June 6, 2017

(F)actually inevitable: 6 frames popular media use when writing about the mystery of Open Science

Opening up “openness”

There is generally a lot of fuss made about the notion of “openness”. Everything should be open. Not only beers and bars, but above all our minds. However, some 15 years ago, also science jumped on the bandwagon of becoming “open”, starting the movement of Open Science, that basically wants every single scientific thing produced made accessible for everyone, everywhere, everytime. Sounds pretty good, right?

Sure, it sounds good, because these days “open” seems to always be the better option than “closed”. But what is it that we are actually talking about when we use the term Open Science? Frankly, nobody knows. Or at least nobody has an answer that everybody would agree on, regardless of how many tried to construct a proper definition. A study conducted in 2016 scientifically showed that even scientists, more precisely biomedicists, are not quite sure about what this openness in science is and/or ought to be. It has many facets and characteristics, however all of them somehow pointing to one idea: that everybody should be able to know what he or she wants to know. 

So we gave it a name, we found out that it is difficult to define, but how is this somewhat strange thing behaving  in the real world? Well, it is ambiguous. There has been lots of debates going on in scientific circles about how to implement this probably really not so bad idea of openness in the scientific world. But unfortunately, there is still no masterplan available that will definitely lead to a world with/of Open Science.

Framing “openness”

That being said… no, I do not dare to now attempt defining “Open Science” (or Open Access, or Open Scource or…) once and for all. But after all, not having a clear definition of something does not keep people from talking, writing and reading about it, be they of scientific or of non-scientific heritage.
I am now following a simple, yet scientifically reasonable logic: Firstly, a bulk of every research that is being conducted is publicly funded. Secondly, the public opinion on a topic is to some degree dependent on media coverage of that very topic. Hence, thirdly, public media do have a certain influence on the general acceptance of Open Science. So, what I do dare to do is a short observation of how the very notion of Open Science is being framed in popular media. To that end, I combed through the archives of some newspapers and magazines, eventually deciding to focus on three media, namely on the anglophone media of The Atlantic (this article, this and this) and The New York Times (used articles here and here) as well as a big german newspaper called the Süddeutsche Zeitung (article onetwo and three).

Closely reading the aricles, I tried detecting certain formulations or words that put Open Science in a certain context, lading it with whatever notion. I then categorised those little traces I found, eventually coming up with six frameworks that all the different media use in one way or another. That said, the articles seemed to frame Open Science as a question of…

1. ... money vs. moral
Source: Imgur
This frame shows a crucial conflict that today’s scientist often find themselves in when considering to make their material accessible. Alan Leshner, executive publisher of Science, in the Atlantic gets quoted with “Open Access is what I call doing the right thing”. But that stands in stark oppostion to another interviewee who would rather “pay a person” than “publish 10 papers open access”. Some scientists want to, but cannot open up their material.

2. ... insufficient elaboration
The framework of Open Science simply being not completely thought through as an idea is used in virtually all articles. It goes hand in hand with the first frame, and is often tried to be proven with examples, such as the EU making big plans about having every EU-funded research accessible by 2020 without actually explaining how this is supposed to work out.

3. Logic, necessity and (f)actual inevitability
Within this frame, Open Science as such is rendered logic (“Open is better than closed”), necessary (say, pulling up the so called reproducibility crisis as something that Open Science could prevent) and eventually as plain inevitable (“They [the Nature journal] know it’s happening”).

4. ... generations
Source: neurosculptinginstitute.com
Another common frame is that of what I call the clash not only of cultures, but of generations. It connects to some extent with the third frame, especially with the inivitability. No matter if it is the Atlantic, the New York Times or the Süddeutsche, the idea that “culture change is […] often done by the younger generation” comes up at several places, at one point also accusing the current scientific world to be “conservative”. Concomitant, the idea of a personal decision for or against Open Science that scientists at some point have to made, is constructed particularly in the Süddeutsche. 

5. ... competitiveness vs. ‘togetherness’
The fifth frame is about the quandary between working against other scientists or in loose collaboration. Data immediately opened up can be misused, which, according to the articles, leaves researchers with the decision to keep their data for themselves, not risking others to benefit of the data to the creators disadvantages, or opening it up anyway, having to “rely on fairness of the others”.

6. ... political effort
Lastly, the role (inter)national politics plays pops up more than once, yet mostly with regard to where the publisher is based. The Atlantic mentions the Trump presidency as a possible threat to American science, whereas the Süddeutsche mentions the EU several times, even in two of three headlines of the articles that I have had a look at.

These frameworks do not claim to be to perfect and/or the only solution to this question and naturally tend to blend into each other, but they nevertheless already can tell us something about how Open Science might be framed in popular, non-scientific media. Apart of that, I shall add that from the endless number of possible frames it is not only important what frames I could observe, but also what I could not observe, simply because they are not used in the articles. An article can hardly explain and convey the entire discourse around Open Science, so it is unavoidable for any journalist to disregard some aspects while presenting other.

