”, “p-hacking” of “HARKing” gingen daarom volledig aan mij voorbij. Pas in 1995 zagen twee “echte” empirische studies het licht waaraan ik had bijgedragen, inclusief de verzameling van originele data. De ene was in feite niet meer dan een beschrijving van een nieuw databestand. Daar kwam geen enkele hypothese of p-waarde aan te pas. De andere was een experiment waarin twee hypothesen volledig werden gesteund, twee gedeeltelijk de p-waardetoets wisten te doorstaan en eentje werd verworpen. Van een replicatie was geen sprake. In de jaren daarna is p-waarde mijn tussennaam geworden in misschien wel honderd studies in disciplines als de bedrijfskunde, bestuurskunde, economie, politicologie, psychologie en sociologie. En elke keer werd zo’n studie ingeleid met het argument dat ook deze keer weer een nieuwe en originele bijdrage aan het kennisproductiebedrijf werd geleverd. Dat moest ook wel, omdat alleen dan (top)tijdschriften potentieel interesse hadden in het publiceren van de bevindingen.

Pas in 2015 heb ik mijn eerste meta-analyse gepubliceerd en pas in datzelfde jaar heb ik een petitie uitgebracht met een pleidooi voor verandering (klik hier voor de oorspronkelijke petitie uit 2015), die het jaar daarop in verkorte vorm in een tijdschrift is verschenen (klik hier voor de gepubliceerde versie uit 2016). En pas in 2017 heb ik enkele replicatie-initiatieven gelanceerd. Gelukkig is “beter laat dan nooit” een waarheid als een koe. De nadruk op p-waarden moet verdwijnen. Allerlei dubieuze onderzoekpraktijken, van datamassage achter gesloten deuren tot “p-hacking”, moeten worden ontmoedigd. Repliceren moet gewoon worden, evenals het publiceren van nulbevindingen. Preregistratie van onderzoekontwerpen (inclusief voorspellingen) en dataopenheid moeten de standaard zijn. Dat vergt een radicale ommezwaai. Tijdschriften moeten het beleid aanpassen. Dat is aan het gebeuren. Samen met Sjoerd Beugelsdijk en Klaus Meyer heb ik bijvoorbeeld nieuw beleid geïntroduceerd bij het toptijdschrift Journal of International Business Studies in de internationale bedrijfskunde (klik hier voor dat redactionele pleidooi uit 2017 voor nieuwe praktijken). Een vergelijkbare koerswijziging zit in de pijplijn bij de British Journal of Management. Andere tijdschriften hebben hetzelfde gedaan of zullen spoedig volgen.

Verandering bij tijdschriften is noodzakelijk, maar niet voldoende. De opknapbeurt van de wetenschap vergt verregaande institutionele vernieuwing. De nadruk op kwantiteit (“publish or perish”) is contraproductief. In het personeelsbeleid moeten kwaliteit en menselijkheid centraal staan. Praktijken uit het New Public Management (“bedrijfsleventje spelen”) moeten het raam uit. Samenwerken moet belangrijker zijn dan concurreren. De impactfactor en h-index moeten worden bijgezet in het mausoleum van de wetenschap. Repliceren moet een standaardonderdeel van elke doctoraatsopleiding worden. Interactie met de samenleving moet in aanzien stijgen. En nog veel meer. Een estafette, inderdaad, maar wel eentje op een hindernisbaan. Maar waar een wil is, is een weg.

Graag geef ik het stokje door aan José van Dijck. Als president van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Academie van Wetenschappen (KNAW) heeft zij menig initiatief gelanceerd om verdere stappen te zetten in de richting van Open Science.

Het is een stukje geworden waarin het werkwoord “moeten” overuren maakt. Het is niet anders. Maar ik ben optimistisch. Het tij is aan het keren.

