17 January 2022
Carlos Sillero Rejon is part of the ARC West health economics team. The team’s applied research aims to strengthen decision-making across the health and care system in the face of limited resources. Here Carlos advocates for open research, which aims to improve transparency, reproducibility and efficiency.
Research is one of the most important endeavours of humankind. It’s our best way of understanding the world and it saves lives. Working in ARC West, I have seen the impact of our research on the health of communities. It can shape policy, organisational decisions and healthcare.
That is why I want to make the case for open research, which the Open Knowledge Foundation defines as:
“Knowledge is open if anyone is free to access, use, modify, and share it — subject, at most, to measures that preserve provenance and openness.”
As with any industry, research has its pitfalls. Academics, funders, journals, editors and peer reviewers all contribute to a culture that emphasises impact, potentially at the expense of quality. Employment, funding and promotion all hang on the rate at which we, researchers, publish our work and the impact it has on society. In fact, the true impact of research – its impact on society – is very hard to measure and we are forced to use poor proxies, such as a journal’s impact factor, to estimate it.
It’s said that this culture can lead to a reproducibility crisis. High proportions of results from peer-reviewed studies in a range of disciplines have failed to be reproduced. The research community must protect itself against these biases that can distort results and lead to misinformation.
The good news is that academic research is changing. The open research agenda is more important than ever, and its relevance increases day by day. We are adopting measures alongside the research process that build towards transparency, reproducibility and efficiency. This will improve the credibility of published work.
At ARC West we are fully aware of the impact of our research, and the challenges described above. We strive to implement open research in our work. To do this we:
There is still much to do. Changing the culture relies on a collective effort from everyone – researchers, funder, journals, and publishers – working both individually and collaboratively to change the roots of the research process itself. In the meantime, researchers can still identify which parts of our research can be open or transparent, and where we can better communicate our processes outside our community. This might include making our (appropriately anonymised) data free and easy to access and explaining how we analysed it.
So, what does open research look like and what’s stopping us from getting there?
Open research applies to all elements of the research process. To me, this means that methods and publication, at any point during the process, are fully transparent and reproducible. However, getting to this point requires a lot of effort and investment. This takes time, which is always scarce.
The early stages of creating this landscape will require time and effort. But in the long run it will bring wider benefits for the research community and society in general.
Open research not only increases transparency and reproducibility, but it also improves efficiency. Sharing the elements of the research process such as data or analysis code (the computer programmes we use to analyse data) could have an enormous impact.
For instance, sharing my data or code has advantages in terms of accountability and quality. If other researchers can see limitations or approach the data from a different angle, it improves my work. But more importantly, it can save time. If someone has already conducted interviews or has a large data set and this is open for everyone to access, you can use this for your own research questions.
Open research needs to be taken seriously. Investing in research is the only way to find solutions to many of humanity’s challenges.