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What drives us: Exploring the possibilities of Open Science

In our new interview series, we asked leaders at PLOS to share what motivates them to push the boundaries of science communication and support research and researchers. In today’s post PLOS Open Research Manager, Marcel LaFlamme discusses the importance of Open Science and being curious and collaborative in our approach to building solutions.

Please tell us a little bit about what you do at PLOS.

As part of the Open Research team, I’m working to advance the adoption of open science in the research communities that PLOS serves. This work is core to our mission, because we see Open Science adoption as essential to increasing accessibility, trust and collaboration around research that can solve pressing problems. Beyond just publishing the finished product of scientific research on an open access basis, we want to see researchers sharing outputs from across the entire research cycle as openly as possible.

In some fields sharing early and often is second nature, but in others this takes real reorientation. So my job is to understand the needs that particular research communities have around open science, the challenges they face as well as the assets they bring to the table. From there, my colleagues and I develop solutions that can move the needle on the uptake of open science by PLOS authors—this could be a policy, a technology, or something else—and then test their effectiveness to see if these solutions might be relevant elsewhere.

During your time at PLOS, what initiatives have you been involved with that have been driven by curiosity?

One project that I’m involved with at the moment is a study of how and why researchers share detailed methods information. There’s been very little written about this, relative to other open science practices like data sharing. So, both at PLOS and as we’ve discussed this study with other stakeholders, there’s a genuine sense of curiosity about an understudied phenomenon; we know that we need to understand the current state of play before we can improve on it.

To develop a research instrument for this study, I conducted exploratory interviews with researchers from a diverse set of backgrounds. I engaged with scholarship from outside the narrow domain of publishing, drawing inspiration from a study of what film studies researcher Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky calls “the process genre.” I also worked with colleagues from other teams at PLOS to sharpen the question logic and sampling strategy for the survey I created: like most scientists, I collaborated rather than trying to become an expert in everything.

I’m still in the midst of analyzing our results, but whatever we find we intend to share openly. That’s one of the things that makes me proud to work at PLOS: even as we use the research we conduct to inform our internal decision-making, we also communicate that knowledge back to the research community in order to keep driving discovery forward.

Why do you think this approach is important for science?

Having curiosity guide our work at PLOS is important for at least two reasons. The first is being empirical. Even as evidence piles up about the scientific and societal benefits of openness, the persistence of more closed ways of doing research suggests that advocates need to do more than simply talk louder. For instance, I admire the work that science studies researcher Nicole Nelson has done to show that limited uptake of reproducibility reforms may be about more than misaligned incentives. Curiosity means not getting too attached to any one explanation.

The second reason for foregrounding curiosity is being critical. A recent edited collection on the study of curiosity opened with questions that have stayed with me: “Who can be curious, within what contexts, why, and how? For whom is curiosity valorized?” These questions chime with a heightened focus, at PLOS and elsewhere, on equity and inclusion in open science. Against the backdrop of historical disparities that concentrated opportunities for scientific inquiry in the global North, we must ensure that our current efforts open up what counts as legitimate knowledge and avoid stratifying researchers into creators and reusers.

What does it mean to you personally to be involved in work like this?

My own research background is in cultural anthropology, a field whose method is rooted in appreciative curiosity about how people—including scientists!—go about their everyday lives. This personal and professional curiosity still kicks in every time I’m talking to a researcher and hear a term used in a way that I don’t (yet) understand.

During my PhD, I thought that I would channel this curiosity into a career as a professor. But, in the work I’m doing now around open science, I’ve found another, no less rewarding way to learn about new communities and to help them realize their aims. It’s meaningful for me to be able to tell early-career researchers that you can live out your values off of the tenure track.

By the end of your career, what do you hope people will think about your contribution?

I hope they’ll think of me as a boundary crosser, someone who asked big-picture questions that cast problems in a usefully different light. I hope they’ll say that I was willing to experiment, to try things that might end up failing and to be transparent about it when they did. I hope they’ll see that I left scholarly communication a little weirder, kinder, and more open than I found it.

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