Arjen van Witteloostuijn

Decaan van de School of Business and Economics van de VU Amsterdam

Tweede Estafetteloper Rosanne Hertzberger http://www.reblab.org/open-kitchen-science-log/mijn-100-meter-in-de-npos-estafette/

Eerste Estafetteloper Egon Willighagen http://chem-bla-ics.blogspot.nl/2017/12/de-nationaal-plan-open-science.html

Nationaal Plan Open Science https://www.openscience.nl/

Mijn 100 meter in de NPOS Estafette

Ik zal maar eerlijk bekennen dat ik een late adopter ben. Toen ik met mijn promotieonderzoek begon zag ik het nut van transparantie niet echt in. Ik was ervan overtuigd dat alle mensen die iets wilde weten over waterstofperoxide productie van Lactobacillus johnsonii toch wel toegang hadden tot mijn papers. Ik merkte ook hoe “open access” (laat staan “open science”) geen enkele rol in de discussies over tijdschrift-keuze speelde die ik had met mijn begeleiders. Kennelijk was het niet van belang.

Maar er gebeurde een aantal dingen die me van gedachten deed veranderen. Ten eerste hoorde ik steeds vaker hoe mijn voormalige Pakistaanse en Indiase collega’s na terugkeer in hun land van herkomst tegen betaalmuren opliepen. Ook vrienden en familie die in kleinere ziekenhuizen en instituten werkten hadden vaak geen toegang. Schrijnend vond ik het toen de zus van een goede vriend ziek werd en ze bij mij kwamen aankloppen voor wetenschappelijke literatuur over recente onderzoeken. Open access was veel belangrijker dan ik aanvankelijk dacht. Sterker nog, het is onacceptabel dat papers waarvoor in de meeste gevallen met publiek geld betaald is niet beschikbaar zijn voor de samenleving. Het grote publiek is hoger opgeleid dan ooit en begrijpt steeds meer. Het minste wat we kunnen doen is vrije toegang tot onze kennis verschaffen. Het vuurtje voor open science ging bij mij branden.

Het volgende zetje werd gegeven tijdens mijn postdoc in de VS waar ik helaas met een conflict ben vertrokken. Ik realiseerde me hoeveel nuttige kennis in labs wereldwijd rondzwerft zonder ooit het licht te zien. Praktische informatie, persoonlijke ervaringen met protocollen, resultaten die interessant zijn maar waar verder niet op voort wordt geborduurd. Waarom delen we dat niet met elkaar? Wat is kennis als het bij een groepje van vijf onderzoekers blijft? En waarom was ik niet vrijer om gewoon mijn bevindingen en gedachten op te schrijven? Dit was groter dan publiceren alleen. Ineens stond ik zelf buiten die hoge muren van de academie zonder toegang tot wat daar binnen zich allemaal afspeelde. Plotseling leek de academie een extreem rigide geïnstitutionaliseerde omgeving. Ik droomde ervan om thuis een lab te bouwen, zo graag wilde ik mijn experimenten afmaken. Onafhankelijk van oordelen van peers, van begeleiders, van contracten en uitgeverijen.

Bij terugkomst in Nederland moest ik beslissen of ik verder ging met wetenschap. Of ik een plek ging veroveren binnen een lab op de universiteit, of verder ging met mijn carrière als freelance schrijver, waar ik inmiddels genoeg mee kon verdienen. Ik merkte hoe alleen al het idee om de wetenschap vaarwel te zeggen veel emotie veroorzaakte. Waarom moest ik eigenlijk kiezen? Waarom kon ik niet alles tegelijk?

Een lab bouwen was wat al te omslachtig, en bleek ook helemaal niet nodig. Ik legde mijn dilemma voor aan Remco Kort, hoogleraar aan de VU en geïnteresseerd in dezelfde onderwerpen als ik. Ik vroeg hem of ik vrijwilliger kon worden en een volledig open wetenschappelijk project mocht doen in zijn lab. Hij ging akkoord en sinds mei kon ik dus verder gaan met het onderzoek. Ik maakte een WordPress-blog “reblab.org” en begon met het publiceren van mijn bevindingen. Al mijn bevindingen! Dat is althans de bedoeling. Ik mik op “open kitchen science”, zoveel mogelijk informatie delen. Ik leer veel terwijl ik ermee bezig ben. Hoe je bijvoorbeeld gesproken tekst en video bij slides kan opnemen in Powerpoint. Ik ben nog bezig met een goed “open data” protocol. Verder weet ik nog niet wat ik precies ga doen zodra ik een grotere conclusie kan trekken en in de gangbare wetenschap een paper zou schrijven. Peer review of niet? En zoja, hoe? Het onderzoek gaat verder uitermate sloom, deels omdat ik in mijn eentje ben en deels omdat ik met grote regelmaat al het werk moet stil leggen om geld te verdienen. Ik probeer telkens een goede balans te vinden, ook qua updates op mijn blog. Ook al valt er veel te verbeteren, ben ik eigenlijk ontzettend blij met mijn huidige positie. De wetenschap is heel goed te combineren met de schrijverij en ik ben ontzettend tevreden dat ik een manier heb gevonden om beide te blijven combineren.

