Interview: Science digital

"A radical change"

Photo: Universität Wien

How does digitalisation change the world of science? We spoke to Lambert Heller from the Open Science Lab about Open Access, the Impact Factor and a new operating system for science

Digitalisation changes also the world of science. What exactly is happening?In fact, all scientific work processes increasingly take place online: general research, the actual scientific research, the finding of research partners, co-operation and, ultimately, the writing and publishing of papers. This has two effects: on the one hand, science becomes faster paced and, on the other, the way in which we research changes. One can say that scientists are pro online.
A representative survey by our Leibniz Research Alliance Science 2.0 has revealed that 95 per cent of scientists use Wikipedia for professional purposes. About half maintain a profile on Facebook or similar platforms to be visible, to find others and to make contacts. About two thirds use cloud services for exchanging data or co-writing a manuscript. Scientists are true pragmatists. They use the available services and in part even modify them in such a way so as to benefit better from them. For example, scientists use the software development platform GitHub to exchange and jointly work on gene sequences. The development is only now really taking off. This is like a large, complicated ecosystem developing bit by bit.

You mentioned the Leibniz Research Alliance "Science 2.0". Its initiators are the scientific libraries. How so?

The "Science 2.0" initiative is a Leibniz Association research alliance. In addition to libraries and Leibniz Association institutes, the initiative includes many other partners, including Wikimedia Deutschland. Together, we want to shape the digital transformation in the world of science. We want to develop a "digital operating system" for science and thereby advance the new culture of collaborative digital co-operation.
The libraries play a central part in this culture. Information professionals work at libraries such as ours, independent and without commercial goals of their own. We do not perceive matters from a subject-specific viewpoint, but from the viewpoint of information management. How to collect information, how to manage it and how fast can it be retrieved and used? Add to this new requirements: how can raw data be embedded and recorded? How can one continue working on texts and data? We not only take care of the data, we also take care of its quality. "Open Access", one facet of "Open Science", is also clearly expedited by libraries.
"Open Science", "Open Access" – are scientists and our scientific system really ready for open, collaborative work? In the end, for example, for a professorship, what matters most is the individual list of publications ...

We attentively follow the discussion and development regarding the assessment of scientific achievements. The assessment by impact factor is antiquated. We have to find new criteria. One method is "Open Metrics" in the sense of various indicators and indices regarding the utility and significance of research and a researcher's activities. The Hirsch index measuring the citation impact of an author is such an indicator. We, the libraries, then can collect this data, manage it and render it comparable. Yet first we need a comprehensive discussion: what is the benchmark for measuring the quality of science?

The German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB) in Hanover now has established the "Open Science Lab", headed by you. What is the "Open Science Lab"?

Our approach is in particular the open, collaborative method of scientific work. To this end, we examine, develop and expand the infrastructure. In co-operation with researcher communities we test methods and tools, find out whether they are useful and how they can contribute. This can be a platform on which a research project "lives", that is, where it is supplemented, improved and further developed by many scientists, comparable to open source software programming. The other focus is Open Access. Here, we are in the process of co-developing standards and policies. Everybody needs to speak the same "language" to make this culture work. Together with the scientists, we want to cultivate and further develop standards for openness. What are Creative Commons licenses and how do I use them? By what methods are my open research materials found on the web and used as a source?
We are experiencing the virtualisation of co-operation. This makes the partners increasingly diverse; the projects become increasingly globalised. A joint infrastructure, a common language and shared standards across national borders are becoming increasingly important.

You started an interesting live project at the beginning of this year, the book project "CoScience – Gemeinsam forschen und publizieren mit dem Netz". For this you used the platform, one of the platforms for collaborative work such as you have just described. Can you tell us more about this?

The idea actually derives from software development. Many programmers come together for a "codesprint" and jointly produce a piece of software within a short period of time. This resulted in the idea of a "booksprint": a group of experts comes together and writes a textbook within a short period of time. We wanted to try this idea out. For us, this was more about the social process. Is such a collaborative project possible? How high is the quality of the product? How will it develop further? We can justifiably say: "CoScience" was and is a success; the content is being consistently further developed, new chapters are being added. We currently are taking it one step further: we want to add open video lectures to the individual chapters. And we have already received the first enquiry for subsequent utilisation: about 60 romance studies researchers are using the platform to write a book about the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Romania. We follow and support this project, too.

Do you also identify in your projects potential for informing the public about scientific results and for possibly even involving them in scientific work?

Yes, this is an unintended but nice side effect that improves the quality of research and accelerates it. Together with Wikimedia and scientists in the Wikipedia community, we are currently processing the idea of what it would be like to systematically collect images from professional articles and make them freely available on those platforms. This would make the latest scientific insights available to all by way of photographs, graphs and animations. Teachers, for example, could use this to illustrate learning content with the latest research results. There are many more ideas out there.
Lambert Heller is Head of the Open Science Labs at the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB) in Hanover. Together with his colleagues, he shapes the digital transformation of working in science. Innovative web applications are tested and (further) developed at the Open Science Lab in close co-operation with researcher communities.

Lambert Heller is Head of the Open Science Labs at the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB) in Hanover. Together with his colleagues, he shapes the digital transformation of working in science. Innovative web applications are tested and (further) developed at the Open Science Lab in close co-operation with researcher communities.

25.11.2014, Susann Beetz
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