Published 5 July 2021 by Meeri Kim

How Open Science Spurs Creativity and Collaboration

Panel Discussion “Open Science”

Around the world, the Open Science movement continues to gain support from a growing number of researchers and members of the public. The initiative pushes for the public availability and reusability of scientific data, as well as increased transparency in the experimental methodology, observation, and collection of data. Free sharing of information and resources also reduces wasteful duplication and increases economies of scale.

Several sessions at the 70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting focused on Open Science and its benefit to both scientists and the public. They ranged from a lively panel discussion with both Nobel Laureates and young scientists to presentations of projects stemming from past Lindau events that celebrate the spirit of Open Science.

Open Science

Thursday, the last full day of the meeting, kicked off with a panel discussion specifically dedicated to Open Science with two Nobel Laureates – Elizabeth Blackburn and Randy Schekman – and two young scientists.

Blackburn, recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase, began the conversation by highlighting the Lindau Guidelines. The set of ten ambitious goals provide the framework for an open, cooperative scientific community where data and knowledge are freely shared.

“I basically think of them as a sort of Hippocratic oath for scientists, and the idea in part is to foster what we hope will be increasing the public’s trust in science,” said Blackburn, who first introduced the initiative during the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2018. “By the way, I’m happy that at least 42 of the Nobel Laureates participating in this meeting have already endorsed these guidelines in advance of this current meeting.”

She then argued for the advantages of publishing preprints, mentioning that their speed of disseminating new results can save other scientists in the field from wasting resources and time. In addition, preprints have been the standard for many years in astrophysics, where it has spurred open, productive debate about unpublished results.

George Datseris, a postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, also chimed in with his perspective on preprints. For every paper eventually submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, he first published the manuscript on a preprint server. The benefit to Datseris includes the opportunity to discuss the results with colleagues who are not in the same research group but who work on the same topic.

The floor then went to Randy Schekman, recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of machinery regulating vesicle traffic. He is widely known for his devotion to Open Science and as the founding editor-in-chief of eLife, an open-access journal published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust.

Schekman described the widespread importance of what he considers a false metric, a journal’s impact factor. He felt that young scholars would rely on the impact factor to make decisions about where to submit their work, despite being a number that could not be sustained on the data on which they were based.

“I had an experience years before I became the editor of eLife as the editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” he said. “I tried to do away with any consideration of that number… I encountered difficulty from some of the staff at the journal who said we need to improve the impact factor, and the best way to do that is to reject more manuscripts. I couldn’t believe that this was the logic that had come to play in a very important journal like the Proceedings.”

Lastly, Michal Jex reported on a project his team developed at the Online Sciathon, a 48-hour scientific competition that was part of the Lindau Online Science Days in June 2020. Teams of scientists from all over the world came together virtually to work on projects that upheld the spirit of the Lindau Guidelines.

As a postdoctoral researcher at the Czech Technical University, he noticed many problems with the current peer review process. Besides being incredibly slow, Jex and his team members found that the process is often not transparent, hinders scientific communication, and obscures the crucial contribution of reviewers. Their platform includes open discussion between reviewers and authors, as well as publication of the reviews with the paper and an online comment section.

Lindau Guidelines

Lindau Guidelines
Presentation of the Lindau Guidelines by Wolfgang Huang with moderator Brian Malow

On Monday, a special presentation showcased the Lindau Guidelines, which outline ten goals for scientific research and conduct that supports global, sustainable, and cooperative open science in the long term. They touch on important points such as global cooperation, knowledge sharing, open-access results, transparency, and communication to the public.

The Lindau Guidelines began with an idea proposed by Blackburn at the 68th Nobel Laureate Meeting as a way to address humanity’s tough challenges. She called for scientists to be more active politically and in other ways to help solve the climate crisis, economic decline, inequality, pollution, and other worldwide issues.

Two years later, the first set of Lindau Guidelines was officially released at the Online Science Days in June 2020. They provide a framework for science to confront global challenges more efficiently by emphasizing a global scientific community that shares data and resources openly. The presentation exhibited a new explanatory mini-lecture that goes through the Lindau Guidelines in detail.

Scientific Achievements Are Nobody’s Intellectual Property

In 2018, George P. Smith was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of an elegant method known as phage display that uses bacteriophages to evolve new proteins. But his lecture on Thursday emphasized that this scientific achievement was anything but a solo effort.

“Individual scientists in lab make important contributions to be sure, but these contributions are incremental,” he said. “Only when they are freely shared with the community so they can augment and recombine with the incremental contributions of many others does an important advance arise.”

For this reason, Smith believes that intellectual property rights that include the ability to withhold information or resources from the scientific community – what he calls “intellectual hoarding” – are greatly detrimental to science. The creativity of science depends on the free dissemination of ideas and resources among global scientific communities, as exemplified by the phage display community that he is a part of.

George P. Smith
George P. Smith talked with Wolfgang Lubitz about Intellectual Property

He brought up the controversy of intellectual property rights owned by pharmaceutical companies which allow them to charge monopoly prices that greatly exceed competitive market prices. For instance, did the companies who developed and produced the COVID-19 vaccines deserve patent monopolies for their vaccines? And was the promise of patent monopolies the best way for governments to foster development of the vaccines?

“My answer to both questions is an emphatic no,” he said. “If phage display illustrates the communal nature of scientific creativity on a miniature scale, RNA vaccine technology illustrates it on a gargantuan scale. That technology has depended critically on hundreds of discoveries in immunology over at least a century in many dozens of countries, and of course stands on the shoulders of modern molecular biology and virology.”

Instead, Smith argues that a better way to stimulate vaccine development would have been through public funding.

Mentoring Hub

Another presentation on Tuesday detailed progress on the Lindau Mentoring Hub, a platform aiming to connect young scientists who are interested in pursuing a career in research with mentors. The project, like Jex’s peer-review initiative, originated at the Online Sciathon in 2020.

The Lindau Mentoring Hub serves as an online portal which can be accessed by students and postdoctoral researchers to search for potential mentors in their specific field, institution, or location. Mentors can sign up for a profile on the hub that lists their research experience and type of mentoring they are open to providing. The website also offers different methods of communication between mentors and mentees, such as options for audio calls, video calls, and chat messaging.

Meeri Kim

Meeri N. Kim, PhD works as a science writer who contributes regularly to The Washington Post, Philly Voice and Oncology Times. She writes for The Washington Post’s blog “To Your Health,” has a column for Philly Voice called “The Science of Everything” and her work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Edible Philly and LivableFuture. In 2013, Meeri received a PhD in physics from the University of Pennsylvania for her work in biomedical optics.