UZH has a long commitment to making academic research freely and openly available. The university supports the implementation of the national Open Science Principles, which aim to promote open exchange, transparency, reproducibility and documentation requirements as a means of enhancing research quality and efficacy.
To promote an open research culture and drive open science forward, UZH has embraced the motto “Open by Default”, i.e. open science should be the guiding principle when publishing. With the financial support of swissuniversities, open science practices can now be further developed and implemented.
A prime example of the benefits of open science and free exchange of data was the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to virologists publishing the complete genome data publicly from the very beginning, vaccines could be developed in record time. In addition, new information on the strains in circulation is continually being published, which is vital for governmental authorities to plan necessary measures.
However, the availability of research data also addresses another fundamental problem in science: the reproducibility crisis. This crisis refers to the fact that between one and two thirds (depending on the discipline) of published scientific findings cannot be replicated. While there are many reasons for this problem, researchers widely agree that publication of the raw data would help improve reproducibility.
As a member of the Executive Board of the University and deputy president of the Delegation for Open Science (DelOS) set up by swissuniversities, Christian Schwarzenegger is committed to and convinced of the need for cultural change. The current open requests for proposals for innovative projects at universities in the area of open research data have a big role to play here. Swissuniversities is making around CHF 32 million available for this purpose, for which researchers from Swiss universities are eligible to apply.
Schwarzenegger encourages UZH members from all disciplines to apply with creative project proposals (link). The deadlines are tight: an initial UZH-internal deadline for proposals closes on 15 June 2022. Schwarzenegger is asking for a rapid response: “The RFPs provide an excellent opportunity to deepen our expertise in open science and data science.” The national strategy broadly defines research data as “digital objects” that are necessary for the reuse of data and the reproduction of research results. According to the umbrella organization’s strategy paper, one important goal is to develop practices for sharing research data and infrastructure.
The call from swissuniversities comes at the right time for UZH. The university approved its own Open Science Policy last year and is in the process of implementing regulations intended to promote and guide the cultural shift to open science. “Our university policy aligns with the national strategy and the rapidly accelerating international situation, and establishes the conditions for its implementation at our university," says Elisabeth Stark, Vice President Research.
UZH has already taken various measures and supports activities at different levels. For example, open science delegates have been appointed, courses on digital skills for junior researchers have been launched, and at the University Library, data experts from Open Science Services support researchers with issues related to open access and data management. In addition, UZH is investing directly in open research data and is committed to ensuring it is directly connected to potential national data repositories. Like Christian Schwarzenegger, Stark welcomes swissuniversities’ call for proposals, because it supports UZH’s own activities and will help establish new practices for handling research data.
Last year, the umbrella organization of Swiss universities issued a call for proposals in the area of open science, focusing on projects for open access, i.e. barrier-free publishing, in spring 2021. UZH researchers successfully participated and obtained grants of almost CHF three million – more than a third of the total funds awarded. “These good results reflect our positive momentum in the area of open access,” says Vice President Stark.
Two of these projects are presented in more detail in the box below. Elisabeth Stark and Christian Schwarzenegger are hoping that many UZH members will take part in the open research data call. It presents a good opportunity for researchers to further develop practices in dealing with open research data in their respective subject areas.
One thing is certain: while the cultural shift towards open science will be an ongoing task for the next few years, the direct effects are already being felt. From 2024, according to Switzerland’s national Open Access Strategy, all publications based on publicly funded projects must be freely accessible. The Swiss National Science Foundation also announced at the end of May that it would join Coalition S, the largest international initiative for the realization of open access. All the more reason to help shape the change and establish best practices for data sharing.