I’m thrilled to be the Transform to Open Science lead for NASA, which has a 60-year legacy of pushing the limits of how science is used to understand the Universe, planetary systems and life on Earth. Much of NASA’s success can be attributed to a culture of openness for the public good. Since the 1990s, the agency has been a leading advocate for full and open access to data and algorithms.
That culture is needed now more than ever. Humanity is facing many intersecting challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change and food and water insecurity. To combat them, we must find breakthroughs faster, increase interdisciplinary expertise and improve how we translate research findings into action. This will require a fundamental shift: from simply sharing results in journal articles to collaborating openly, publishing reproducible results and implementing full inclusivity and transparency.
To catalyse this shift, on 11 January the US White House — joined by 10 federal agencies, a coalition of more than 85 universities, and other organizations — declared 2023 to be the Year of Open Science.
I’m a computational oceanographer and have worked on NASA missions since 1993. I became an enthusiastic open-science advocate after I attended a 2018 workshop at which we reproduced a set of famous figures that analysed satellite data to reveal rising sea levels (see go.nature.com/3go8i). Using a cloud-based data set and open-source Python tools, we did in a couple of minutes what probably originally took months. It was a moment when I could see the future and just leapt because it was so beautiful.
At my next workshop, I realized that open science isn’t just about tools. Open-science innovation is being driven by a global community with diverse perspectives. The scientific questions are more interesting and nuanced, the solutions better. That’s what really hooked me. Active inclusion of diverse groups of people is a crucial element of truly open science. I’ve been on the outside looking in, and it doesn’t feel great. But I finally felt like I was situated to do something to remove many barriers to participation.
In May 2021, I sent a one-page call to action for a Year of Open Science to NASA’s chief science data officer, and received immediate support. NASA headquarters formed a team to develop the concept. We talked to as many people as possible to learn their motivations, concerns and future needs related to open science. After a year of such discussions, we had a path forward. In April 2022, I started an assignment at NASA to lead the 5-year, US$40-million-dollar Transform to Open Science mission, which will be kicked off with the year of open science.
Science isn’t happening just at NASA. But agency partnerships take years to negotiate. I needed a side door. Knowing this, NASA invited me to become one of their representatives to the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Open Science, which coordinates and advances open science across federal agencies. There, I helped to catalyse the Year of Open Science. First, we agreed on a definition: open science is the principle and practice of making research products and processes available to all, while respecting diverse cultures, maintaining security and privacy, and fostering collaborations, reproducibility and equity. Next, we set four goals for each agency involved in the Year of Open Science: to develop a strategic plan for open science; improve the transparency and equity of reviews; account for open-science activities in evaluations; and engage under-represented communities in the advancement of open science.
Anyone can apply these four goals in their research team, department or organization. So, let’s join together. A useful starting point for developing a plan is to look at recommendations from the National Academies and other global organizations. Think about ways to be more open and equitable in reviews — for tenure, promotion, funding and projects. Share the steps that your organization has taken to reduce biases and how you measure their impact. Develop plans or pilot a programme to reward open-science activities in evaluations. Incentives are powerful: they will build a culture of valuing open science.
During the Year of Open Science, NASA is hosting free in-person and virtual workshops to teach basic open-science skills: how to participate, how to write a data-management or software-management plan, and how to share data, software and results. Enrolment has already started (see go.nature.com/3gh8j). By May 2023, there will be five modules, and anyone who completes all five will receive a NASA Open Science Certification to add to their CV and funding proposals. Workshops are planned for 12 scientific conferences in 2023, reaching many of the 100,000 expected attendees.
Transparency requires breaking down barriers that historically have left many out of the scientific community. Last year, NASA committed $20 million per year to advance open science, beginning in 2023. NASA will collaborate with several US minority-serving institutions to ensure that their students and faculty members are true collaborators in the open-science conversation. Our intention is to use in-person and virtual experiences to bridge the visible and invisible barriers of entry into science.
As your organization develops its plans, ensure that under-represented communities are involved from the start. We can’t reach the equitable, open scientific future we need without a diversity of voices. To change everything, we need everyone.