Can we risk being open? Or should we be asking can we risk not being open?

NESTAs 2009 Crucible programme had its second residential last weekend and the group received a presentation from Dr Cameron Neylon from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

Cameron is an enthusiast for open science – anything from open access publication to blogging about lab results as soon as you have them. Through open access to data and the collaboration that this allows, Camerom believes that we will make more progress and ultimately innovate quicker.

Interestingly many of the early career researchers who participate in Crucible found this appraoch alien and certainly not a way of working their home institutions promote!

The general feeling was that working this way could be risky for an early career researcher – what if someone steals your results?

Cameron has blogged about the event at Science in the Open and the article and responses have brought up some interesting ideas around the issue of risk. Careers in research are risky enough as it is – is working in an open way any more of a risk?, or could it actually create new research pathways and be less risky?

Another reply has suggested that the perceived risk is conencted to the way research is funded. The system has arisen whereby we effectively fund work that has alrady been done as grants will only be awarded for work that is so clear cut and proven that it has no risk associated with it. It is only in this environment that researchers can not risk sharing data or results in an open way.


  1. We’re looking into how early career researchers use technology to collaborate at the moment, and this touches upon the question of openness, although I fear will not provide real results in this area.
    I believe that open research practices are currently very unevenly distributed – across subject; perhaps across research groups (does an open-aligned professor increase the chances of younger researchers following that path?); and perhaps across career stage – are mature researchers, with book deals and established posts, more (or less?) likely to engage with open work, than those with no status or stability, who must win the approval of new professors every couple of years as they move between postdocs?

  2. Laura, i think we definitely need more role-models who can show early career researchers that it is possible to work in an open way without commiting career suicide. We are actually about to commission some case studies – so if you have some good examples from Cambridge that we could use, let me know!

  3. Rachel, thanks for the write-up and glad this has provoked some thinking in different places!
    Laura, you are absolutely right that practice is very un-even and distributed. It is actually one of the major problems in promoting open practice because the real benefits only kick in when there are like minded people who are close enough to your work to find it useful but not so close (i.e. within the same group) that they already know (although communication within groups is an area which could do with a lot of improvement).
    My gut feeling is that most of the open people are either postdocs, who therefore are limited as to what they can actually do but are very effective cheer-leaders, and mid-career researchers. People at the top of their field are usually comfortable with the systems they have in place and aren’t interested in changing practices. Early career independent researchers get a lot of pressure to conform (while demonstrating their individuality!) and are often too scared of anything that might be perceived as “sketchy” to pursue it – generally with good reason. At this career stage it is all about how you are perceived. Too much of a maverick and you can get into trouble.
    But people who are somewhat established but looking for an edge or something that makes them stand out can move more easily in this direction.

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