Open science – Accelerator for Sustainable Development Goals

To promote the crucial roles of open science and accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), measures must be taken to achieve equity and inclusion, reform academic publishing and strengthen the science-policy-society interface. This was the main message from the United Nations third Open Science Conference.

The conference was held in New York from 8-10 February under the theme “Accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals, Democratising the Record of Science”.

It was organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library of the United Nations Department of Global Communications, in collaboration with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and UNESCO’s Division of Science Policy and Capacity-Building.

“The record of science is not yet as open to researchers and the public as it ought to be,” states the conference concept note.

“It seems that misinformation, disinformation and malinformation on scientific advances is freely available online to all – while credible and authoritative scientific information and data lie behind paywalls, in spite of the open science momentum.

“We need to be intentional in securing a system-wide shift to bibliodiversity, inclusiveness and multilingualism, better in communicating science and adept at building partnerships and pursuing a science that is of social relevance for all.

“The SDGs can provide a multi-purpose framework that guides open science toward serving the public good,” the concept note continues. “The global science community and its supporters must actively seek out and execute strategies for achieving inclusivity, bridging the gaps between high-, middle- and low-income nations.”

Open access should be in the public domain

“Open access is a way to achieve global public good,” said Arianna Becerril García, a professor at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico and co-founder and executive director of the Network of Scientific Journals of Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal, in a keynote speech at the conference.

International library consultant Loida Garcia-Febo, chair of the American Library Association’s United Nations SDGs committee, told University World News: “As a public good, open access should be in the public domain.

“Reforming scientific publishing is about the need to open the entire research lifecycle, equalising the playing field, engaging under-represented communities in the advancement of open access.

“We ought to continue finding ways to include historically marginalised groups, and entire continents with people speaking languages other than English that have been excluded from research for too long,” said Garcia-Febo, who moderated a panel on “Reforming scientific publishing”.

Participants in the third Open Science Conference said that it was time for everybody to support journals from the Global South, many of which are high quality and prestigious publications. Diamond open access – academic texts that are published or distributed or preserved with no fees to either the author or the reader – could help to achieve this.

University World News interviewed experts who participated in the conference, to get their views on measures needed to translate the theme of the conference into action on the ground, along with measures to promote open science practices for achieving the SDGs.

Freely accessible repositories

Professor Padmanabhan Balaram, former director of the Indian Institute of Science and a panellist in a session on “Strengthening the science-policy-society interface (policy-making)”, told University World News that open science requires sharing of all knowledge resources, such as scientific journals and databases.

“Currently there are severe access hurdles for researchers in the poorer countries of the world due to the crisis in science publishing. Scientists often need to pay to read and to publish.”

UNESCO and governments need to work together to improve support for freely accessible repositories, so as to enhance value addition to deposited manuscripts. “Amendment of national copyright laws and the adoption of international conventions that facilitate access must be considered,” said Balaram.

“In order to realise the Sustainable Development Goals, there must be well coordinated international collaborative programmes with free access to the results of publicly funded research. Concerted international pressure on science publishers is needed to resolve the disparities in access to scientific literature.”

Towards equitable and inclusive science

A presentation at the conference entitled “Open science = Fair science” was delivered by Professor Barend Mons, a professor in biosemantics at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands and president of the Committee on Data of the International Science Council (CODATA).

He told University World News: “Open access articles are good, but definitely not the ultimate solution, and have very little to do with open(ing) science as such as long as the data underpinning the articles are still very difficult to find and reuse.

“In addition, the open access publication system has the in-built problem that publishers will try to drive the article processing charges to such a high level that their traditional profit margins will be sustained, which will effectively exclude less well situated researchers and citizens from publishing rather than from reading (as they were in the past).”

Mons, who is also scientific director of the GO FAIR Foundation in the Netherlands, said: “FAIR data and services will allow more equitably distributed analytics and learning around the globe.

“FAIR (machine readable and actionable) data, and with a particular eye for cross domain and cross regional interoperability of data and the accompanying services, are a condition sine qua non to approach the SDGs. Not only are they mostly multidisciplinary by themselves, but the real progress will come from cross-SDG approaches.”

