Humpback whale
Humpback whale. (© Rodolphe Holler)

Editor’s note: For the past five years, the team behind the global ocean health report card, Ocean Health Index (OHI), have been trying to figure out how to reproduce their science faster. Assessing the scores on everything from biodiversity to tourism for 220 coastal nations and territories is a massive undertaking — and it involves synthesizing data from nearly 100 sources.

OHI scientists — including several from Conservation International, the index’s co-developer — knew there was a way to do “better science in less time.” A new paper in the journal Nature details how they were able to do just that: By borrowing philosophies, tools and workflows primarily created for software development, OHI scientists fundamentally changed their approach to science. Human Nature sat down with the study’s lead author, Ocean Health Index project scientist Julia Stewart Lowndes, to discuss the key to this new approach: open science.

Question: How is open science the key to better science, faster?

Answer: Open science is both a philosophy and a practice. The philosophy of open science is that sharing your work is beneficial to you and everyone else, and it’s about lowering barriers to enable you to share your work. The practice of open science revolves around the technical details of how to actually share your work — the potential for scientists to share the motivations, data, and methods behind their studies, including code, figures, results and any publications that come out of it.

Traditionally, the philosophy of open science was more concept than reality. But over the last few years, its acceptance has accelerated, in large part because of new software tools that enable the sharing and replication of data. Within the Ocean Health Index team, for example, we use collaborative online tools that make sharing information with each much more efficient. Think of it like the online file-sharing tool Dropbox: You can collaborate with your team on a specific project in the “cloud,” but you can also share your work with those outside your team so they can make use of it, too. This enables open science to be done very easily.

Graphics from Ocean Health Index website. multimedia.
Graphics from Ocean Health Index website. multimedia. (Courtesy of OHI)