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Open (adjective)

13 August 2007 5 Comments

Open [oh-puhn ] (adjective) not closed…having no means of closing or barring…relatively free of obstruction…without restrictions as to who may participate…undecided; unsettled… (from Dictionary.com)

There is a great deal of confusion out there as to what ‘Open’ means, especially in science. The definitions above seem particularly apposite ‘…relatively free of obstruction…’. Certainly undecided or unsettled seems appropriate in some cases. The claims of a journal to be ‘Open Access’ can set off a barrage of comment in the blogosphere. Whether this makes any difference to the journal is unclear but definitions are clearly important. If my aim here is talk about Open Science then it is sensible to be clear what I mean.

So the following stand as definitions until they need to be changed;

Open Access (of journals, data, or anything else really): Means freely available and accesible to use, re-use, re-distribute, re-mix subject only to a requirement to attribute the work. Essentially as described in the Berlin and Bethesda declarations. Well summarised by Chris Surridge on his blog at PLoS ONE.

Freely accesible: On the web, indexed by search engines, in a useable format, with no requirement to pay for access and no exclusion of any potential users (except perhaps for antisocial behaviour).

Open Notebook Science: This is Jean-Claude Bradley‘s term which I think encompasses much of what I am interested in doing and has been pretty clearly defined (see here and here). To summarise this means that every experiment that is done and every piece of data that is collected is placed online in a freely accessible repository in a timely manner. I would add to this something which I don’t think is explicit in previous definitions but I think is implicit in the way his group works and make their data available. That is that there must be space for interaction, comments, and questions from the outside world.

Open Science is really too woolly a term to mean anything much but it encompasses the movement that is working towards more of the above throughout the science community. Its a good phrase, it captures the imagination, is evocative, and memorable. Its just too big to be pinned down. But its a big set of ideas, so let’s see where it leads us.


  • There is certainly a lot of confusion about terms in this area. I agree that “Open Science” still has value as an umbrella term when trying to organize people under a theme. The problem arises when people use that term with something much more specific in mind and assume that everyone has the same idea.

  • There is certainly a lot of confusion about terms in this area. I agree that “Open Science” still has value as an umbrella term when trying to organize people under a theme. The problem arises when people use that term with something much more specific in mind and assume that everyone has the same idea.

  • Yep, hence my desire to define things at the beginning. Open Science is more a banner than a useful description of something specific.

  • Yep, hence my desire to define things at the beginning. Open Science is more a banner than a useful description of something specific.

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