The theme of this year’s Open Access Week (opens new window) is “Open for Whom”, which inspired us to reflect on what Open Access means, why it is important, and especially how the people are (positively and negatively) affected by openness in science. Below you will find short thoughts from our four Fellows:
The privilege of science. We speak from the opening of the production of knowledge, however many times we do not analyze what it really means how privileged this access is. Open Access to whom? Could we also add the “by whom”? What do we produce, what do we share, who enables this? This week leaves me more doubts and reflections, because it is not enough to think about who we deposit the knowledge to, we have to analyze our place from where we stand when we share it.
Open science touts the tantalizing prospect of making science accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Yet simply making data and code freely available doesn’t make science easier to access for everyone, everywhere. To me this year’s Open Access Week theme is challenging the open science community to think about how we rebuild the inequitable system we are dismantling. How do we make science both physically reachable and comprensible, while not putting the burden of transforming the system on marginalized groups? These are, perhaps, the most important questions for the open science community and we must address them before we can hope of making real progressive change to the way knowledge is created and shared.
Open Access Week is an important event for open access awareness. It is to highlight advances in the realms of modern scientific research practices and communication. But, I wish one thing for you this week, that Open Access (OA) should bother you. Is your scientific practise in line with it? The week’s theme question - “Open for whom?” eagerly arrested my attention; what is its meaning from my perspective? I would love to pick your mind on it too, but I’ll stick to mine for this bit. Foremost, let me clarify, in its classical meaning OA is unrestricted access to literature, yet here I will mean unrestricted access to all products of research, more or less synonymous to Open Science. My personal summary of it is #NROA – No Restrictions, Only Attribution. However, I must remind us of the need to remain ethical which, I think, is an aspect of the “for whom?”. This question insinuates that certain risks are associated with openness, signalling a red light, and inevitably invoking fear. The fears are chiefly fuelled by ignorance on the many protective options available with openness. In most of my interactions regarding openness, the elephant in the room is security. Of the common triad of Open Science, Open- access (literature), source, and data, the latter is most affected with regards to security. Some people profit from data without consent, at the expense of the public. Also, mainly from the aspect of the former two, some researchers have feared the hijacking of their in-development ideas from open spaces, missing out on well-deserved recognition/attribution. This has led only to preferential access to closed research groups. Openness is very welcoming, attracting with it people/entities with good and bad intentions indiscriminately, but mitigations have been put or are in the process of being put in place. Such include data protection laws (opens new window), policies (opens new window) for anonymisation and confidentiality in research, portals for preregistration (opens new window) of research ideas and design, and micro-publishers like flushPub (opens new window) for quick sharing of knowledge.
A question I ask other scientists as part of my research is: “Who or what do you consider to be the beneficiaries of your research?”. The answers range from ‘the broader academic community’, to ‘local communities’, to ‘everyone’. I then ask a follow-up question, “How successful do you think you have been in reaching this audience?”. Interestingly, scientists who answer that their beneficiaries are other academics are more likely to consider themselves successful in reaching their target audience, citing scientific publications leading to their success. Scientists trying to reach broader audiences often feel that they are unsuccessful in having their work affect the general public or local residents near their study site. They mention limited funding, not having enough time, and feeling awkward stepping outside their comfort zone as things hindering them. However, in my opinion, they are brave in sharing these sentiments. Wanting to reach a broader audience and recognizing one’s limitations is an important step in the spirit of Open Access Week. Sele mentioned that we can consider not only ‘open for whom’ but ‘open by whom’. By explicitly considering these questions early on, in an inclusive, iterative and transparent manner, researchers, practitioners, and communities can build a more equitable and streamlined pipeline from research to impact.