Now... what?

Source: Imgur
This is just a blogpost based on a rough analysis of eight articles from three different media. But yet, this is still more than nothing and I think already this small analysis could reveal some of the major discourses swirling around when people talk about the notion of Open Science. A lot has already been done, even more is on the way, but much more still lies ahead of the scientific community if Open Science is to be made reality. How Open Science is constructed and perceived in/through (public) media is only a small part, and even though many people might be convinced of the general idea through media coverage, a lot more and much more practical solutions will have to be found in order to make Open Science work. This only leaves me with proposing much more research to be done. Research on the comparison between public and scientific media, research about the the framing in different countries as well as research about framings, opinions and practical considerations of different scientific disciplines, which would shed light on where and maybe also how to start if we are to make Open Science the standard way of how science works. Open Science might be a good thing in a perfect world, but this world unfortunately is far from being perfect, including the science world. It is on us to make the world as perfect as we can to give Open Science the space it needs so that its advantages at some point exceed its current disadvantages.


  1. Dear Sebastian,
    In my review I will begin with general observation of your blog post, then I will follow with comments on different sections/levels and conclude with some recommendations.
    First, I think you have chosen an interesting perspective to look at how popular media frames open science and you argue that public opinion is highly dependent on it. In the beginning you briefly have stated a discourse around a definition of open science among scholars and then moved to your research interest in popular media framings of open science. Providing 6 major frames as results of your analysis you concluded with personal thoughts and suggestion for future research in this area.

    As I said your topic is very interesting however I believe that your research question is too broad and requires more time and effort to investigate.

    Level of importance:
    The article is dedicated directly to the question of “open science” thus it’s of relevance for the seminar. The blog gives some new perspectives on how popular media frames open access by naming six frames which author observed during his analysis. The frames are not that much elaborated, but I found them quite interesting and novel to note. Therefore I would mark it with 4.5/5.

    Level of validity:
    The six frames named and illustrated by the author are not supportive enough, taking into consideration 8 articles analyzed. Some of the arguments supported only by one example or one article, which may not mean that the same argument can be met in the rest of the articles. Plus, formulation of ‘frames’ is not really clear for me. Thus, “insufficient elaboration” does not really match the explanation provided. The first sentence of its paragraph is totally confusing (I will comment on language later). I would consider thinking about a better title.
    My mark would be 3.5/5.

    Level of completeness:
    The author started with the general question defining what is open science by providing a good reference to the article discussed in class. I am not sure that the second article provided as “scientifically reasonable logic” fits to the scope of your research and relevant enough to cite. Some of the articles provided in German were difficult to assess since my level of German is not that high. The author also did not provide the criteria by which he picked up those articles, as for example, he explained that choice of journals was just an eventual decision. It was not convenient to go back to articles when the author provided examples illustrating frames. Thus providing again links when referring (illustrating examples) to one or another article would be useful.
    I would grade it with 3/5.

  2. Level of comprehensibility:
    The blog post has clear structure and logic, however most of the sentences are too long and confusing in terms of grammar and syntaxes. Sometimes I had to reread such sentences in order to understand what the author wanted to tell its audience. Plus, I spotted several spelling mistakes and typos. What I liked about the style, is that the author was successful in being informal with its audience by, for example, posing questions and immediately answering to them☺ At the end some thoughts related to the additional research in this area are suggested, however this does not have any ground since there was no deep literature review and submergence into the field. Thus, I believe it would be better to end the post with summarizing 6 frames and why they are interesting for publics. As for the images, I may agree that it can be tough to find relevant images in open source, so they are just nice general illustrations. The last GIF is funny though.
    My grade would be 3.5/5.

    In the conclusion, I would like to give some recommendation to the author when writing a blog entry. Do not complicate language and grammar. Try to be short, precise and stick to the point. It’s not a scholarly article. And make it flow as if you are writing a story, this is a purpose of the blog – engage with your audience.

    Overall, I enjoyed reading this post and definitely found interesting and novel moments in relation to how we may see ‘open science’ movement presented by media.

    Thanks, Sebastian!

  3. Hi! very good pick of topic! Such a "pilot" study definitely helps to grasp the media related public understanding of openness, it would now be very interesting to do a systematic grand study and to include specific media types, such as generalist academic journals such as science and nature, and to catalogue the assemblage of pros, cons, expectation, and the many more frames that you hint to. Your conclusion however, is a bit - lets say - "offhand", you could have summarised your insights again with a set of prospective questions to ask in follow up studies. And you could have hinted to the open definition in the beginning of your text http://opendefinition.org/ , and the many other definitions (and thought schools) that we talked about in the seminar, e.g. this text: http://book.openingscience.org/basics_background/open_science_one_term_five_schools_of_thought.html .