Why we need badges in science


In the world of research, as with most vocational settings, there’s a lot that gets done that goes unrecognized. That unrecognized work can not only be crucial for getting to the actual research outcome put forward in the form of publications, but also for reflecting important skills gained.

Yet, outside of the traditional means of credit—such as degrees, publications, role titles—there is no real way of recognizing this skill with the same issuing authority as with which one receives a degree or publication. The idea that these skills deserve recognition is gaining ground.

Recently, the Wellcome Trust, MIT, Digital Science, and others have come together to create a taxonomy of contributorship. It recognizes roles like data curation, development of design methodology, programming and software development, application of statistical or mathematical techniques to analyze data, data visualization, verification or results, and so on.

In addition, in an effort to recognize code and data as first class objects of research on a par with the publication, some funders now allow those seeking funding to include all “research objects” rather than “publications” alone as recognized products of their past research.


We need better digital credentials in the digital world

As our lives become more digital, start-ups, and the sharper of the more traditional corporations, will come to our rescue with ingenious apps that help digitize our physical world (a recent favorite example of mine is the latest Post-It’s App).

When it comes to recognizing skills, doing this is tricky. Yes, LinkedIn digitized the resumé/CV and brought the social infrastructure of the digital world to it, but LinkedIn is largely free text lacking metadata or validation beyond self-validation. Its inclusion of presentations is a great example of how we can rethink skills recognition in a digital world, but we can go further. A digital credentialing system that recognized all skills would not only be useful for employees but employers.

Many employers are starting to acknowledge this and are turning to the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure as a possible answer. Companies and organizations like Duke University, Disney, NASA, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the California Academy of Sciences, and others have been using the Open Badge Infrastructure for internal professional development and others for undergraduate career and learning progression.


Could badges work for science?

So what are these Open Badges and could something called “badges” actually work for researchers?  When I talk about Open Badges, one of the first things I do is tell my audience to replace the word “badge” with “digital credential”.digitalCredential

Originally used for youth education and created by Mozilla, the badges are inevitably imbued with a bit of playfulness even in their very nomenclature. Not necessarily a bad thing for a domain like academia that can at times take itself a bit too seriously. But take away the playful frontend of the badges and you’re left with some pretty useful infrastructure for a digital credentialing system that could help make research more open and fair.

The issue of transparency and credit that research faces is in fact a problem not specific to research. Today, the skills we obtain and the work we do often happens outside traditional crediting mechanisms (diplomas, degrees, etc).

The Open Badges Infrastructure allows anyone to display and exchange trusted digital credentials. They enable people and organizations to capture the types of skills, knowledge, and behaviors that we value but often find it difficult to recognize with traditional credentialing. In this way, it allows fields to decide for themselves what is useful to their work and to recognize this through a trusted, validated credential.

Here’s how it works

A person or organization issues a badge to a person. That badge then lives in that person’s “backpack”, or “digital credentialing website”, along with a rich source of metadata on the criteria, description, issuer, evidence, standards, tags, and data issued around that person’s badge.

badge_anatomyOne can then link up their badge to LinkedIn, a WordPress site, or Twitter. Employers can view a more trusted, digitally transformed resumé/CV, and you can get credit for work beyond your publications.


That’s all well and good, but do grant committees and my department career review board care about badges? Not yet. But many universities are familiar with the badges system, having used it for undergraduates. They are familiar with the infrastructure. Increasingly universities are recognizing activities like open science outreach and social media outreach—not all, but some. This wasn’t happening five years ago. It can change. This is the infrastructure we could use to do it. Lots of the building blocks are there and keen to make this work: a taxonomy for contributorship, two leading open access publishers, ORCiD.


We need your help

We (BioMed Central, PLoS, ORCiD, Digital Science, the Wellcome Trust) have decided to partner with Mozilla Science Lab to bring these badges to the journal article. Once an article is accepted, we at BioMed Central would alert the folks at Mozilla who would then set up a PaperBadger matrix for all authors to agree on who did what using a detailed contributorship taxonomy.

After authors agree on who did what and the article is published, the badges would then appear next to the authors’ names. Double clicking on the badge would take one to the ORCiD site for that given author, where the badge would live, integrating with an author’s entire ORCiD record. Or at least that’s how we’re envisioning it.

We’re going to hack away at this project at the upcoming MozFest, October 24-26. What is MozFest? Check out our blog on it. We’re also looking for your input pre-MozFest. What skills would you like to see badges for? Any comments or suggestions can go in our Etherpad for the Open Badges in Science session. We’re looking for your input. Reach out to us if you’d like to get involved, or sign up via the Etherpad.






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Alex Holcombe

That sounds great. A much more limited form of badge is already working for journal articles- the Open Data, Open Materials, and Preregistered badges, adopted by the journals Psychological Science, Cortex, the Journal of Research in Personality, and a couple others: https://osf.io/tvyxz/wiki/home/ Those badges are however issued to articles, whereas your Mozilla badges are issued to persons. Perhaps these two efforts can and should eventually be merged?

Amye Kenall

Thanks, Alex! And record time for the commenting 🙂 Yes, we’re working with the Center for Open Science wrt the badges you mention. I think these two efforts can be merged. I don’t think they’ll be at MozFest but have had several conversations with them about this.

Azai Jude

This is a timely and welcome initiative. The work that researchers do should be given due credit far beyond the honour of being cited in other people’s work. My challenge with these batches or digital credentials is this: how do you assign batches to members of a research team? This is apart from the lead researcher. I’d appreciate it if someone can throw some light. Thank you. Azai Jude, Enugu, Nigeria.

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