Edinburgh Open Research Conference 2024

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Jul 3, 2024

Dr Cerys Willoughby attended the 3rd annual Open Research Conference on behalf of PSDI. The conference focused on the topic of how Open Research can contribute to positive cultural change in research more broadly, with themes including next generation metrics, research integrity, and education and skills. The conference included contributors from across the UK and Europe, with a plenary discussion, a range of both full and lightening talks, and a poster session. The presenters came from a variety of different backgrounds including both sciences and humanities.

A wide variety of angles on the topic of cultural changes was discussed across the day. In the plenary panel the discussion was largely focused on cultural change and open research as an ethical question. Promoting values and adopting integrity principles were considered essential for cultural change. Differences in research cultures between disciplines were discussed and how factors such as different training practices may contribute to these differences. It was noted that activities in the community to promote research integrity tend to be a grassroots activity – undertaken by individuals in their own time – and the speakers advocated the need for more input into these activities from publishers and institutions. Research cultures and researcher behaviours vary across both disciplines and geographical boundaries, and the challenges of a lack of integrity in research was also discussed. Examples included the problems of plagiarism and the increasing occurrence of the use of technologies such as AI generation and software that can turn someone else’s words into new text. Such technologies can defeat plagiarism software, and in the communities where these technologies are routinely used this behaviour is not perceived as a problem. This is exacerbated by the ‘publish or perish’ culture within academic research where the importance of outputting large numbers of papers to secure tenure or gain promotions outweighs questions of integrity. Highlighting the principles of open research – and encouraging funders and publishers to focus on it – provides an opportunity to create a positive culture from the ground up.

Presentations in the conference were dominated by questions about diversity and inclusivity in research – who gets to do the research and whose stories are being told? The issues discussed were noted to be driven by the history of academic establishments themselves. Universities were set up to provide opportunities for a narrow demographic, and as a result other communities have historically been excluded. Although things have improved, other demographics are still underrepresented and may find it harder to get the opportunities to tell their stories or to get appropriate credit. With social media and the Web, it is easier to reach wider and larger audiences, but in academia “blogs don’t count”. Papers and grants as the measures used in universities leads to a negative impact preventing other cultures from emerging. Several presenters indicated that changes are not only needed to the way that research is done and communicated, but also in the way that stories and lived experiences are recorded in research. There is a need to ensure that knowledge presented in non-traditional forms – so-called ‘embodied knowledge’ is appropriately captured and shared to maintain the voice of the storyteller.

Several of the presentations also talked about the importance of recognition and inclusion of technical specialists in research. There are many roles that are not traditional research roles, but which contribute significantly to the research process. However, these individuals are rarely included on author lists for publications and therefore receive insufficient recognition and credit for their work. In addition, the discussion about open research typically revolves around the academic process, with little insight provided into what this means for those in technical specialist or other research support roles. This leaves individuals unclear as to how they can be involved and excluded from the conversation. A variety of initiatives seek to address these problems, for example, providing tailored training in open research, ensuring that contributions by technical staff are credited appropriately in publications, technical leads are included on grants, and the creation of technical specialist networks to share opportunities related to open research.  

Training was also a topic discussed in many of the presentations, and education and training in data management was viewed as being a vital route for communicating the importance and value of open research to researchers and their supervisors. Data Management Plans (DMPs) are driving the requirements for this training, but many individuals still have a limited awareness of data and think that the paper itself is the dataset. The different research cultures of different disciplines lead to variations in their level of understanding and perceived importance of data. In the humanities researchers appear to have limited awareness of data at all and need help to identify the data in their own research, whilst in the sciences there appears to be a better awareness with trainers receiving more specific questions around what, where and how of data management, and concern with important issues such as data protection and privacy. Across all disciplines, it was noted that repositories are not well understood, and are perceived as only a place to store data, rather than being viewed as a publishing medium.

From a PSDI perspective, the discussions raised several interesting questions for our own activities, especially around how we engage with a broad audience:

  • How can we help to skill up different roles, including educating leaders?
  • How can we engage with the community to understand the different needs, requirements, and tasks in open science for different roles?
  • Should we define principles for PSDI around open research and ethics – especially around data deposition and data citation?
  • What kinds of events can we run to engage with the technical specialist and research support communities?
  • Are there non-traditional ways we can provide content or accept content on PSDI to meet the needs of different audiences?
  • How do we deliver knowledge in the most effective form for our audience?
  • How can we recognise contributions to PSDI, for example should we mint DOIs for articles so that they can be cited, and the authors can receive credit?