Accelerating Open Science for All
For research communities, one of the best consequences of the global prevalence of internet use has been the surge in open science activity. Open science refers to the movement of making science research data and knowledge accessible to everyone to empower all inquisitive minds. Open science can promote academic research and inspire innovations. The latter is particularly true when well-thought-out data-sharing platforms are available to provide scientific intellectual properties to those in the industry sphere. In Japan, various industries – ranging from pharmaceuticals to manufacturers to the fishing industry – are taking advantage of all types of open data – which also range widely from meteorological data to genome data – to create advanced products and to solve problems. Such free flow of data has also been credited for the emergence of “citizen science” in Japan and elsewhere in the world.
In this and coming installments of Science Report articles, we will examine how open science is causing the research arena to intersect more with the rest of society, spawning new possibilities for humankind.
Ask an Expert: Prof. Kazutsuna Yamaji (NII)
Dr. Yamaji serves both as a professor at the National Institute of Informatics (NII)’s Foundation of Content Management and as the director of the NII’s Research Center for Open Science and Data Platform. He specializes in the studies of media informatics and databases, and his current responsibilities mainly involve academic data platforms, such as institutional data repositories and the Gakuin Federation, which is comprised of academic institutions and companies that use or publish e-learning resources. In 2017, he launched the course titled “Research Data Management in the Age of Open Science” on an online learning platform “gacco.” Dr. Yamaji is a recipient of the 2018 MEXT Ministry Award in science and technology. He earned his PhD in engineering from Toyohashi University of Technology and worked at Wakayama Medical University and the RIKEN Center for Brain Science among other institutions before joining the NII in 2007 as associate professor.
Ask an Expert: Senior Fellow Shinichi Akaike (NISTEP)
Dr. Shinichi Akaike is a senior fellow at National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP), the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). He also serves as the Director for Evidence based Policy, Bureau of Science, Technology and Innovation, Cabinet Office. His expertise focuses on policies for science, technology and innovation, and science and technology diplomacy. Before becoming a NISTEP fellow in 2018, he served as assistant deputy director of Center for Research and Development Strategy (CRDS) at the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and as a professor Institute of Innovation Research at Hitotsubashi University. He has his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tokyo, his master’s from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, and his PhD from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. In 2002, he served as a First Secretary at the Embassy of Japan in Sweden.
Open science as a tool for university management
We all know open science can invigorate research activities. But, is there a right way to promote open science? How could open science be made an even more powerful tool to boost Japan’s research power?
An answer to the question lies in “institutional research (IR),” according to Prof. Kazutsuna Yamaji of the National Institute of Informatics (NII)’s Foundation of Content Management. IR refers to activities of collecting all the data related to an academic/research institution – including its finance, human resources and facility management – and sharing and analyzing it within the institution. IR is increasingly gaining attention as a powerful means to improve institutional management as universities and colleges are competing with each other more than ever to attract students. Prof. Yamaji pointed out that research data management policies are part of the information to be examined in IR.
“In England, the University of Edinburgh became the country’s first university to institute a research data management policy, partly in response to the call to establish measures to prevent research fraud. Research data management is often considered as one side of the coin, with the other being operational matters, such as research fraud prevention, strengthening the institutional research power, university branding, and the development of human resources, library functions and informational infrastructure,” Prof. Yamaji said.
“At the NII, we work to develop and provide an open science platform that makes it easier to manage, share and search data. By using this platform, people may realize they could try some interdisciplinary studies by combining study areas that have never been put together before. Or, data exchange via the platform may spark conversations about exploring the possibility of artificial intelligence (AI) from brand-new angles. In other words, the platform can serve as a common meeting place where individual institutions exchange information and evaluate the validity of their data-driven strategies,” Prof. Yamaji said.
Shinichi Akaike, Counsellor, Cabinet Secretariat, who is also a research fellow at the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP), said academia and policymakers can divvy up the responsibilities for promoting open science.
“It’s ideal if the academic community can take the lead in developing data sharing and management strategies in order to effectively distribute scientific data that are useful to technological inventions. Then policymakers could create policies to support the strategies,” Dr. Akaike said.
He noted that conceivable scenarios include targeting the most globally competitive research areas for policy-making and investing to further promote research in the fields for which Japan is already known.
“One plus one doesn’t always equal 2. It can become 3 or 4 if there’s the right synergy to multiply the effect of what we do. I imagine researchers will feel encouraged by seeing how their research data can have new purposes in industries,” Dr. Akaike said.
