Open Science



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What is open science?

Open science commonly refers to efforts to make the output of publicly funded research more widely accessible in digital format to the scientific community, the business sector, or society more generally.  Open science is the encounter between the age-old tradition of openness in science and the tools of information and communications technologies (ICTs) that have reshaped the scientific enterprise and require a critical look from policy makers seeking to promote long-term research as well as innovation.

On the one hand, the Internet and online platforms are creating new opportunities to organise and publish the content of research projects, scientific publications and large data sets, so as to make them immediately available to other scientists and researchers as well as potential users in the business community and society in general. On the other hand, ICTs allow the collection of large amounts of data and information that can be the basis of scientific experiments and research, contributing to make science increasingly data-driven. Online repositories and archives offer the possibility to store, access, use and reuse research and scientific inputs and outputs (both articles and data sets), and speed the transfer of knowledge among researchers and across scientific fields, opening up new ways of collaborating and new research methods (Force11, 2012). This evolution of science into a more open and data-driven enterprise is often referred to as “open science”.    

The term “open science” was coined by economist Paul David (2003) in an attempt to describe the properties of scientific goods generated by the public sector and in opposition to the perceived extension of intellectual property rights into the area of information goods. Economists consider scientific knowledge generated by public research as a public good, which means that everyone can make use of that knowledge at no additional cost once it is made public, generating higher social returns. This thinking is not altogether new. As far back as 1942, Robert King Merton, an American sociologist of science, described a set of ideals that characterised modern science and to which scientists are bound. First and foremost is the notion of common ownership of scientific discoveries, according to which the substantive findings of science are seen as a product of social collaboration and are assigned to the community.  Scientists’ claims to intellectual property are limited to recognition and esteem.The race to be the first to claim recognition – the so-called priority rule – in science has traditionally been a strong incentive for scientists to make their knowledge public.

While this ideal-based system has functioned in part through the current system of peer review and subscription-based scholarly publication, the ICT revolution has shaken, if not the underlying ideals, at least the system of scientific production and diffusion. Open science in the information age espouses the notion that knowledge created from public research has public good characteristics that go beyond the concept of the “commons” developed in the 18th century, insofar as ICT-enabled access broadens the possibilities to enrich the commons and extend it to a broader range of users. 
In recent years, open science has become an active area of policy development, both within the OECD area and beyond. Although recognising that open science is a broad concept that encompasses more than open access to research data and publications that takes place at all stages of research (see Glossary), this report aims to provide an analytical overview of recent open science policy trends, by focusing in particular on those initiatives to promote broad access to publicly funded research results, including both scientific publications and research data. 

For further reading

David, P.A. (2003), “The economic logic of “open science” and the balance between private property rights and the public domain in scientific data and information: A primer”, in P. Uhlir and J. Esanu (eds.), National Research Council on the Role of the Public Domain in Science, National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Force11 (2012), “Improving the future of research communications and e-scholarship”, Force11 white paper,

Merton, R.K. (1973), The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, University of Chicago Press.

OECD (2015), Inquiries into Intellectual Property’s Economic Impact, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2014), Measuring the Digital Economy: A New Perspective, OECD Publishing, Paris, 

UNESCO (2012), Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access, UNESCO Publishing.


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