Reflexion: Does the logic of the University sector allow space for Open Science? A response to Leonelli et al.

By George Adamson, King’s College London, UK

How does a researcher gain legitimacy? Within the UK context legitimacy is increasingly informed by the 6-yearly Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise, which drives departmental funding. Researchers must demonstrate entrepreneurial innovativeness, international relevance, and situate the wider relevance of their research against a shifting definition of ‘impact’, as well as being able to demonstrate the ability to attract and maintain a satisfied student body. In a hyper-competitive academic market, such neoliberal codes of success are increasingly important. The Open Access issue must be considered within this context.

The fields of historical- and palaeoclimatology (my own disciplines) have made large strides towards the kind of open access described in the paper by Sabina Leonelli and colleagues, recently published in Geo (Leonelli et al, 2015). Web-portals such as the National Climatic Data Center  provide a repository for the results of published climate reconstructions. Further moves are being made towards the establishment of repositories of raw data, particularly narrative information from sources such as diaries, personal correspondence and government reports. Such descriptions of meteorological variability and climate-related phenomena and activities can be used for both quantitative reconstructions of climate in the past and for a multitude of perspectives on human-environment relationships. The ongoing ACRE (Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth) project, run from the UK Met Office, are envisaging a dynamical global 4-dimensional database of historical weather that incorporates data from state-of-the-art reanalysis through to cultural interpretations of climate. This is in addition to existing databases such as Euro-Climhist  and the archive (the climate and environmental history collaborative research environment).

Such approaches are important for encouraging the cross-disciplinary work that is increasingly recognised as necessary within the field of climate change research (Hulme 2011). Online repositories also allow for a public ownership of climate data, an endeavour that can be at times frustrating, given the ways that climate data are used by some elements for personal attacks on climate scientists. This is not to say that such endeavours are imprudent. The sharing of climate data should ultimately break down, rather than reinforce disagreements. Citizen science projects such as Old Weather ( take public ownership even further, with non-academics actively involved in the data management process.

Such ownership, however, can only really be partial. The institutional culture outlined above creates huge pressure to analyse, interpret and publish before any data is shared. Departments, competing for ‘world class’ research outputs, are reluctant to relinquish ownership of data before outputs are be generated. The goal of ‘research for all’, as witnessed from outside the academy, is at odds with this individualised logic within. This is a long way from Science 2.0, at least within geography. To reach the point where science can be undertaken in collaboration with any interested parties would require a paradigm shift in the way that Universities are run and what is prioritised, something which could have been given more emphasis in the paper (Leonelli et al, 2015). The ongoing implications of the 2012 European Commission Recommendation (EC 2012), which recommends a fundamental change in the way academic careers are evaluated to include data-sharing, will therefore be interesting to follow. Such a cultural shift would not be unwelcome.

About the author: 

Dr George Adamson is Lecturer in Geography at King’s College London. George’s research is situated at the interface between palaeoclimatology, environmental history and climate change adaptation and policy.


European Commission (2012) Recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information. Accessed on 12 November 2014

Hulme, M. (2011) Meet the humanities. Nature Climate Change 1 177-179

Leonelli, S. et al. (2015) Sticks and Carrots: Encouraging Open Science at its source. Geo: Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.2.


Leave a Reply or Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: