If You Want Open Science, Then You Need to Convince Funders

What with the RWA kerfuffle, there has been a resurgence in advocacy for open-access science–not just removing paywalls, but also eliminating traditional peer review. To put it simply, if you are serious about this, then you have to work with funders on this; this will not be a bottom-up movement:

Peer-reviewed papers, to funding agencies, are the mark of good research (whether that should the case is an entirely separate post). They are currency: more papers increases the likelihood of funding. In biology, generating the data undergirding those peer-reviewed papers is time-consuming and expensive. You don’t want, and more importantly, can’t afford to have someone swooping in and publishing ‘your’ data first. This isn’t idle speculation on my part: I know of several cases where smaller groups did some genomic sequencing, released the data, and then had a paper scooped by another group (often a high-powered analysis group focused solely on genetic analysis of sequence data). When these scooped investigators then try to convince funders that they’ve been productive, they have one less paper to show for their efforts (and these efforts are expensive and time consuming).

There’s no magic funding fairy. Research, even on a small scale, is usually quite expensive. I’m open to open publishing (so to speak), and have legitimate bona fides regarding public release of unpublished data. But for many PIs, it really is ‘publish or perish’ due to funding incentives.

If you want open science, then you need to convince the funders. Until then, no one will take you very seriously. Cuz people got bills to pay.

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2 Responses to If You Want Open Science, Then You Need to Convince Funders

  1. I completely agree, which is why I am for legislation that requires open access to publicly funded research.

    Thanks for the shout out.

  2. mattoddchem says:

    We ran an open science project that was published, and which was fully funded by a combination of WHO and government support. The grant’s still running, but the first paper came out last year.


    Now we’re starting open source drug discovery for malaria, and it’s only possible because we secured funding, again from government and this time the Medicines for Malaria Venture.


    So these are properly funded grants, i.e. several hundred K to support postdocs.

    I think the funding agencies see the huge value of openness – leveraging more effort than the direct funding would on a closed project, allowing any experts to work on the science, allowing for data re-use. I think the main challenge may be convincing our peers that openness is good, since our peers are our grant referees. In both my grants above all the referees were extremely supportive. I have tried to secure a grant for an open science project in pure organic chemistry, and while the referees were very supportive, it was torpedoed at some point, for whatever reason. Last week I submitted another attempt.

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