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open science in practice

Turning open science into practice: causality as a showcase

The birth of the open science movement resulted in the demand for transparent and accessible-to-all scientific processes. Scientific data should be findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable, according to the FAIR guiding principles. Open science promotes and supports research collaboration and co-creation, including public participation in the scientific process via crowdsourcing data, methods, computational capacity and scientific knowledge. The adoption of a more participatory approach offers new opportunities to regulatory science organisations. It helps them extend the pool of data, expertise and knowledge from which to draw, thus accelerating their preparedness to address complex questions. It can also help in enhancing the public understanding of science, and in finally reducing citizens’ scepticism. An open science approach also poses challenges, including the need to monitor the accuracy and reliability of open data as well as their possible misuse. The session will offer an opportunity for sharing experiences on obstacles, benefits and the feasibility of adopting open science approaches in the context of regulatory science. The showcase example will focus on causality, i.e. the relationship between a cause, such as the exposure to a substance/micro-organism/food ingredient, and an effect, such as an adverse/beneficial health outcome. With larger availability of open access data, including those gathered using high-throughput techniques, unprecedented options for deeper insights into causality have emerged. Using causality as an illustrative example, the session intends to advance the discussion on how the principles of open science can be routinely implemented in the scientific activities performed by the European institutions. The guiding question is: Can institutions benefit from open data and the open science movement, and if so, how? For instance, can participatory science accelerate finding solutions to quantitatively integrate heterogeneous sources to address causality?


In a rapidly changing world, an open science approach is vital. Regulatory science institutions need to embrace this opportunity if they want to remain relevant and prepared to address new challenges. Engaging with society and enhancing partnerships with stakeholders are also necessary to tackle increasingly complex questions of societal importance. Regulatory science must envisage a medium-term future in which scientific outputs will be routinely produced using a collaborative approach involving not only traditional scientific partnerships but also contributions from citizens. For this future to become a reality, a framework must be established that includes new processes and tools that allow greater collaboration and co-creation than is currently the case. In addition, the legal framework will need reviewing. This epochal transition from elitist to ‘open to all’ science has already started. For it to be achieved in the regulatory science community, a coordinated effort will be needed.

Background – Challenges and opportunities

Open science is one of the priorities of EU policy [1]. The open science movement calls for data and the results of research to be shared already at an early stage of the process, engaging citizens in the co-design and co-creation, making research more affordable, reducing duplication of work and increasing the relevance of the results for society. Open science also means making better use of the large variety of data – both structured and unstructured - from various sources, and increasing accessibility to human and computational resources. In this way, innovation will be accelerated, and societal trust increased due to wider public scrutiny. To achieve these ambitious goals, novel tools and collaborative ways of working are required. EU regulatory scientific institutions are already facing up to this challenge, which is pushing them to re-design their scientific processes. Some organizations have already started looking for ways to make the scientific process open to citizens’ contributions. The Cochrane collaboration uses a crowdsource platform for screening papers [2]. In 2017, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) launched a crowdsourcing initiative to collect ideas on how to visualise uncertainty in geospatial data. Recently, a consortium of institutions created an open access database to gather data on people that tested positive to COVID-19 [3]. These examples illustrate how society can be engaged in the scientific process. Lessons must be learnt from past experiences about obstacles that must be overcome but also about solutions that have proven to be successful in making the best use of big open data and citizens’ knowledge. In particular, the topic of causality, i.e. the potential for a causal association between the exposure to a substance, micro-organism or food ingredient and an adverse or beneficial effect, offers us an opportunity to showcase how to turn open science principles into practice. This scientific issue is extremely complex and is being addressed by several institutions. Open science tools and new initiatives could provide additional resources and new methodological approaches to address, for instance, the use of big data and the need to draw conclusions based on heterogeneous sources (Fedak 2015, EFSA, 2018). An open approach will also bring new challenges. We will need to set and assess standards to ensure the scientific rigour of data and the methods used by a community whose scientific reputation may be unknown. Other important issues to address include the protection of personal data in an open environment and the intellectual property of open contributions.  