“Unless all data are findable by everyone interested (including machines), are accessible under well-defined conditions, interoperable and thus reusable for all authorised users, we will be stuck in the current swamp of re-useless data,” Mons argued.

“In addition, general data protection regulation compliance and distributed learning over data that stay at the source are two immensely important prerequisites for equitable and inclusive science (a much better term than open science).”

Supporting publishing in local language

Kathleen Shearer is executive director of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) based in Germany, an international association of repositories and repository networks that builds capacity, aligns policies and practices, and acts as a global voice for the repository community

Shearer stressed that scientific discoveries play a key role in improving human welfare. “Those discoveries must not be locked away in an ivory tower; they must be accessible and relevant for societies to be able to use and apply them.

“The current evaluation and ranking systems for academic research incentivise researchers to publish in prestigious and expensive journals – not to publish research of local relevance and in their native languages,” Shearer told University World News.

“As noted by the Helsinki Initiative on Multilingualism in Scholarly Communication, the disqualification of local languages is one of the most important factors that prevent societies from using and taking advantage of research.

“We must judge research based on its quality and merit, not on the venue where it is published; and we must make it openly available, with no access or publishing fees. Only then can we say that science really is an accelerator for the SDGs,” Shearer said.

“At COAR we have a vision of a knowledge commons, which we are actively building to support a more inclusive and equitable scholarly communications system,” said Shearer, who delivered a presentation on “Scientific research is an enormous driver of human well-being”.

Libraries – Championing open access

Professor Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, coordinator for research and teaching professional development in the university library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the United States, argued that libraries are “well situated to accelerate the transition to open science through their robust range of services and initiatives, undertaken locally as well as globally in collaboration”.

“Librarians educate researchers about funder policies, provide technology tools and resources to catalyse research uptake of open science practices, and curate metadata upon which the scholarly communications system relies,” Hinchliffe told University World News.

“For any researcher wishing to adopt and extend open practices, I highly commend to them a consultation with their research librarian.” Hinchliffe was a panellist at a session on “Reforming scientific publishing”.

Garcia-Febo, of the American Library Association’s SDGs committee, said libraries are “development accelerators and are championing open access by working together with global players with the aim of democratising the record of science and helping accelerate the implementation of the SDGs”.

“The pandemic stressed the fact that open access is intrinsically linked to moving forward research and innovation,” said Garcia-Febo, who is also founder of the New Librarians Global Connections online webinar series.

Equity and inclusion in open scholarship

Gregory Cajete, professor of Native American studies and language, literacy and socio-cultural studies at the University of New Mexico in the United States, was on a panel about “Equity in open scholarship”.

He told University World News that it is an essential task of open science to create an “authentic space for the inclusion of indigenous perspectives in curriculum, research and educational contexts in which they feel included, and their forms of knowledge respected”.

“Very real strides can be made in addressing the under-representation of indigenous peoples in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Cajete said.

This could be achieved “through culturally responsive science and fostering an inclusive environment conducive to successfully integrating indigenous peoples and their ways of knowing and being, that recognise the uniqueness of indigenous cultures, humanity, intelligence and dignity”.

Open science, data and communication specialist Dr Monica Granados, assistant director for the open climate campaign at Creative Commons, moderated a panel on “Equity in open scholarship”.

She told University World News: “The Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent framework that outlines the world’s greatest problems. Simply put, we cannot hope to solve these problems if the knowledge about them is not open.

“Open science in itself will not solve issues like climate change, poverty or gender inequality, but it will make it easier to access the collective understanding of the problem and facilitate the development of solutions.

“This is the backbone of science, the concept that it is cumulative and that by building upon knowledge we can get to solutions,” said Granados. “We need to start by recognising that just making information open does not beget equity; it requires more deliberate work.

“We need to centre the voices we want to include in open scholarship and enable them to lead decision-making processes. Their lived experience and challenges need to guide the policies and programmes that are developed so that true equity can begin to be realised. This should be a part of every conversation in the open knowledge space,” Granados concluded.