Debate is essential to interpret scientific data. It is more than a section ‘discussion’ in a publication, or the writing of a review article. A debate brings together various opinions, and the supporting data of these, on a major scientific issue. It results in a state-of-the-art that reflects, agreement, disagreement, and lacunes in knowledge of the topic. Debate, therefore, indicates which knowledge is ready for use in society. It also provides a guidance to advance research on the specific topic.
How do we shape a scientific debate in a world driven by an abundance of data? In a world having countless non-scientific discussions in various media, in which scientists participate? A world in which it is often no longer clear what fact and opinion are? We outline here some considerations on setting up a good scientific debate that serves, both science and society, in 21th century.
We feel public institutions, like the universities, need to have the lead in setting up scientific debates. These have an essential role in safeguarding scientific quality and research integrity. In fact, “openness” is key to ensuring the quality and integrity. A good scientific debate should, therefore, be based on FAIR-R data (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Re-usable and Reproducible).
A physical debate is limited in audience. In contrast, an online debate is actually open to everybody. An online debate, however, misses the interactions between debaters and audience. Debates conducted exclusively digitally are at an increased risk of becoming superficial and counterproductive. Physical meeting is, and remains, an essential element in a good debate. So, we propose a physical debate between some top experts of the specific topic, a small audience of local scientific staff, and online participation of experts world-wide. The debate should be prepared very well by, (i) selecting some top scientists, (ii) preparing documents indicating major points of debate, and (iii) guidance to supporting FAIR-R data.
We feel the outcome of the debate should be a state-of-the-art that will be stewarded by the institution organising it. It will be, of course, FAIR-R and it should also be freely available to a large, societal, audience. It could be land-marked by a kind of certification, or adoption by scientific associations.
Finally, the concept of scientific debate outlined here, is easily to scale up, both in terms of branches and geographically. The latter could be, for example, realised by the European University Association (EUA) organising a pan-European collaboration outreaching to a world-wide audience of scientists. We are open for any collaboration to get a good debate off in Open Science!
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