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Elisabeth Stark, the Executive Board of the University approved the Open Science Policy in late September. What does the university want to achieve with the new policy?
Elisabeth Stark: We want to establish Open Science as the guiding principle at UZH and start taking a leading role. That’s also why the policy is subtitled Open by Default. We are convinced that Open Science promotes, improves and advances research. The pandemic is the perfect example. Because scientists shared their data with others from the very beginning, we were able to quickly figure out the virus and develop vaccines so fast.
Open Science has a long history, but the movement has gained momentum over the past few years and has now reached a point from which there’s no way back. For example, from 2024 the Swiss National Science Foundation requires all publications financed using public funds to be accessible to everyone free of charge. The policy provides the framework for this to happen at UZH.
Anne Schneuwly, as a senior teaching and research assistant at the Faculty of Law, do you welcome the new policy?
Anne Schneuwly: Yes, because Open Science also implies the right to free access to all scientific information. My research focuses mainly on international business and arbitration law, and access to information from other countries is very important in this field. Law, however, is less concerned with numbers and statistics than say, the natural sciences.
Izaskun Mallona, may I ask you the same question? As a molecular biologist and computer engineer at the Department of Quantitative Biomedicine, what’s your view of the new policy?
Izaskun Mallona: I’m very happy to be part of a university that embraces Open Science. In my opinion, Open Science promotes research and increases transparency, robustness and quality. The policy is a sign of a new research culture that has developed over the past few years. I think the old-fashioned way of doing research in an isolated and closed way has become obsolete.
Anne Schneuwly, you mentioned some of the peculiarities of your field. Could you elaborate on these?
Schneuwly: Our work involves interpreting legal texts and case law, and sometimes also suggesting possible improvements. Free access to our findings is important for researchers at other universities, courts and in the private sector (lawyers). But even without Open Science, these people can access our publications through their university or company accounts. However, for non-specialists, the details and subtleties of legal interpretations are of very little use.
Doesn't this apply to all disciplines? That the methods and data are specific to the particular subject?
Stark: “Data” doesn’t mean the same in all disciplines, that’s why in the policy we’ve used the term “scholarly output”, which covers publications, research data as well as program codes. There’s an issue in the humanities, for example, when a cultural studies scholar conducts field work and interviews people, but doesn’t quantitatively evaluate the interviews. If the work is interpretative it’s fair to ask why the interview transcripts need be made available to the public. But the whole point is to make the research process transparent and share the raw data with others, where possible and where it makes sense do so.
Anne Schneuwly, you launched an open access platform that deals with some of the legal aspects of water sports, www.wassersportkommentar.ch. How come?
Schneuwly: I’m an avid kite surfer and noticed that this new kind of water sport raises a number of legal questions. I started to explore some of the issues and decided to share my insights with others. Thanks to the financial support of the Faculty of Law, I was able to launch this platform, which provides anyone who’s interested with information on some fundamental legal questions.
Could you give us an example?
Schneuwly: Most questions have to do with the unequal treatment of water sports in public bodies of water, and the matter of compulsory insurance. For example, if you do kite surfing, Swiss law requires you to have liability insurance with accident coverage of CHF 750,000. As a kite surfer, I can take out such an insurance, which is accepted all over the world, for as little as 10 euro – except, that is, for accidental damage if you’re a Swiss kite surfer in Switzerland. But if you’re a kite surfer from abroad, the insurance is still valid in Switzerland. I took objection to this and wrote an article about the topic. Sports clubs and the kite surfing community have been very grateful for this work.
How established is Open Access in the natural sciences?
Mallona: Open Access has been the standard in quantitative biology for years, and scientists maintain the highest levels of quality. This means that most of the papers in our field are freely available right from the start. As far as I can tell, most researchers in the natural sciences are in favor of Open Access. But there are some traditionalists who are skeptical and have reservations.
What about program codes? As an engineer, you not only generate data, but also develop programs to analyze biological data. Do you make the codes freely available, are they open source?
Mallona: Open Science publishing covers raw and metadata as well as the codes, of course – in keeping with the highest Open Access standards. The university’s infrastructure and other platforms allow us to share this information.
How widespread is Open Access in law?
Schneuwly: Most major journals don’t yet comply with the highest standards, i.e. gold or platinum Open Access, but with the green standard* instead. This means that it can take several months for an article to become available for free after it is published. It’s a compromise I can live with as a researcher. If a law firm needs an article for a legal document right away, they can always pay the publisher to access the article.
Stark: I think we should press publishers to conclude read-and-publish agreements and make as many journals as possible Open Access publications. The green path can mean that an article won’t be available in its final version, after it’s been copy-edited and typeset. That’s why I see green Open Access as a temporary solution at best.
How do junior researchers view Open Science?
Schneuwly: I think we all welcome this development and are “open”. We as junior researchers have conflicting goals, though, since for our careers it’s important that our work is published in renowned journals. So in a way, we are somewhat dependent on having good cooperation with journals. The crowning glory of any legal scholar is when our work is cited by the Federal Supreme Court. Open Access could raise the profile of our publications outside of the courts’ own libraries.
Mallona: It’s also about which criteria are used when appointing junior researchers to permanent positions. How valuable are Open Science publications for researchers’ careers? It’s up to the professorial appointment committees to start paying less heed to high-impact journals, and put more emphasis on Open Access journals. That would help us achieve the goals of Open Science.
Will the appointment process change?
Stark: It’s true, by giving less weight to publication lists and impact factors during appointment procedures, high-impact journals will become less important. But you have to be aware that going beyond simple numerical criteria such as the h-index involves a lot more work. That’s also one of the goals of the Declaration on Research Assessment** (DORA), which we signed in 2014. Implementing these things just takes time. But looking at the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries, I’m optimistic. They’re moving away from quantitative evaluations in their appointments, and giving more weight to other criteria.
Now that the Open Science Policy has been adopted, the implementation process begins. What are the next steps?
Stark: We’re currently working on the implementation plan. Open Science requires various changes in the research process, and the faculties have different traditions and needs that we’re taking into account. This entails talks with faculty representatives, technological evaluations for our servers and interfaces, personnel questions when it comes to supervising researchers as well as a change in the appointment and hiring culture. We’re looking into these matters carefully and will present the implementation plan and possibly also the required funding next fall.
The experiences with the Faculty of Law are encouraging, though. Just a year ago, there were more critical voices, but now the tide has turned, Open Access is being encouraged, and various people have got involved. We’ve made great headway this last year – not only at the Faculty of Law, but in the other faculties as well. Things are moving forward.
Elisabeth Stark, Vice President Research at UZH
Izaskun Mallona, senior teaching and research assistant at the Department of Quantitative
Biomedicine and the Department of Molecular Life Sciences, MNF
Anne Mirjam Schneuwly, senior teaching and research assistant at the chair for trade and
business law, RWF
* The Open Science Policycontains definitions of the various Open Access standards
** DORA (Declaration on Research Assessment)