Een andere onverwachte positieve bijkomstigheid is dat ik merk hoe mijn huidige positie als “wetenschapsvrijwilliger” kennelijk aanstekelijk werkt op mensen die ook de wetenschap hebben verlaten, inmiddels een andere baan hebben maar de wetenschappelijke praktijk altijd zijn blijven missen. Ik heb een aantal keer over mijn keuzes geschreven in NRC en er ook over verteld in het programma VPRO Zomergasten. In ieder geval drie ex-postdocs hebben mij laten weten dat ze na het horen van mijn verhaal hun wetenschappelijke projecten weer deels oppakken, naast hun baan, en/of veel opener. Het betekent in veel gevallen dat die nieuwe wetenschapsinitiatieven ook open science zijn. Ik merk dat veel mensen mijn ergernissen over de “publish or perish”-standaard ook voelen. Ze willen hun kennis delen, vrij communiceren over hun werk zonder per se de competitie aan te gaan.

Mijn “open science” verhaal gaat over meer dan alleen transparantie. Het gaat over het afbreken van de hoge muren van de academie en het bevrijden van wetenschap uit de klauwen van het systeem.

Ik geef nu graag het stokje door aan Arjen van Witteloostuijn, hoogleraar aan de Tilburg School for Economics and Management. Met hem emailde ik eerder over nieuwe manieren om vrij en open wetenschap te delen. In september stond er een mooi interview met hem in Trouw over andere manieren van wetenschap (Blendle-link). Het woord is aan jou, Arjen!

Tot slot:

Hier vind je één van de lezingen die ik afgelopen maanden gaf over open science.

Hier vind je wat ik onder “Open Kitchen Science” versta.

Hier vind je mijn eerste werkbespreking bij de VU over mijn onderzoek.

Update talks Open Kitchen Science

On the Open Kitchen Science front, I have been talking to many people around Netherlands and Belgium. My experience is that it is a very open and welcoming community, full of inspiring and enthusiastic people. Unfortunately, it is still rather “patchy” meaning that the chances are slim that you will find another Open Science enthusiast in your niche.  Getting together is nonetheless inspiring and gives lots of new ideas and energy to continue.

A few events I attended:

-I gave a talk at the Open Science day in Belgium, organized by the Young Academy and the ministry of economics/science/innovation. Find the slides of the talks here http://jongeacademie.be/detail-evenement/focus-open-science/

-I joined the Young Academy in Groningen for a talk and discussion. Marieke van Vugt wrote up some insights from the afternoon on her blog. http://mariekevanvugt.blogspot.nl/2017/11/invisible-scientists-and-messiness-of.html

Lastly, I accepted the “baton” for a Dutch Open Science Estafette from Egon Willighagen. Will soon post my story (Dutch only!)

Find his kick-off here (Dutch only)

Media attention and “NegResWeek”

Lots of people seem interested in the initiative, and even before I actually got to doing some Open Kitchen Science, RebLab was already featured in two articles (in Dutch, sorry!). One in the online journal Follow the Money and one in Ad Valvas, the university magazine where I am pictured at home with my grandfathers microscope. Both really nice articles about scientists who work differently.

I wanted to tell you about one more plan. I have been mentioning the idea for a Negative Results Week and it seems like several people are interested, both from the science side as well as from the funding side. “NegResWeek”, as we lovingly call it, would mean that as many scientists as possible post one negative result online on an open science platform (FigShare etc.) It looks like this actually might be happening somewhere next year!!! If you are interested, let me know and I’ll put you on the mailing list.