He believes governmental policies also need to be designed to promote sound research data management.
“Research institutions and funding agencies should handle research data in a consistent manner, and so should all governmental agencies. We need to design policies to create a system that functions smoothly as a whole,” he said.
Dr. Akaike said there have already been some strategies implemented, and that his team published a report detailing them in August 2019.
“We should look at how people are actually approaching this issue and use that knowledge to develop a system that works well for Japan and promotes novel research and innovations,” Dr. Akaike said.
Advancing science through data sharing
Prof. Yamaji said the importance of creating a system to promote open science dawned on him in 2008 while attending an international conference on “open repository.” Open repository is an archival system for research institutions and libraries that enables the public to access their documents.
Having recently come into his current position at the NII, in which he develops and manages academic database systems, Prof. Yamaji expected discussions about efficient ways to gather archival materials.
“I was shocked to discover they were already focused on data,” Prof. Yamaji said. “Data is the direct product of your research work, from which you write your research paper. The conference attendees were debating how to make the data available to the greatest number of people for maximum data use, and how to create an attractive cyberspace for that very purpose.”
The time was when phrases such as “web 2.0” and “science 2.0” – the terms representing new approaches to web development and science, respectively – were all the rage.
“Some scientists who had computer skills of a hacker were leading the way to usher in the new era of open science,” he said.
Prof. Yamaji has always considered science as an accumulation of small knowledge, with an example being how to tweak something to efficiently conduct an experiment. To make it easier for researchers, especially the younger generations, to share such daily findings with the public, Prof. Yamaji said he and his team have been encouraging the use of nontraditional media, such as video and blogs. Prof. Yamaji also believes they can share more than data, including lab notes and software.
“If we can share more materials than our research papers, we can conduct research more efficiently. It’s a bottom-up approach to open science that we have been promoting.”
As the first step in this endeavor, his team launched “JAIRO Cloud,” a repository platform that institutions can use to gather and share data within their organizations, in 2012. Their next goal has been sharing research data in such a way that platform users can not only look at each other’s data but also use it themselves. To make it happen, however, all researchers using the platform will have to add metadata – a set of information about other data – to the data they share.
“Metadata needs to be added while the research is going on. It cannot be added afterward. You have to commit to adding metadata throughout the research process. In other words, sharing data with the public takes time and costs money for researchers,” Prof. Yamaji said. “But it’s important to share with the public what we discovered by using taxpayers’ money. Enabling the public to benefit from our work is the researchers’ obligation. This also helps young researchers develop skills related to data sharing. So, we are working to create a research environment where workflow is streamlined for easy data sharing via the infrastructure.”
Tapping into Japan’s intellectual properties for innovation
The country’s policies are another critical component in accelerating research and innovation through open science. Dr. Akaike’s job is to hatch the best policies possible in this regard.
While promoting “Society 5.0” (the fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan) as a member of the cabinet, Dr. Akaike also works to advance open science in his dual role – and his original role – as the director of the Science and Technology Foresight Center at the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP).
“There are systems that merge the data-driven virtual world with the real world. Society 5.0 is aimed to figure out how to best use such systems to solve problems in our society. Scientific research generates knowledge. One of our biggest tasks at hand is understanding how to take advantage of this knowledge gained through the hard work of the research community for societal good,” Dr. Akaike said. “Open science has an extremely important role in solving this question, because open science promotes fusion of knowledge, from which new sciences are often spawned. Then, the knowledge gained through the research work in these new scientific territories merge with other types of knowledge in society, spurring more innovations. This is an important process,” he said.
Dr. Akaike pointed out that not all data should be shared for the sake of open science.
“There’s certain information that you must keep confidential. For example, you can’t just publish detailed defense intelligence on the internet, right?” he said. “But if you look hard, you can find ways to reconcile the ideal of open science with the need for the ‘open-and-closed systems’ in the real world. The real question is what and how much of a role Japan wants to play in the global network of knowledge contribution.”
Japan has thus far maintained a big presence in the network, Dr. Akaike said.
“Our presence is shadowed by China’s growing presence, however,” Dr. Akaike said. “Japan’s ability to leverage existing data for the advancement of academic research and businesses may just be one the country’s last strongholds to defend,” he said.
Interviewer: Rue Ikeya
Photographs: Toshiyuki Kono unless noted otherwise
Released on: Sept. 10, 2020 (The Japanese version released on Sept. 10, 2019)