Home » Blog

Diversity and Inclusion are the Uniting Principle of Open Science

11 August 2017 No Comment

I had a twitter rant and a few people asked if I would convert it into a post. It also seemed worth preserving. This is a very lightly edited version of the thread that starts with this tweet.

The only thing that links all varying strands of open science (and open scholarship more generally) is inclusion and diversity as a first principle. The primary value proposition of open science is that diverse contributions allow better critique, refinement, and application. This is most obvious in the strands of citizen science, stakeholder engagement, and responsible research and innovation. But it is equally true in strands of open data, transparency, registered reports, and open notebook science.

The point of more complete release of record is to enable a diversity of critique and contribution via more diverse communication modes. The point of earlier release of results is to gain more diverse commentary and input on the direction of research. When we talk about need to support “machine reading” we’re also talking about a particular form of inclusion and diversity (see particularly Latour in Politics of Nature for the full fat version of this perspective). It’s just that way too many of us have privileged the diversity of machine readers over underrepresented minorities for way too long. Myself included.

The fundamental claim of open science is that diverse questions, diverse outputs, diverse critique, and diverse capacities combine to make better research. This also turns out to be the underlying position of many other folks from Boyle to Merton and beyond. Organized skepticism from Merton, full communication of the record, including failed experiments, from Boyle, esoteric and exoteric communities from Fleck. But most fundamentally diversity is the bedrock of empiricism. Testing knowledge claims across contexts for their generality, across diverse contexts to test them to breaking point. Falsification involves the serious attempt to disprove a theory. Where better to figure out how best to do that than from someone with a different experience and perspective?

Ultimately this is why I’ve moved from the sciences to the humanities. Science is good at answering carefully posed questions. Humanities has a great skill set and tool kits for asking whether those are the right questions to be posing, and why they are being posed that way. It often seems that the academic humanities aren’t so good at turning that apparatus on ourselves but the tool kits are at least there. The same has been true of open science We have talked implicitly about diversity (of outputs, of timing of release, of contributors). But because we have not focused on diversity explicitly we missed the general point. The point that diversity and inclusion are the core epistemological priors of the general argument.

So how do we fix that? Well to start with, we need to shut up and listen when underrepresented minorities raise issues with our scholarship. Not just because its polite or politic, but because these are some of the most powerful opportunities to test our claims in wider contexts. Fundamentally its just good scholarship. General knowledge claims need to find purchase or application in diverse contexts to have value (and that value is in turn contextual). The only way to test that is to work towards greater diversity and inclusion. Listen to those wider contexts. As we often say of open science, it’s just good research.

It took many people with sufficient patience to lead me to this. But you can find many who will challenge your perspectives productively on social media. If you can listen you can gain the insight of many different perspectives, many a long distance from your own experience. Unfortunately making a list is a great way of having those people get even more crap in their streams than they already do (hint: the verb in the previous sentence is listen). But they’re not hard to find if you put the effort in.