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For Open Science to become the new normal, we now need to move beyond Open Access

21 December 2020

Open Science, where all outputs related to the research process (publications, data, software, reviews) are made openly available whenever possible, is considered by many as a new and better way of doing science. The benefits of Open Science (collaboration, transparency, interdisciplinarity and faster progress) have become evident during the current COVID-19 pandemic. An unprecedented amount of understanding of the coronavirus and the development of vaccines in record time are the direct result of global scientific collaboration, based on shared access to publications and data. It is often said that thanks to the pandemic, Open Science received a decisive push and is there to stay.

While Open Science has become a hot topic, it doesn't make a lasting reality. Closed Science is still attractive since it allows to monopolize data and knowledge. So how do we make sure that Open Science becomes the new normal? How do we make sure researchers and indeed, citizens from all over the world have access to quality information from publicly funded research?

During the current pandemic, many commercial publishers have temporarily lifted paywalls of COVID-19 related publications. The research community will have to keep pushing to make Open Access to publications the new standard, and not an exception. Significant challenges remain regarding the lack of incentives and rewards of publishing in Open Access, as well as the need for business models that remove barriers for researchers with less financial resources. But we need to go further than perfectionating Open Access.

First of all, research institutions must implement data management policies. Research data needs to be treated as institutional assets and need to be FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable). Making data FAIR is the best way to prevent data from being monopolized and hidden behind paywalls, as previously happened to publications.

Second, open peer review. The COVID-19 crisis has generated an unprecedented interest in science and preprints in particular. Preprints allow sharing research results very fast and are an essential part of Open Science, but need to be handled with extreme caution since, by definition, they have not yet run through a process of peer review. On the other hand, traditional peer review is not a guarantee of quality as became clear from recent cases of flawed research published in top journals. There is enormous pressure to publish results very quickly, especially in the current pandemic. Fast is good as long as it is good. Open Peer Review aims to provide complete transparency in and around the peer-reviewing process.

Last but not least, it's time for real inclusion and diversity. Traditional scholarly communication far too often consolidates existing power biases that privilege "international" vs "local" ("peripherical") journals, top-ranked vs other institutions, English vs other languages, male vs female, white vs black perspectives. Open Science has the ambition to reduce inequalities between countries, institutions and researchers, to be more diverse, more inclusive, and more collaborative across regions. More equal, more diverse, more collaborative and multilingual science makes better science.

Wouter Schallier is Chief Librarian of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), based in Santiago de Chile and BE OPEN Advisory Board member.



Opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of United Nations ECLAC.



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