Open Science holds the promise to make scientific endeavours more inclusive, participatory, understandable, accessible, and re-usable for large audiences. However, making processes open will not per se drive wide re-use or participation unless also accompanied by the capacity (in terms of knowledge, skills, financial resources, technological readiness and motivation) to do so. These capacities vary considerably across regions, institutions and demographics. Those advantaged by such factors will remain potentially privileged, putting Open Science’s agenda of inclusivity at risk of propagating conditions of “cumulative advantage”. With this paper, we systematically scope existing research addressing the question: “What evidence and discourse exists in the literature about the ways in which dynamics and structures of inequality could persist or be exacerbated in the transition to Open Science, across disciplines, regions and demographics?” Aiming to synthesise findings, identify gaps in the literature, and inform future research and policy, our results identify threats to equity associated with all aspects of Open Science, including Open Access, Open/FAIR Data, Open Methods, Open Evaluation, Citizen Science, as well as its interfaces with society, industry and policy. Key threats include: stratifications of publishing due to the exclusionary nature of the author-pays model of Open Access; potential widening of the digital divide due to the infrastructure-dependent, highly situated nature of open data practices; risks of diminishing qualitative methodologies as “reproducibility” becomes synonymous with quality; new risks of bias and exclusion in means of transparent evaluation; and crucial asymmetries in the Open Science relationships with industry and the public, which privileges the former and fails to fully include the latter.
“Many of the inequities which COVID-19 has exposed – and exacerbated – have been with us for a long time. Setting aside very stark disparities in access to health services, and the ability to maintain decent livelihoods, COVID has shown us once again the processes of exclusion that are baked into the ways in which we produce, communicate and use knowledge.
These are questions of infrastructure – who can study and work and be part of the many discussions taking place? – but also of voice – whose ideas and knowledge are valued?
We often think about how knowledge is produced and used around a particular issue or problem. But if we really want to “build back better” in knowledge terms, we have to look at our systems and how we improve those.
Taking a longer term and systemic view would mean thinking not just about research (i.e. how knowledge is produced by researchers) but also systems of education, and particularly higher education, that create our professional and practitioner communities, and systems of decision-making, that determine how evidence is used in government and elsewhere.
Here are some of the things we need to think about….”