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Open science, not just open data

We were recently asked to prepare responses to the Government of Canada’s Draft Plan on Open Government and Revitalizing Access to Information.
Boxes of documents on a shelf.

These commitments to make government information freely available to the public, and enshrining a culture of ‘open by default’, are laudible. They will help move the country towards a more transparent, accountable democracy. However, when it comes to science and integrity, these proposals fall short: they do not offer open science, as promised, but merely open scientific data.

Below are some highlights from our recommendations. You can read Evidence for Democracy’s full response on the Draft Plan on Open Government here. Our Access to Information response is available here and will soon be posted online at this governmental portal.

Within Canada’s Open Government Draft Plan there are specific commitments to open science, including creating the position of a Chief Science Officer and making all federal scientific data available to the public through an online repository. Scientific data make up over half of the most-requested data types from the government, and the benefits of open scientific data are enormous, fostering economic innovation, international collaboration, and cross-boundary problem solving.

However, what is promised is merely open data. Commitment 14 in the draft plan deals only with the availability of scientific data and publications issued at the end of the research process. We applaud the initial efforts to improve access to these results, but there are some unresolved challenges inherent to the nature of scientific data. We give recommendations on how to deal with the massive infrastructure that would be needed for such an undertaking, as well as the role of Library and Archives Canada. We suggest that to meet public access requirements, departments work with existing open-access networks in their fields (e.g.. Databasin, GenBank), rather than reinventing the wheel and developing a new public repository at great expense.

A true commitment to open science must acknowledge scientific integrity and open communication at all stages of the scientific process. Freedom of speech for scientists has been a longstanding concern in Canada, with widely documented muzzling, political interference, and crippling program cuts occurring under the previous Conservative government. Policies need to be put in place to ensure openness is enshrined in perpetuity. Final right of review for scientists on communications arising from their work is particularly crucial to avoid misrepresentation and ensure transparency, as well as guaranteed freedom from political interference in research.

Ensuring these requirements are met, as E4D and the Professional Institute of the Public Services of Canada have called for, would also help reduce the burden of science-related Access to Information (ATI) requests. Current ATI proposals to reduce wait times, reduce fees, and other improvements will be helpful, but do not address the context in which science is done, where “open by default” needs to include scientific integrity through the life cycle of the research. Instead, institutionalizing open science at the federal level will be the best way to both facilitate public access and reduce science-related ATI requests.

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