Principles of Open Kitchen Science

These are the principles or guidelines for Open Kitchen Science. Open Kitchen Science has much in common with Open Notebook Science .As I learn more about Open Science, get comments on these principles and develop my ideas I might update them, in which case I will show the changes made and dates at the bottom of the post.

The general aim  is to increase scientific efficiency by sharing as much information as possible with other scientists and the general public.

  • Every finding in Open Kitchen Science is made public. Even if there is no greater understanding of the mechanism yet or if the finding is a so-called ‘negative results’. Any unreviewed results will be accompanied by a disclaimer that no peer review has been applied yet. All results will be accompanied by a a comment section.
  • Several standards of quality control are applied to ensure that experiments results are correct and reproducible. The gold standard of scientific quality is replication of results by an independent laboratory. This will ensure that all findings are robust and general. In Open Kitchen Science the aim is to replicate other people’s findings or get your own findings replicated. To this end, as much detail about methods, strains and protocols is shared.
  • The silver standard of quality control is traditional peer review. Once greater insight is obtained in mechanism or otherwise conclusions can be drawn about experimental results an open peer review process will be organized. Alternatively, the manuscript could be submitted to traditional academic literature for peer review process but only with Open Access policy.
  • Experimental setup is preferably published before the experiments are executed (as is common in larger clinical trials where RCT’s are preregistered).
  • Any methods developed and used will be made public once they are tested and ready to use.
  • Any other communication on this project, such as posters, slides and talks will be made public.
  • The language used in Open Kitchen Science will be as simple as possible and will prevent the use of unnecessary jargon. The aim is that an informed, educated and interested member of the general public can follow ongoing experiments.
  • This project will use a personal platform www.reblab.org to communicate the ongoing work, but will also provide updates on social media. The project will send out a newsletter to people in the field with updates on progress. In general, platforms are suitable for Open Kitchen Science when they are non-profit and do not require transfer of copyright or any other ownership.

Talk to Open Science conference

The Dutch government has been very active to push the Open Science agenda, both on a national and European level. Their newest initiative is the “National Plan Open Science”, which has been cosigned by several different national science organisations (funding, educations, academia, library, SURFnet etc). You can find it here.

On Monday May 29th, scientists who are interested in Open Science gathered. It was a very fruitful and energetic meeting. I noticed that there is a real Open Science community in the Netherlands, but it is rather patchy, scattered over many different fields. This means that when you are interested in Open Science, the chances are not very high that your closest colleagues share your interest, which complicates it. However, my experience sofar has been very positive (see talk below) and many people in my field were enthusiastic or at least curious to hear more. I was honored to speak at the conference, find my talk below.  It contains several of my ideas about peer review (the silver standard), but also scooping/replicating (the gold standard). There is overlap with previous talks.

(Update 15/06/2017: I have made some grammar and spelling changes and gave intermediate headings for structure. I also uploaded it to FigShare.)

I want to start off by thanking and congratulating our secretary Sander Dekker and his team for his achievements in pushing the open science agenda both here as well as on the European front. I realize that there are many interests you could have been pushing and you chose the topic of open science thereby accelerating the enormous change the scientific communities has to go through. In this talk I would like to give you an insight on my own plans and ideas about open science.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last year, when I left my postdoc project in the USA, was the first time since in my adult life that I was outside of academia. No longer did I have an .edu account that provided access to literature, no students around, no . I hated every part of it. And I realized that when you leave academia, you’re really out, There is no fluent transition, you’re in or you’re out. You don’t know how high the walls of the academic bubble really are, until you found yourself outside.

I studied here in Delft and in Leiden, did a PhD in Amsterdam and then I continued as a postdoc at Washington University in St Louis Missouri, where I worked on vaginal microbes, lactobacilli but also other bugs. I also write a weekly column in NRC Handelsblad and I worked on a book. That is finally here. It’s called Ode aan de E-nummers, it’s on a hobby of mine, a side project, food technology, and I spend the past weeks promoting it.

