Utrecht University: Unabashed and activistic; a new book on open science

Henk Kummeling, Rector Magnificus of Utrecht University, handed the first copy of the book Open Science: The Very Idea external linkto Jet Bussemaker, former minister of Education, Culture and Science, on 28 October. The book was written by one of the instigators of this culture change in science and a rebel from the very beginning: Frank Miedema, professor in Open Science and chair of the Open Science Programme at Utrecht University.

Prof. dr. Frank Miedema
Frank Miedema, author of Open Science: The Very Idea
In the large hall of the Utrecht Library on the Neude, Bussemaker recalls that when she took office ten years ago, the vision on science and society was expressed in the liberal slogan: knowledge, skill and money. According to her, this was an extremely simplistic and incorrect image of what that relationship should be. Bussemaker wanted socially engaged science that deals with questions from society.

But then came Frank Miedema, one of the founders of Science in Transition, who dared to question the foundations of the academic system. With his unabashed activism, Bussemaker says he punctured the myth of the selfless scientist and succeeded in getting people to look at science from a common sense perspective. People like him are very much needed in transitions like these, Bussemaker believes.

With unabashed activism, Miedema punctured the myth of the selfless scientist.

Jet Bussemaker
Former minister of Education, Culture and Science
Culture change
Fortunately, a lot has changed since then. We are now in the midst of a fantastic but also necessary culture change, says Henk Kummeling at the start of the afternoon. We want to give more knowledge back to society and bring that society inside, so that we can answer society’s relevant questions. Under the motto Sharing Science, Shaping Tomorrow, open science is therefore one of Utrecht University’s spearheads.

We want to give more knowledge back to society and bring that society inside.

Rector Magnificus
Cutting corners
In his book, Miedema outlines where he believes things have gone wrong. In academia, a self-focused publication culture prevails. One in which fundamental research is more highly regarded than applied research and in which a myth is maintained that there is such a thing as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science. Hieke Huistra, associate professor of history of science at Utrecht University and panel member this evening, shares his analysis. The pressure to publish and the workload are so high that many scientists are tempted to cut corners in order to publish more.

Panel discussion during book launch.
Public engagement paradox
Move in the direction of society, that is the open science way. Marij Swinkels, associate professor and researcher in administrative and organisational science at Utrecht University, shows that in practice however that this is not always easy. Although she was given space to do so, during her doctoral research she was labelled the “unusual PhD student” who spent so much time on interacting with a general audience. She calls this the public engagement paradox. There is a lot of recognition for public engagement from colleagues, but it does not yet pay off in explicit appreciation. It is not yet a direction in which you can officially develop as a scientist.

Science is also all about power
Where is the real conflict? someone in the audience asks at the end of the afternoon. Why are we not there yet? What is holding us back on the road to truly open science? Then the unabashed activist Miedema takes the floor again and supports what Jet Bussemaker has already pointed out: You expose the fact that politics is part of science. That this is also about power. People find this annoying, it is deeply rooted and it takes a lot of time to make the transition to Open Science.

You expose the fact that politics is part of science. That this is also about power.

Author of Open Science: The Very Idea
But Miedema is also hopeful. Because Open Science is now a broad international movement, which is also driven by a young generation of scientists and, partly due to the Dutch initiative, the European Commission fully endorsed it in 2016. The road to truly open science is still a long one, as it touches on many aspects of academics’ work. But we are taking huge steps.

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