Scope and objectives

This thematic session intends to advance the discussion on how the principles of open science can be routinely implemented in the scientific activities performed by the European Agencies/Institutions. Causality will be discussed as a case study topic. In fact, it is among the most challenging questions which EU institutions are required to answer.

To this scope the thematic session will discuss:

  • Whether and how open data currently available in the food, feed, environmental, animal and human health can be used to address the assessment of causal association between an agent and an effect in the regulatory domain. What are possible benefits and challenges from their use.
  • Concrete examples of citizen science initiatives to investigate causality issues and difficulties in implementing them along with benefits and achieved value from the perspective of both the organizers and the participants;
  • How to guarantee that data and knowledge generated by an open science approach are accurate and reliable enough for use by regulatory science organisations;
  • Which concrete actions need to be put in place to implement open science principles in the context of regulatory science;
  • How to revise the legal framework to address new challenges related to personal data protection and intellectual property.



EFSA  (European  Food  Safety  Authority)  and  Aguilera  J,  Aguilera-Gomez  M, Barrucci F, Cocconcelli PS, Davies H, Denslow N, Dorne JL, Grohmann L, Herman L, Hogstrand C, Kass GEN, Kille P, Kleter G, Nogué F, Plant NJ, Ramon M, Schoonjans R, Waigmann E and Wright MC 2018. EFSA  Scientific  Colloquium  24  –  ’omics  in  risk  assessment:  state  of  the  art  and  next  steps.  EFSA supporting publication 2018:EN-1512. 30 pp. doi:10.2903/sp.efsa.2018.EN-151

Fedak KM, Bernal A., Capshaw ZA and Gross S (2015): Applying the Bradford-Hill criteria in 21st century: how data integration has changed causal inference in molecular epidemiology. Emerg Themes Epidemiol, 12:14

Katrin Vohland K., Land-Zandstra A., Ceccaroni L., Lemmens R., Perelló J., Ponti M., Samson R., Wagenknecht K (2021): The science of citizen science. Springer: Cham, Switzerland




Time Duration Talk
14:00 5

Opening and welcome

Jean-François Dechamp, European Commission

14:05 10

Interactive Ice-breaker

Anthony Smith, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

Part I - Nothing in isolation - universal risks, open solutions

Time Duration Talk
14:15 20

Expert interview by Tony Smith: Open science – how it can change regulatory science 

Shani Evenstein Sigalov, Tel Aviv University

14:35 20

Open science and causality in the Exposome era

Lea Maitre, ISGlobal

14:55 20

Exposome Analytics: composite scores, embodiment, and health risk - Evidence for the UK Biobank Study

Marc Chadeau-Hyam, Imperial College London

15:15 15


Jean-François Dechamp, European Commission

15:30 30

Coffee break

Part II - Building together: insights from the other One society sessions

Time Duration Talk
16:00 5

Advancing engagement in an evolving food safety ecosystem: opportunities and challenges

Max Blanck, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

16:05 5

Making a difference: bridging EU research and policy

Stephan Bronzwaer, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

16:10 5

Putting science into context: the future of social science in risk analysis

Michelle Patel, Food Standards Agency

Part III - Moderated panel discussion “Towards viable open science – which standards for data and knowledge?”

Time Duration Talk
16:15 45

Panel discussion moderated by Anthony Smith

Leonie Dendler, German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) | Anastasija Nikiforova, University of Tartu | Sven Schade, Joint Research Centre (JRC) | Thomas Margoni, KU Leuven

17:00 10

Wrap up and concluding remarks

Jean-François Dechamp, European Commission

Session Coordinator

Session coordinator
Laura Martino (EFSA)

Session Contributors

Session contributors
Federica Barrucci (EFSA)
Claudia Cascio (EFSA)
Laura Ciccolallo (EFSA)
Marios Georgiadis (EFSA)
Giovanni Iacono (EFSA)
Yannick Spill (EFSA)