The funny thing is that all the written output I create in those different jobs, both as a writer for a newspaper, as a writer of a book and as a scientist, you have to pay in order to read my stuff. The big difference is that when you purchase one of my articles for the newspaper NRC Handelsblad you indirectly pay me, the author. When you purchase one of the articles from a scientific journal, you don’t pay me, you don’t pay the people who reviewed it, you pay Elsevier, or Springer or another publisher. This is problematic, even fraud if you ask me. Furthermore, the public is higher educated than ever. More people are going to colleges where they are exposed to basic scientific ideas, having to read and even write research articles. The saddest outcome of this system is when you end up having to send journal articles to the family of severely sick patients because you are the only access they have. I believe the open access train is well underway, partially thanks to the open science iniative pushed by the Netherlands.

My book is doing well, I can make a living as a writer and entrepreneur. Still my heart breaks with the idea to no be involved with science any longer. The big question for me was how I was going to continue after having left my postdoc.

The push factor in science

There are pull and a push factors in science. The pull-factor is clear. I love science. I love the excitement of understanding how the chemistry of life works. This is the best job in the world. But there are also push factors. I love how free I am as a freelance writer, to just say whatever the hell I want, to communicate freely, on my own, just push the send button, without first having to consult 7 co-authors, and three anonymous peers. As a scientist you’re not free like that. Publishing in the right journals is essential for success. In the academic monetary system, high impact peer-reviewed publication are currency. And those papers need to be shiny, solid filled with good news. Scientists are therefore keeping their cards to their chest. Often you hear people say: “you don’t want to give full openness, because what if somebody takes your research and uses it?”. Then I ask: “isn’t that the whole purpose of science?”

There are some steps taken to open up in academia, but the biggest advances you see on the education front, not the scientific front. In higher education people are slowly breaking down the walls of academia. I was able to follow a Massive Online Open Course on Computer science and bio-informatics from home. I believe real progress is being made on that aspect. On the other side of academia, the research part, we’re far behind. We are still waiting for the digital revolution in scientific communication. The only way you’re able to follow science when you are outside academia, is through peer reviewed articles in journals. That means that from outside the bubble, you can only follow your field with a few years of delay, because that is how long it generally takes for research to make it into a paper.

Luckily papers are not the only way we communicate. In biology, we also show parts of ongoing projects at conferences. There you see rows and rows of carefully crafted A0-sized posters full of information, some people are taking pictures with their phone, because you never see digital versions of those posters, they’re never published. they are only meant for the handful of lucky ones who happened to be present at that conference. Why don’t we publish them? Is it because publishing one of those posters online, on social media or a blog or Researchgate doesn’t result in an impactful publication, with an impact factor? That would sad, right?

I follow many scientists on Twitter. I know what their children look like, I know what music they love or where they go on vacation, but I rarely here what they are doing in the lab. Sometimes they ask each other questions, mostly around scientific trivia or funny side projects in their lab: what is this bug? Why does it look weird? Or they ask: what is the best software to study this problem? Rarely do they say: look what I found. Here is some fresh knowledge, straight from the lab. It is very disappointing how much openness social media has brought to science. It is still a very closed system. Rigid, institutionalized and behind very high walls. That should change.

Open Kitchen Science

So I decided to go back to science, but on my own terms. I want to work from the deep conviction that the purpose of science is to increase our collective knowledge and by doing that make the world a better place. If I manage to increase our general knowledge, or if my work facilitates others to do the same, I achieve my goal. So therefore I chose to share as much possible.

Not only open access, not only sharing raw data and materials. But “real-time open science”. Compare it to vloggers. Those people that share hour-long footage on the regular, banal activities like how they put on their make-up or drive their car or cook their food, eat their food. We have an abbreviation for it: TMI, too much information. That is exactly how I want to do science. I want to publish ALL my findings. The whole process. Every method, everything that works or doesn’t work. Every assay I am trying to develop. Every question I have, every experiment, no, every thought of an experiment and just write it down and put it online, by myself, without having to consult with anyone. I want my work to be open and free for everyone. Any social media or blog is fine, I am now working on crafting my own WordPress-blog, I don’t want it to be too shiny, I don’t care about the form. I care about the content. It just needs has a proper comment section and a clear indication what results have been reviewed, or what results have independently been validated, reproduced.

