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Why Brexit Runs Completely Counter to Modern Science

22/04/2016 16:41

In our information age, Brexit is a throwback to an old world dogma that is completely counter to a growing movement of scientific collaboration and openness

It's not unreasonable to assume that when the British public vote in the referendum on Britain's membership of the EU on Thursday 23 June, the impact on science and research will be low down most people's priority list. But while the thorny issue of whether the UK should 'Brexit' from the EU splits the general population quite evenly, this is not the case amongst scientists and researchers, according to research by Nature, which suggests overwhelming support for Britain to remain in the EU from the science and research communities.

For many scientists and researchers, the concerns about Brexit are both broad and profound. We recruit many of our best researchers from Europe, including younger ones who relocate to the UK, with freshly-obtained EU grants. More broadly, a substantial and growing number of researchers are now following and implementing the principles of open science in how they design and conduct research. This growing open science movement has sought to light a fire underneath the "closed" journal-publication system, and, significantly, it is inextricably linked to European collaboration. The mandating of open science is borne out of European collaboration, as are many practitioners of open science.

This movement is striving to make science and academic research a far more dynamic place; a world in which the process of academic discovery is increasingly innovative, transformable and collaborative. Researchers generate new information based on new hypotheses and make this information conveniently available to others to re-use and build upon.

Researchers across all disciplines see the amount of data growing exponentially year-on-year. Technological advances have undoubtedly made the process of publishing research much easier and smarter. The vision enables the management of the sheer volumes and variety of types of research information available online in ways that lends itself to sharing, exploration and discovery whilst still affording ownership and traceability to authors.

Most recently, we're seeing scientists and researchers move towards sharing and curating relevant content into themed "collections", which give it a new context, allowing it to be shared, whilst still affording ownership and traceability to authors, mirroring trends in social media, like "Pinterest". These collections of work can be updated and edited by the owner at any time to include new versions of research and new research outputs, so the work is open, discoverable and available as it happens.

This advance of technology, social media and globalisation, an increasingly interconnected world of trade and cultural exchange, is inextricably linked to the way scientific research now happens. The internet, having come out of the research environment is, in some sense, the expression of research culture writ large. Research has driven not just the technology that underlies the information revolution but also the social revolution - indeed, there is a reason that the world's technology hubs are entwined with knowledge, research and university hubs. In many ways, this progress looks a lot like life imitating science.

Whilst Brexit, therefore, runs completely completely counter to modern culture and the way scientific research now happens, science has always transcended, or tried to transcend, politics, countries, faiths and other constraints and would do so again in the event of Brexit. Science and research moves on, even if politics moves us backward. In a world where we can now share work instantaneously and take science and research to more people without barriers, this burgeoning spirit of collaboration and openness, where international networks of scientists, researchers and discoveries are woven together and are interdependent has been developed, in part, by EU collaboration and would also outlive its political breakup.

Whilst Brexit looms more ominously in the background, the next generation of data publishing is moving towards an ever-more collaborative and open place in which researchers can easily choose to make discoveries and data sets available across borders and cultures. Ultimately, it will be a world in which researchers and academics will be able to focus on their discoveries and their intellectual pursuits without being distracted by monetary and regulatory barriers, administrative burden or inefficient systems. Even if the British public is, science isn't ready to turn to clocks back.

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