Open Science and Independent Digital Humanities

The international call for and expectation of Open Science poses a big challenge for the EU and the individual governments, for legislators and for the research community. Open Science means openly accessible, shared and reusable scientific research as opposed to institutionalized, privately owned data with restricted access.

The EU responds to the new expectation for Open Science by stimulating discussion and providing a platform for stakeholders and interested citizen to inform themselves and participate in the creation of an Open Science Cloud. The EOSC pilot project has as its mission

  • Facilitating access of researchers across all scientific disciplines to data
  • Establishing a governance and business model that sets the rules for the use of EOSC
  • Creating a cross-border and multi-disciplinary open innovation environment for research data, knowledge and services
  • Establishing global standards for interoperability for scientific data [1]

The pilot project holds forums, discussions and surveys in order to create Open Science policies  and bring Europe together to face the challenges of an Open Science Cloud. Some of these challenges are technical skills, infrastructure, appropriate policies, operational structures, security, and funding. EOSC works with educators in order to train people to help them contribute to the project and create the skills that are needed.

 

The research community responds by establishing policies, research data management plans and code of ethics to be prepared for Open Science and be able to contribute and regulate the contribution accordingly. The Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) states that ‘’Data Management Plans (DMPs) help demonstrate transparency and openness and return on public investment by validating that data as an output of publicly funded research are discoverable, accessible and reusable’’ [2]. The research community and research organizations put structures in place that enable them to make their research data public and reusable in the spirit of Open Science. Organizations like the Research Data Alliance (RDA) focus on building research networks, technically and socially, to enable the sharing and re-use of data [3]. As is stated on the RDA’s website, ‘’The RDA vision is for researchers and innovators to openly sharing data across technologies, disciplines, and countries to address the grand challenges of society’’.

 

To summarize the challenges for Europe and for the research community, in order to make Open Science possible, we need professional, cross-disciplinary networks, technical excellence and expertise, and  policies and data management plans that allow international standards to be established.

 

So, how is Open Science relevant specifically to the Digital Humanities? In his Seven reasons why we need an independent Digital Humanities [4], Gregory Crane brings together the need for Open Science and the fundamental problems and challenges of the Humanities. He proposes seven cognitive challenges for the Humanities, which can be addressed by means of independent Digital Humanities and Open Science.

 

The first challenge is the assumption that research looks like what we would like to do ourselves, because we assume that new technologies are only useful if the product looks like what we are used to from old research.

The second challenge is the assumption that we do not have to learn new methods to use results and that new methods must be treated as subordinate technical skills and presented in a format easy to understand by experts of traditional skills.

The third challenge is the focus on quality instead of processes, which leads to the shift to the digital world being treated as a debate rather than a reality.

The fourth challenge is that we forget that we have to continue adapting to the digital space and it’s change because we think that by using all these technologies already and submitting papers online, we arrived in the digital world and forget that it means constant development.

The fifth challenge is that not only interdisciplinarity but also contacts to new fields necessary as there is still ‘’insularity between related disciplines and departments’’ (15).

The sixth challenge is that we lack a culture or openness and collaboration and we need a ”synthesis of action and reflection” (15). To make research available in a meaningful way, humanists need to think about past present and future alike.

The final challenge is that a few specialists and not the whole community decide what is important. Professors are dependent on their students to make their work meaningful and relevant and scholasticism is a danger that threatens to stop innovation and openness. Crane postulates that humanists need to be able to ”explain what their do and why it matters” (21).

Together with these challenges come three fundamental constraints or barriers that limit our ability to serve the intellectual life of society.

The first is the distribution problem, which can be solved by open access because ”openness and transparency are the foundations of any healthy scientific discourse” (26).

The second is the library problem, which relates to how publications should be documented, as they need to be read against their primary and secondary sources. Authors have to ensure that the readers understand the links between texts and that they know how to find the information that is referred to. For this, we need different digital editions to understand reliability of the evidence. Furthermore, by handing their work to commercial entities, scholars ensure that only a special audience will get access, but a solution to this problem is being hindered by the need for prestige that many institutions strive for.

The third problem is the comprehension problem, which asks how sources of humanities can be made intellectually accessible. Open access to academic publications is important, but it can only be beneficial if they are written in a language that can be understood, otherwise the knowledge is lost.

Concluding, Crane states that Digital Humanities are insurgent and disruptive. Insurgent because they ”provide a new space where students of the human record are free to explore within a digital space anything that they can argue advances our ability to think about the past” (39). Disruptive because ”they redefine who understands what and how we think about the past” (40).

What Crane explains is that unless we have an agenda of independent (i.e open) Digital Humanities, the challenges that the traditional humanities are facing cannot be solved, and in order to contribute to public good, the barriers and constraint identified by him have to be addressed.

I find this article very important as it constitutes a guide for humanists to work on making their academic fields compatible with modern online culture and thus keeping their disciplines alive and healthy. As a scholar of Greek and Latin, Crane addresses the fundamental problems that the humanities have had for the last decades, and which, although becoming more and more evident, have not been addressed in a solution-oriented way.

The humanities are the fundamentals of human society and culture. Without the ancient philosophers and scholars, humanity would not have been able to become what it is today. Nevertheless, we tend to be forgetting how important the soft sciences are – the sciences that are concerned with human behaviour and culture. They tend to be forgotten in an increasingly technical, digital, networked environment in which the hard sciences are in demand. I argue, that exactly because of the rapid technological environment do we need humanities more than ever, in order to understand what it means to be human in a digital world.

Although there is a discrimination of the humanities by funding bodies, institutions and industries, which prefer STEM subjects and hard sciences, the responsibility to change this lies with the humanities themselves, which have been resisting change and innovation for too long. There is a strong emphasis on academic traditions and norms in the humanities, which makes it almost impossible to keep up with technological progress and the necessity for a softening of rigid disciplinary and departmental boundaries.

In order to embrace new digital media and make them work in favour of and in harmony with the humanities, we need to “reestablish the social contracts upon which we always must depend for our existence” (Crane, p.2), and this is an important task of the Digital Humanities.

When thinking about Open Science, we have to think about humanities’ research as well and it is necessary to address the challenges that such an approach brings to an academic field, that is still rooted very much in the past. The Digital Humanities provide a bridge between traditional humanities’ thinking about the past and an Open Science approach directed towards the future.

 


[1] https://www.eoscpilot.eu/ (accessed 26/10/2018).

[2] https://www.dri.ie/research-data-management-plans (accessed 26/10/2018).

[3] https://rd-alliance.org/about-rda (accessed 26/10/2018).

[4] Crane, G. 2015. Seven Reasons Why We Need an Independent Digital Humanities. Perseus Digital Library Updates. Available from: http://sites.tufts.edu/perseusupdates/2015/04/28/seven-reasons-why-we-need-an-independent-digital-humanities/.

 

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