Hard, Soft and the slightly squidgy middle?

The importance of language in creating an inclusive research environment.

As an increasingly “open” research environment is emerging, a new language is forming around it. This emerging lexicon carries with it generations of evolution. How do we use this as an opportunity to move to a more representative, inclusive world?

‘Hard Science’ ‘Soft Science’  – language that is familiar, but not really understood. Is my research hard? soft? somewhere in the slightly squidgy middle?  Also, language that works for noone. For me, hard conjures up images of mountain climbing and puzzles, while soft is cushions and clouds (For the record, I love climbing mountains, I mostly enjoy puzzles, I detest cushions and my feelings on clouds depends on their location in relation to me and my current clothing)… hard appears, well, hard. Offputting. Difficult. Soft is simple, comfortable, easy. It seems to straightforward, like a primary school exercise – sort these items into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’, with images of marble, bricks, teddy bears and pillows. The reality is far more nuanced, and while this is very much acknowledged in many spheres, the use of it is still pervasive, linked to value and divisive.

With the increase in “open”, a new language is forming. This is currently confusing – a movement from “open science” to … what? Open research? Open scholarship? Open Knowledge? How do you classify items within this – we have ‘Open Access’ which widely is linked to articles, and yet ‘Open monographs’? Open data? Open research outputs? Open research contribution? From publications to outputs? works?

Naming things is important – consider the difference between “Boy”, “Mr Jones” and “Ted” in referring to the same person – all may be correct, but the value placed on the person with each term, vastly different. We have an opportunity to reframe the language to recognise the incredible range of research.

At Kent – where do we go from here? Building on the project ‘Support for research outputs beyond books and articles‘ we are starting an ‘Open data at Kent’ project, part of which is to demonstrate sensitivity around the terms used, such as defining data and outputs in an agnostic fashion that ensures equity and reflects the interdisciplinary and collaborative culture at Kent. We would very much welcome input into this from all perspectives, so if you would like to share your thoughts, do get in touch.

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