The Epistemology of FAIR Data

  • Stefan Egon Reichmann (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk at conference or symposiumScience to science


What kind of science is envisioned by Open Science (OS) advocates? Since the advocacy literature is predominantly affirmative, an answer to the question is timely for at least two reasons: (1) Since OS is a movement but not yet a reality, empirical evidence as to its benefits is rare (even though OS advocates would like to convince readers otherwise, see e.g. Tennant et al. 2018). (2) OS sometimes involves quite radical changes to the way research is being done. It is not clear whether such changes would in fact be beneficial (and for whom). How do OS advocates conceive science, e.g. with respect to explanation, causality, and data? What is the epistemological stance of the movement?
The presentation analyses the vision of science transported in advocacy literature, based on the underlying assumption that OS is in fact attempting to reform science along the lines of platform capitalism (Mirowski 2018). The function of OS is thus to legitimize data-intensive science by appealing to the (supposed) values of academia, e.g. the four norms identified by Robert Merton. Based on the observation that OS advocates have so far been unable to produce compelling evidence as to OS’s positive effects, the paper attempts to offer an alternative explanation of its popularity. The presentation shows that open science is best understood as the legitimizing rhetoric of data-centrism and “industrialized” research. Evidence is provided in two ways: In the form of a discourse analysis, and by showing how arguments to the effect that open science has positive effects fall short on (at least one of) two respects: a) they either are empirically unfounded (there is not much empirical evidence to support these claims), or b) they are normatively unsound (i.e. they are implausible given other aspects of academia or contradictory at worst). Even the most prominent literature is surprisingly devoid of overarching visions for science. This suggests that OS is either devoid of a vision, which seems to be at odds with the movement’s otherwise very pronounced normative claims (“open science is better science”), or it has a vision but is reluctant to articulate it. Given the diverse backgrounds of Open Science advocates, I suspect that an overarching epistemological stance will be hard to come by. Effectively, the OS movement transports, explicitly but more often implicitly, a rather conservative image of science along the lines of large, collaborative, industrialized research projects. In that sense, then, Open Science threatens to exclude and delegitimize certain bodies of knowledge based on whether or not they are able to define their own work in terms of (collecting and processing) digital data.
Period3 May 2021
Event title19th STS Conference: Critical Issues in Science, Technology and Society Studies: STS 2021
Event typeConference
LocationGraz, Austria