I am calling this project RebLab, and the type of science I call radical transparent science or OpenKitchenScience. It is not entirely new, a few scientists are choosing to work this way, some call it Open Notebook Science. One great example is labscribbles, where you can follow the work on the Huntingtin protein by dr. Rachel Harding in real time.

Peer review

The biggest science rule I am breaking by doing this is by not having everything peer reviewed. Don’t get me wrong: I believe peer review is very important to maintain a high standard of scientific quality. At the same time I believe we’re overdoing it. Peer review is starting to hold us back. It places a huge hurdle in between scientists because it means everyone is only communicating with a delay. Peer review is probably also the most important reason why results that don’t make it to a paper are never shared,. We are sharing shiny positive nice stories with each other, while so much of our knowledge, ugly practical things, negative results, stays in the lab. Why are we not sharing that? Why don’t we throw it on a blog, send around a newsletter, throw it on Facebook for all I care. Communication in science takes too much effort, time and money, and an important reason is because we want to have everything peer reviewed.

Reproducibility crisis

We are currently facing a reproducibility crisis. Our current system of science, of increasing our knowledge is not working properly. More than one third of the high impact prestigious cancer studies were found to be irreproducible. It was the pharmaceutical industry that pointed to this problem. “Hey guys”, they said “I don’t know what you’re doing. These might be superfancyschmanzy Cell Nature Science results but they are not working for us. They don’t hold up when we are trying to do the same things as you tried”. In social psychology it was apparently even worse and over half of the studies cannot be independently reproduced.

Dutch funding organization NWO is now spending 3 million euros specifically on replication studies. Great! But here is a question: aren’t we already replicating each other’s work all the time? We call it different and we’re normally not very excited when it happens, we call it scooping. In my view peer review is the silver standard. Getting scooped is the gold standard.

Here is an assumption: in the cancer field where one third of those studies could not be replicated, they already knew. This is a highly competitive field. There must be at least 20 labs worldwide working on that same problem. There must have been already awareness in the field that these same results were not found across the board. Perhaps, in a scientific world where the default is to share, and the gold standard is to reproduce and not to review, we would have already known.

First steps towards Open Kitchen Science

In February I went to Prof. Remco Kort, both working at TNO and the Free University of Amsterdam, and I proposed to him to do a project on carbohydrate metabolism of vaginal microbes. I basically want to know what the lactic acid bacteria that colonize the human vagina, what carbohydrates they metabolize. What material they use to convert into lactic acid and acidify the vagina. That’s my research question. That question has been haunting me for a few years now. Luckily that question also has his interest.

And then I said: “it’s not a normal research project. It has to be radically transparent, it has to be open kitchen science”. And he said: “sure”.

Sure? I expected to run into a plethora of problems. This was radical right? Suddenly I doubted the rebellious nature of this endeavor. Hello? I want to publish science on a blog, I want to publish my posters unreviewed. Where are all those walls I need to break down. He said: “fine”.

Then I asked a few scientific journals, the ASM (American Society for Microbiology) journals that we, microbiologists often publish in. I asked: “what if I prepublish my experiments, would you still consider it for your journal?” This is important because any collaborations or students who want to work with me, might still need papers for their CV. And at some point I do want to have stuff reviewed by colleagues. And you know what the journals said? “Fine”.

Then we went to the safety officer to ask if we could do open kitchen science and she said “fine”. Then we went to the communication department to ask if we could do Open Kitchen Science and they said “great”. And then we went to the head of the department to ask if we could do Open Kitchen Science, and he said “awesome”.

It went surprisingly smooth. No big hurdles yet. My blog is not up and running yet, but I hope to make some advances in the lab this summer. What I learned sofar is that it really looks like this whole system of holding your cards close to your chest, this system is mostly cultural. I learned, that there are no rules that stop you from sharing. We humans are herd animals, and we do what the other people do. Scientists are no exception to that rule. We have strong culture and social norms about how you behave in this academic setting. It’s both good news and bad news. A lot of the hurdles for openness are in our minds, the barriers are mostly imagined but they are holding us back. I believe we should change this culture because it is not good enough. It should be standard procedure to overshare. After all, there is no such thing as Too Much Information in science.

Negative Results Week

As a last remark: I am very excited about the National Plan for Open Science. I feel that there is currently true momentum here in the Netherlands but also elsewhere in the scientific community to change the way we communicate in science. I also understand not everyone in the academic world is going to radically open up and throw everything they know and have online, like I plan to do. I believe people need a bit of a nudge to dip their toes in the open science waters and see how it feels. To help them I want to propose to, as part of the Dutch Open Science community, to invite other scientists to engage in a challenge. I believe we should organize a negative results week. we invite scientists to share a short paper, unreviewed, on some platform, that is unowned, independent, Wikipedia-like, open source, with a negative result. Once. Just to see if they like it. If you are interested in organizing something like this, with me, let me know.

Thank your for your attention.

Open Kitchen Science – talk to OMHE conference april 2017

This is a talk I gave to a conference on Higher Education april 2017 where I spoke extensively about my ambitions for Open Science.

I am 32 years old. Last year, when I left my postdoc project in the USA, was the first time since in my adult life that I was outside of academia. No longer did I have an .edu account that provided access to literature. For the first time there was no research anywhere closeby, there were no working groups, literature discussion, or practicum, I was not surrounded by students, I was not surrounded by that exciting vibrant atmosphere, thick with curiosity, and I hated it.

I hated every part of it. And I realized that when you leave academia, you’re really out, There is no fluent transition, you’re in or you’re out. You don’t know how high the walls of the academic bubble really are, until I found myself outside.

I am a microbiologist. I studied here in Delft and in Leiden, did a PhD in Amsterdam and then I continued as a postdoc at Washington University in St Louis Missouri, where I worked on vaginal microbes, lactobacilli but also other bugs. But I am also a writer, a communication specialist as I like to call it myself. I write a weekly column in NRC Handelsblad. Last year when we came back from the USA and I worked on a book. That is finally here. It’s called Ode aan de E-nummers, it’s on a hobby of mine, a side project, food technology, and I will spend the coming weeks promoting it.

The big question is, what to do now. Am I going back to science? There is a pull and a push factor. The pull-factor is clear. I love science. I love the excitement of understanding how the chemistry of life works. This is the best job in the world.

But there are also push factors. I love how free I am as a freelance writer, to just say whatever the hell I want, to communicate freely, on my own, just push the send button, without first having to consult 7 co-authors, and three anonymous peers. I just love pressing the send button. As a scientist you’re not free like that. Publishing in the right journals is essential for success. In the academic monetary system, high impact peer-reviewed publication are currency. Scientists are therefore keeping their cards to their chest. Often you hear people say: You don’t want to give full openness, because what if somebody takes your research and uses it, and then I ask: isn’t that the whole purpose of science?

In higher education you are slowly breaking down the walls of academia. I was able to follow a Massive Online Open Course on Computer science and bio-informatics from home. I believe real progress is being made on that aspect. But on the other side of academia, the research part, we’re lacking behind. We are still waiting for the digital revolution in academic publishing. The only way you’re able to follow science when you’re outside academia, is through peer reviewed articles in journals, and then only when they’re open access. That means that when you’re outside the bubble, you can only follow your field with a few years of delay, because that’s how long it generally takes for research to make it into a paper. Now there are other ways that scientists communicate with each other of course.

When you go to conferences and see rows and rows of carefully crafted posters but you never see those posters online, they’re never published. they are only meant for the handful of lucky ones who happened to be present at that conference. Why don’t we publish them? Publishing one of those posters online, on social media or a blog or researchgate doesn’t result in an impactful publication, with an impact factor.

It’s funny I follow many scientists on Twitter. I know what their children look like, I know what music they love or where they go on vacation, but I rarely here what they are doing in the lab. When they go to a conference I see pictures of the beaches, I see puctures of them drinking beer with their peers, but I don’t see their slides, I don’t see a video of the talk, I don’t see the poster. Sometimes they ask each other questions, mostly around scientific trivia or funny side projects in their lab: what is this bug? Why does it look weird? Or they ask: what is the best software to study this problem? Rarely do they see: look what I found. Here is some fresh knowledge, straight from the lab. It is very disappointing how much openness social media has brought to science. It is still a very closed system. It’s rigid, it’s institutionalized and it’s all done behind very high walls, invisible to the outside world.

