‘Science without Borders’: the EOSC launch
At a time when the world is erecting new physical and political borders, in science – finally – boundaries are being erased. Thus Ruth Wodak, Distinguished Professor and Chair in Discourse Studies, welcomed the launch of the European Open Science Could (EOSC) on 23 November 2018 at the University of Vienna. While Wodak joined other speakers in welcoming the EOSC, many also highlighted that the real work in making the cloud a reality begins now.
The opportunities are transformative. Wen Hwa Lee (University of Oxford) outlined his own experience crowdsourcing research questions and research data in drug discovery, which led to dramatic improvements in bringing new drugs to the market. Viktor Jirsa (Aix-Marseille Université) explained the power of open science in the complex mapping of the brain, while other speakers also noted how the EOSC could improve access to data not only for scientists but also for consumers and patients.
However, the EOSC now needs a critical mass of scientists who use it, and it needs to deal with many unresolved issues, including establishing common rules of participation. The cloud needs an interface that is easy to understand and easy to navigate – for researchers in any discipline, but also (given its democratic ambitions) for citizens.
Critically, as Eva Méndez (University Carlos III of Madrid) emphasised, the EOSC needs to ensure there is space for serendipity: researchers must be able to browse, find data by accident and establish new and unforeseen connections between different datasets – just like in a physical lab or an archive. For this to happen researchers must be able to reach across disciplines, and at the same time, rely on protocols to guide how different types of data are shared and on what basis.
The challenges for researchers and institutions are even more daunting. As Paul Ayris (University College London) pointed out, most researchers in university settings have never heard of the EOSC. To practice open science and engage with the cloud, researchers need to work with research data management plans, but creating and sustaining these were tasks that most individuals and institutions have not yet embarked on: overall, the incentive for institutions to engage with the EOSC has been unclear. While the overall scientific, economic and democratic logic of the EOSC’s benefits are inescapable, for individual institutions the incentive for engaging has been less obvious.
The EOSC will be led, for the next two years, by an Executive Board chaired by Karel Luyben (TU Delft). Reflecting on the launch of the EOSC Jan Palmowski, Secretary-General of The Guild, commented that for the EOSC to succeed, this board will have to establish some quick wins, and persuade researchers and companies to use the EOSC. The speed of implementation and the act of winning hearts and minds make uncomfortable allies. But the EOSC Governing Board must achieve both. As Palmowski noted: “The future of the EOSC is not just about doing science better. It is also about whether Europe can lead in setting the norms and rules for open science – or whether this will be left to others.”