Open Access Week 2019: Equity in Open Knowledge

Kyle Brady
Monday 21 October 2019

We are delighted to be celebrating international Open Access Week 2019 from 21-27 October, by embracing the theme of Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge

Open Access Week png

We find ourselves at a critical moment. The decisions we make now—individually and collectively—will fundamentally shape the future for many years to come. As open becomes the default, all stakeholders must be intentional about designing these new, open systems to ensure that they are inclusive, equitable, and truly serve the needs of a diverse global community. Asking ourselves and our partners “open for whom?” will help ensure that considerations of equity become and remain central in this period of transition.

With this theme in mind we have invited one of our researchers to tell us what open research means from an academic perspective. Martin Dominik is a Reader in Physics & Astronomy at the University of St Andrews and is a strong advocate of communication being an essential part of science, and science being an integral part of society and culture. Martin has served on the Executive Committee of the Global Young Academy, and is engaged in shaping research environments that make creative minds flourish.

Here are Martin’s thoughts on the topic:

While the internet has revolutionised global communication, academia is still stuck in structures that reflect the age of the printing press. Communication is essential for research to unfold its value, but effective communication goes beyond just the ability to retrieve information. However, a substantial fraction of academic publishing has become write-only, with researchers widely pressured to chasing recognition by citation figures, and no longer primarily serves the purpose of sharing knowledge and acting as a platform for discourse. In fact, the academic literature lacks readability. There is no shortage of technical solutions that enable a global society to engage in dialogue, all obstacles are structural or cultural. So, from an academic perspective, what do we need?

First, we need to free ourselves from counterproductive performance indicators and focus on what really matters. It needs to be acknowledged that scholars have an intrinsic and genuine interest for their research area to flourish, and many of them are driven by the desire to make valuable contributions to society. They deserve support rather than being held back by overly prescriptive or punitive policies. Moreover, creative minds need space to unfold and time to do so.

Second, we need a global culture of dialogue, debate, and constructive criticism. There is so much to learn from each other, and frequently this process involves initial disagreement. Communication needs to have the recipient in mind, and dialogue involves listening. If we are serious about making research truly accessible for everybody, it needs to be communicated in a form that is understandable. Very few people understand specific terminology, and most people in the world do not understand English at all. Clarity of expression and wide communication is also a means to overcoming disciplinary confinement.

Third, trust in research requires transparency and open scrutiny. Sufficient detail needs to be provided in order to independently assess whether presented conclusions are justified and supported by data. It seems odd that established peer review processes already provide a qualitative assessment, but usually lock away this most valuable information. We then spend much effort in trying to reproduce such information in exercises like the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Research is a global endeavour, and access needs to be free from barriers. We must not enforce models that just reflect the environment of the most-developed countries, but rather embrace the value of global collaboration. If we accept that sharing of knowledge serves the public interest, it is worth thinking about globally fair publicly-funded scholarly publishing with dually-open access (to both readers and authors).

Martin Dominik
Reader in Physics & Astronomy
University of St Andrews


These themes were also explored last week at the FORCE11 conference in Edinburgh. FORCE 2019 gathered a wide range of stakeholders to meet and discuss ways of changing the ways scholarly and scientific information is communicated, shared and used. Presentations are available in a Zenodo community.

If you have ideas to share on how we shape our research to be more open and equitable, let us know at [email protected]

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