Should digital research infrastructure for Open Science be open itself?

Joint post by Jon Tennant, Bianca Kramer, and Tony Ross-Hellauer.

Most modern scholarly research relies to some extent on digital research infrastructures. As the shift toward Open Science takes hold, we should question whether such infrastructures should themselves bespeak open principles (e.g., open data, open standards, and Open Source software). Without these qualities, digital infrastructures potentially pose a unique risk to Open Science. Just as institutions’ historical reliance on a few large publishers for access to the literature has allowed those publishers to dictate the pace of the transition to Open Access, increasing reliance on closed digital infrastructures for research may lead to a new kind of vendor lock-in, but focused on all elements of the research workflow. Such lock-in of data or platforms would compromise the aims of Open Science by limiting the functionality, re-use, and interoperability of such systems, and hence that of the research they enable.

We believe that ‘open infrastructure’, based on these elements of openness and reflected in its actual implementation, is essential for Open Science. For example, in Europe, neither the recently launched European Open Science Cloud or the relaunched tender for the European Commission Open Research publishing platform have requirements to be fully Open Source. Projects such as Invest in Open Infrastructure, the Joint Roadmap for Open Science Tools, Pubfair or Redalyc in Latin America, illustrate viable alternatives that can deliver equivalent or higher value, and based on tools and sustainable services that are more open by design.

The existential question is whether the ‘open’ narrative is in danger of being subverted by proprietary systems and so merely enabling the reification of existing, exclusive power structures in scholarly research. There is a need to critically assess the impact of existing ‘open infrastructures’, and for research funders and institutes to provide sustained funding for the future of a truly open and global scholarly infrastructure.

Conflicts Of Interest: TRH is one of the co-authors of the PubFair white paper. JPT and BK are both part of JROST. These views represent our personal opinions and not those of our employers.