#FORCE2017 in Berlin: “Changing the Culture”

Over 200 participants spent three eventful days in Berlin last week to discuss ideas, ongoing projects and future developments around Open Science. As an appropriate location to demonstrate the benefits of breaking down barriers, the motto of FORCE2017 was “Changing the culture”. While most of the GigaScience team was in Shenzhen for ICG, Hans Zauner was on hand in what is one of our favourite meetings.

The Kalkscheune location – an old barn structure in Berlin Mitte – was a great choice to connect open science enthusiasts in all kinds of settings: Whether informal chats over coffee, spontaneous  “unconference” sessions up in the loft or full-house keynotes in the “Galerie”, there was a cozy corner for all kinds of open science shenanigans. Thankfully, despite up to six parallel tracks, the program committee didn’t overcrowd the schedule, and there was ample time in between talks to chat over coffee or Berlin-style potato soup.

Many of the scheduled sessions were not lectures anyway, but collaborative efforts to improve or build something: For example, one group helped ORCID to improve their new educational resources, whereas others helped to fine-tune policy recommendations for the use of research software.

Every attempt to summarize the three-day open science bash must be a subjective, personal selection – apologies in advance for many worthwhile and interesting topics that aren’t mentioned in this blog post! – but here are some of my personal highlights:

AAK, CoKo & friends

As GigaScience editors, we are always happy to meet again with friends from the open annotations crowd. A team around Heather Staines from hypothes.is and the Annotating All Knowledge (AAK) coalition (of which we are a part) organized a vibrant community meetup ahead of the main event, joining forces with Kristen Ratan, Adam Hyde  and their CoKo foundation.

At the “Open Science Bazaar” (#osbazaar),  practical demos showcased  a broad range of open-sciency tools and developments. For example, Max Ogden presented his “DatProject – a distributed data community”. This is an open source protocol to share, move and secure large and ever-changing data folders, avoiding “link rot”.

Another fledging project presented at #osbazaar was the Science Fair app. Using the app, researchers can share knowledge and papers in a de-centralized way, within their peer community, thus avoiding big, centralized platforms.

At the same event, Peter Kraker demonstrated his Open Knowledge Maps, and during the main meeting, on Friday Peter organized a fun little treasure hunt to show how it works.

In the Kalkscheune Galerie, we had a panel session on FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reproducible) annotations – yes, FAIR bingo was very much a thing again (as it was at BOSC in Prague this summer).

We also got an update from the developers of SciBot and its machine-generated, human curated annotations. You might have seen that GigaScience articles now include Research Resource Identifiers (RRIDs), providing unique identifiers for tools and resources (we also have a handy page for collecting them for software paper authors). Among other useful little tricks, SciBot recognizes these RRIDs and automatically annotates them.

go FAIR!

Along similar lines, Crossref’s Jennifer Lin emphasized the useful discussions that happen “around” a scholarly publication, and the need to make them available. Crossref is helping to achieve this via the Event Data tool – a recently launched collaboration between Crossref and our partners at DataCite. Event Data records and stores annotations, social media discussions, Wikipedia mentions and other information that is not traditionally part of the “scholarly record”.

Also presenting at the panel was Francesca di Donato, introducing the GO FAIR initiative: After agreeing on the FAIR principles (see our previous blog for more), it’s now about putting them into practice – by cultural change (GO-Change), training (GO-Train) and technical solutions (GO-Build).

Jason Priem asked: “Lots of OA records and aggregators have metadata, but where is the full text?” The oaDOI initiative provides a solution – and others are taking it up, including Clarivate’s “Web of Science”, which will soon provide direct links to open access versions of published articles, powered by oaDOIs.


As these examples show, “changing the culture” also means “changing the infrastructure”; the two go hand in hand. In terms of new publishing infrastructure, the emerging open source toolkits from CoKo, the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation, stand out as an exciting new development. Coko supports community efforts to build useful techy stuff for open science. To get started, they focus on publication tools. Their workflow toolkit “Pubsweet” avoids the monolithic approach of commercial providers and instead allows almost limitless customization, via flexible components. In principle, every journal or book publisher, small or large, could stitch together the workflow of their dreams, pulling in various building blocks that may already be around, and/or developing own, interoperable components if needed.

Far more than just a technical improvement, this sort of growing, open platform could change the entire publishing landscape: it reduces hurdles to innovate – we’re at “changing the culture” again.

The link between infrastructure and culture was also a main talking point around the Scholarly Commons initiative, citing Buckminster Fuller:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Do we have such a new model already in place? Participants were encouraged to vote-in on three questions, shaky WiFi permitting… with rather mixed answers, with respect to whether a scholarly commons can be realized with existing technology.

FORCE2017 took place during OpenAccess week (see Scott’s #OAweek Q&A in the OUP  blog), and the local Berlin event was a welcome guest at Kalkscheune. We had local OA champions mingling with the international FORCE crowd during the reception. But before heading to the bar together, we got an overview of the Berlin Open Access Office, an initiative that has set a goal of making 60% of Berlin’s research output open access by 2020 (it is a matter of heated discussion whether this goal is clear minded and realistic, or rather lacking in ambition).

Two billion Euro for Open Science

Just as the meeting was progressing, news came in from the European commission, announcing that “€2 billion will be channelled to support Open Science, and €600 million will be dedicated to the European Open Science Cloud, European Data Infrastructure and High Performance Computing.”

The budget commitment from the EU shows there is increasing support for Open Science from top-down. However, changing the culture needs to happen from the ground up, and it was great to have the voices of British geologist Christopher Jackson, Berlin-based science hacker Lucy Patterson  and Colombian ecologist Diego Gomez prominently raised during keynote lectures. Jackson talked about his 1st year of getting involved in open access – from not knowing what a preprint is to becoming founder of a new preprint server.

Lucy Patterson brought in the often-overlooked perspective that science is not just for the scientists – everyone can do it, but sometimes a little improvisation is required. Lucy showed amazing examples from the Berlin Science Hacker community, even including a bold attempt at building a DIY Scanning Tunneling Microscope.

The final keynote was delivered by Diego Gomez, adding a Latin American perspective  and a personal encounter with bad old closed access culture: Diego fought a lengthy legal battle in Colombia for the “crime” of sharing another student’s master thesis over the net. Indeed, we need to change the culture, and FORCE2017 showed that we’re getting the tools (or weapons, if you feel more combative).