So I want to go back to science, but only when I am free to do open science. Not only open access, not only sharing raw data, and materials. But real open science. Compare it to vloggers. You know those people that share hour-long footage on the regular, banal activities like how they put on their make-up or drive their car or cook their food, even eat their food. That is exactly how I want to do science. I want to publish ALL my findings. The whole process. Every method, everything that works or doesn’t work. Every assay I am trying to develop. Every question I have, Every experiment, no, every thought of an experiment and just write it down and put it online, by myself, without having to consult with anyone. I want my work to be open and free for everyone. Any social media or blog is fine, I don’t care about the form. I care about the content. It just needs has a proper comment section.

I am calling this project RebLab, and the type of science I call radical transparent science or OpenKitchenScience.

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe peer review is very important to maintain a high standard of scientific quality. At the same time I think we’re overdoing it. It’s starting to hold us back. I don’t believe it is necessary to apply this gold standard to every single piece of data or result that we share. I believe we should be publishing micropublications. For instance: Look these bacteria indeed are not able metabolize this important carbohydrate. Negative result, important result. After two weeks of trying I finally learned how to dissolve this stupid reagent called blue amylose. This stuff should be shared. Maybe it fits in a tweet, maybe in a small update on my labs website, maybe on a blog, or on researchgate, accompanied by a video, or a picture paragraph of text. We learned that certain strains of Gardnerella vaginalis only produces L-lactate, not D-lactate. We’re probably never doing anything with this, it is just knowledge floating around in the lab, but it belongs to the public. It doesn’t needs peer review, it needs a proper comment section for open discussion like every social medium has nowadays.

Only when you are ready to draft a bigger story, where you link this L-lactate to a lactate dehydrogenase, and a gene and transform it and study it and want to claim to understand the mechanism en conclude bigger things about it, there is no doubt that at that moment you should apply rigorous peer review invite independent researchers to comment on your stuff, anonymously or not.
But the experiments that are leading up to that paper, I want to post them online. Liveblog my research if you will. Like vloggers, overshare.

So. In February I went to Prof Remco Kort, both TNO and VU, and I proposed to him to do a project on carbohydrate metabolism of vaginal microbes. I basically want to know what the lactic acid bacteria that colonize the human vagina, what they eat, what material to use to convert into lactic acid and acidify the vagina. That’s my research question. That question has been haunting me for a few years now. And that question also has his interest.
And then I said but it’s not a normal research project. It has to be radically transparent, it has to be open kitchen science. And he said: sure.
Sure? I expected to run into a plethora of problems. This was radical right? Suddenly I doubted the rebellious nature of this endeavor. Hello? I want to publish science on a blog, I want to publish my posters unreviewed. Where are all those walls I need to break down. He said: fine.

Then I asked a few scientific journals, the ASM journals that we, microbiologists normally publish in. I asked what if I prepublish my experiments, would you still consider it for your journal. This is important because any collaborations or students who want to work with me, might still need papers for their CV. And at some point I do want to have stuff reviewed by colleagues. And you know what the journals said? Fine.

Then we went to the safety officer to ask if we could do open kitchen science, and she said fine. And then we went to the communication department to ask if we could do openkitchen science and they said great. And then we went to the head of the department to ask if we could do openkitchen science, and he said: “great”.

It went surprisingly smooth. No big hurdles yet. It really looks like this whole system of holding your cards close to your chest, where the default is to not share, that this system is mostly cultural. I learned, that there are no rules that stop you from sharing. So why didn’t we just write on Facebook or on a blog or on Researchgate that this strain of G vaginalis only produces L-lactate. Because that’s just not the way we do things. We humans are herd animals, and we do what the other people do. Scientists are no exception to that rule. We have strong culture and social norms about how you behave in this academic setting. That in my view is the most important reason why we don’t open up more.

A lot of the hurdles of openness, of communication if you will, are in our minds, the barriers are mostly imagined, they are in our head, and they are holding us back. I am very determined to fight this standard and to change this culture because it is not good enough. Especially if you are a publicly funded scientist. I believe we should open up are labs to the outside world. It should be standard procedure to overshare. After all, there is no such thing as Too Much Information in science.

Thank your for your attention.