Open Science and the Citizen Science Movement

Solutions: Open Science

Directed by James Corbett (2019)

Film Review

This documentary evaluates potential solutions to the problems with shoddy and fraudulent research Corbett identified in his prior documentary The Crisis of Science (see Why Most Published Research Findings Are False).

Among the reforms Corbett notes are growing pressure by scientific journals for researchers to publish raw data and negative results and the formation of an entity known as Redaction Watch. The latter closely monitors studies that are retracted for fraudulent data or questionable methodology.

However the most important solutions, in Corbett’s view, are the Open Science and Citizen Science movement. The former campaigns for free public access to scientific research, which until a decade ago was locked away behind costly paywalls.*

The most well known Open Science activist was Aaron Swartz, who published the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto in 2008. The FBI arrested Swartz in 2011 for using an MIT server to upload thousands of academic papers to a free Internet site. His legal problems allegedly prompted Swartz to kill himself two weeks before he went to trial. However numerous factors suggest he may have been “suicided” (see The Mystery of Aaron Swartz’s Alleged Suicide).

Like Swartz, Corbett argues that allowing freer public access to scientific research allows the public to monitor what scientists are up to. The Open Science movement has led to a substantial increase in research available for free on the Open Source PLOS (Public Library of Science).

Citizen Science refers to the growing participation of amateur scientists in the collection, storage and, in some case, analysis, of scientific data. Examples include projects in which scientists use citizens to collect migration data on butterflies and songbirds.

In another model, ordinary citizens set up their own projects to solve specific problems. The best example is Safecast, created by anti-nuclear  activists when it became clear the Japanese government was lying about radiation levels resulting from the Fukushima meltdowns. In this project, a network of activists created an automated Geiger counter to collect radiation counts every five seconds and upload them to an online database. They then recruited thousands of Japanese volunteers to attach them to their cars and bikes (see The Citizen Science Movement).


*Revenues resulting from scientific journal subscriptions accrue mainly to for profit publishers (like Elsevier) rather than researchers who write scientific papers.

 

 

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