Open Science on a Global Stage

The United Nations' Dag Hammarskjöld Library hosted a world-class, virtual Open Science Conference over 3 half-days, 21-23 July 2021. Designed to include speakers from around the globe, its tag line was "From Tackling the Pandemic to Addressing Climate Change". The host for the event, Thanos Giannakopolous, Chief Librarian at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, kept the conference on an even keel, despite a few technical hiccups.

The Second UN Open Science Conference  celebrated the role of open science in affecting policy making, both on a global and local scale, with an active Twitter feed (#openscienceUN). Integral to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the open science movement is of interest, not only to librarians, but also to researchers, scientists, funders, governments, non-governmental organisations, and the general public.

UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science

Most impressive was the calibre of the speakers at the conference. The opening address by Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant Director General of UNESCO, was inspiring. Stating that “Science is all around us”, she stressed the importance of science literacy and called on us to recognize the importance of scientific humanists. Describing a science camp for girls in rural areas, she said we need to encourage women’s involvement with science and promote science in the developing world. She spoke at length about the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, scheduled for adoption by Member States this year.

“The Recommendation is expected to define shared values and principles for Open Science, and identify concrete measures on Open Access and Open Data, with proposals to bring citizens closer to science and commitments to facilitate the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge around the world. The Recommendation will be developed through a regionally balanced, multistakeholder, inclusive and transparent consultation process.”

Reforming scientific publishing

Keynoting the second day was Geoffrey Boulton, International Science Council. He called for urgent reforms in publishing. Normalise pre-prints, open licenses and citable data publication. Implement novel peer review, platform-agnostic discovery services, and global curation infrastructures for the Record of Science. Establish governance within the science community that provides incentives from bibliometric to open science, is globally inclusive/nationally efficient, and has distributed functions/common standards.

Bolton’s wake up call for the new normal of open science included the exhortation to act early and act hard. Covid is a stress test for science, he thinks, and not only is there no silver bullet for open science since the need for political will to instigate change is necessary, but also there is no vaccine for climate change.

Science can make enormous contributions to our understanding of climate change and pandemic parameters, but only if it is freely accessible, widely and well communicated, and equitable. The issue of equity and inclusiveness is particularly relevant to the openness of scientific information, as many conference speakers alluded to, since the consequences of climate change and the pandemic are global but not always evenly distributed.

Communication, publishing, funding and the future

Several themes emerged from the conference. The role of open science, particularly in relation to the SDGs, lies in better communication of scientific principles, research and knowledge to the general public. As Nair- Bedouelle commented, the pandemic educated people about vaccines. At the same time, the spread of misinformation grew alarmingly, as many speakers acknowledged.

A second theme revolved around funding. The long-held publishing model needs to change if open science is to truly become a reality. “The print journal is dead, an anachronism” was expressed often. Current metrics were criticized as too frequently supporting the status quo and not allowing sufficient equity among global researchers. Exactly how publishing should change is not yet clear, but that it should change to encourage affordable access to scientific information is essential to combatting misinformation and to encouraging research in all parts of the world.

Overall, the conference presented multiple views on public policy around open science. Stirring, inspiring, and enriching talks illuminated the challenges and successes of open science. A few more voices from the library community, however, would have been welcome, to reinforce to policy makers, researchers, professors and thought leaders the intricate involvement of librarians with open science.