Monday, May 15, 2023 News

Equitable Scholarly Publishing Systems Viewed as Key to Solving Development Challenges Identified by UN

Open Access

If the United Nations’ development plans are going to succeed, all voices need a chance to contribute to and access knowledge.

Experts gathered on May 3 for an online discussion on the importance of embracing open science and equitable scholarly publishing ecosystems to help solve the world’s biggest problems. [See video recording here.]

The United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library and UNESCO hosted the event, which focused on recommendations on expanding access to scientific knowledge in service of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) – including the need for a Global Science Commons. The UN’s 2030 Agenda calls for mechanisms to advance science and technology through knowledge-sharing in open access, online platforms. 

“Access to information is the foundation of an enabling environment for all sustainable development goals,” said Meg Wacha, Scholarly Communications Officer at UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library and event moderator. “Open science can be a major contributor to expanding global knowledge and addressing many of the challenges we experienced today — something which could have not been made more clear than the response to the COVID global pandemic.”  

The panellists emphasized the need to go beyond providing access to scholarly articles and data to re-examine all the pathways towards opening up knowledge. This includes evaluating who can contribute to shared global knowledge, supporting infrastructure to develop and distribute knowledge on a regional and global level, and considering what information is valued —  and by whom. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a long history of advocating for openness and equity, said Chris Bourg, MIT Director of Libraries, who spoke at the event. It established an open access policy in 2009 and operates a robust open repository that houses more than 50,000 scientific and scholarly articles to date. MIT adopted a framework with value-based principles that it uses to advance equity in its contract negotiations with publishers and has walked away from agreements that do not align.

Today, nearly 60% of articles published by MIT faculty members are openly available. The library actively works with researchers on campus to promote open access publishing, provides funding for open monograph projects and awards open data prizes for students and early career scholars.

The recent encouraging move by the U.S. government to require open access to all federally funded research spurred MIT and others to think about what more can be done to promote bibliodiversity. 

“It highlights the need to think about equity in the process and also the need for collective response and action,” said Bourg. Working toward this goal, MIT is collaborating with the 12 other libraries of the Ivy Plus Library Consortium to advocate for incentives to adopt open practices and oppose article processing charges (APCs) that reinforce inequities in the system.

In Australia, where issues of indigenous research and citizen science are high priorities, Virginia Barbour, Director of Open Access Australasia, spoke to the importance of advocacy, collaboration, raising awareness and capacity building to expand access and equity in scholarly publishing. The UNESCO Recommendation makes it easy to talk about values and principles driving the need for more knowledge sharing through the research cycle, she said.

“It’s not enough to just have open science at the end,” she said. “It’s extremely important to build equity into research design, publishing and dissemination,” She said co-designing research with marginalized communities and actively promoting bibliodiversity are needed, along with high-level buy-in, funding and socialization across all sectors for open science to take hold.

Thanos Giannakopoulos, Chief Librarian at UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library, called for enhanced cooperation in open science to level the playing field between countries with varying resources. “The record of science must be democratized globally,” he said. Relying on market forces or APCs is not sufficient and will only perpetuate existing power imbalance, he added, suggesting instead investment in non-commercial publishing and library repositories.

Open access should not just be promoted among scientists, but an effort also must be made to connect the public with research, said panellist Tshiamo Motshegwa, Director of the African Open Science Platform (AOSP).  Challenges with development in Africa are multifaceted, interlinked, transcend national boundaries and cannot be addressed by governments single-handedly.

Inclusive science, technology, and innovation are needed for the UN goals to be realized in Africa, said Motshegwa. AOSP is stimulating interactivity and creating opportunity by developing efficiencies of scale, building capacity, and amplifying the impact of open science by sharing best practices and showcasing African research. He noted the need for strong open science advocacy in and outside of academia, increased funding, improved infrastructure, more training, and robust public policy along with global initiatives moving forward.

Ana Persic, Program Specialist with UNESCO, underscored the urgency of leveraging open science and making publishing more equitable. The unequal access to knowledge is evident in the fact that 70% of all scientific publications are still locked behind some kind of paywall, she said.

“To be able to achieve SDGs and really use science in all its potential to deal with these global challenges, we need science that is more accessible, efficient, equitable, transparent, democratic, and more inclusive,” Persic said. “We’re talking about the human rights to science and the human right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress.”

The event was a follow up to conversations at the 3rd UN Open Science Conference in February (Read our recap here) and took place during the UN’s 8th Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.

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