For many academics, what is best for their careers is not what is in the public’s interest. What felt so obvious in the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic—that research could be better, faster, and more relevant if it was shared openly—seems to once again be widely ignored. In some instances, sharing openly and engaging with the public, as was so common during the pandemic, is simply not encouraged. In other instances, it is actively discouraged.
The sad truth is that the reward mechanisms in science very often promote the opposite practices that we widely accept as being good for science and good for the public. This need not be the case. It is possible to realign academic career incentives so that we can do well for ourselves while doing what is in the best interests of the public.
But there is work to be done.
Unfortunately, our research shows that the guidelines for review, promotion, and tenure at universities in the US and Canada do not, as of a couple of years ago, embrace more publicly oriented forms of scholarship. We found a misalignment between the stated goals of institutions (e.g., to serve the public) and the incentives they made explicit.
Instead, what is clearly emphasized and often explicitly rewarded, is publication in traditional (read: subscription-based, closed) scholarly journals and the use of citation-based metrics, especially the Journal Impact Factor. This, naturally, meant an absence or lesser emphasis on non-traditional outputs, such as open data, preprints, blogs, or podcasts, all of which would reflect efforts on the part of researchers to share their work openly and widely.
Fortunately, there are indications that things are changing.
To start, the concept of Open Science (OS) is becoming widespread and more broadly discussed. The recent UNESCO recommendations for Open Science and more policies being put in place to ensure access to research are a testament to the broader shift. The pandemic, for all the harm it did and continues to do, also pushed these conversations into public venues, further normalizing the adoption of OS. It is now easier than ever to imagine a near future in which those academics who share their research and engage with the public are those who succeed.
If, like me, you believe that the public would be better served if we weren’t so hung up on prestige and citation metrics, then I encourage you to review these resources and case studies compiled by DORA — a worldwide initiative recognizing the need to improve the ways in which researchers and the outputs of scholarly research are evaluated. Research assessment plays an important role in shaping our research culture, but there is no need to wait for systemic change to open our own work. OS practices are being increasingly accepted and welcomed. The more we can make explicit the public value of opening up our work, the more likely it will be that we will be rewarded for the decision to make your research open access, to share a dataset, to write a blog post, or to otherwise open up our research.
We would like to thank and acknowledge the team behind the Review, Promotion, and Tenure project which includes: Dr. Erin McKiernan, Dr. Meredith Niles, Dr. Lesley Schimanski, Carol Muñoz Nieves, Lisa Matthias, Michelle La, Esteban Morales, and Diane (DeDe) Dawson.