Open Access: Is It Fostering Epistemic Injustice?


A romantic notion of Open Access is that once all knowledge is free, the injustice in the world caused by the knowledge advantage of some will be eliminated. But what if that doesn’t happen and OA actually reinforces existing patterns of inequality? In the guest article, Nicki Lisa Cole and Thomas Klebel share their findings from the ON-MERRIT project.


OSC 2022: “Mitigating risks of cumulative advantage in the transition to Open Science … ” – YouTube

“This talk will summarise work done within the EC Horizon2020 project ON-MERRIT (2019-2022, to investigate risks of cumulative advantage in the transition to Open Science. 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”. Since 2019, the EC Horizon2020 project ON-MERRIT has been investigating these issues using scientometric, sociological and other approaches to examine how these factor influence the ways in which Open Science is taken up (and by whom). As ON-MERRIT concludes, this talk will showcase diverse findings across areas including OA publishing, rewards and incentives and participatory methods. I then concludes by presenting recommendations to mitigate threats co-created with the Open Science community.”

Global Thinking. ON-MERRIT recommendations for maximising equity in open and responsible research | Zenodo

“Open and responsible research has the potential to profoundly alter the who, what, why, when and how of knowledge-creation. Yet it is not a destiny. The ways we implement change today will have long-lasting consequences for the kind of open and responsible research ecosystem we inhabit tomorrow. For that future to be one more equitable than today’s world, critical consideration must be given to the ways in which agendas of openness are shaped by those in positions of power and privilege, and might hence reflect or even reinforce global dynamics of inequity. 

ON-MERRIT is an EC-funded project to investigate dynamics of cumulative advantage and threats to equity in the transition to Open Research and Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI) across a range of stakeholder categories (in particular for those at the periphery) and multiple dimensions of Open Research, as well as its interfaces with industry and policy. Our results found many areas of concern, from which we identified four key areas of risk:

Resource-intensity of Open Research: Putting open and responsible research into practice requires considerable resources (including infrastructures, services, and training). The structural inequalities that exist within institutions, regions and nations, and on a global scale, create structural advantages for well-resourced actors and structural disadvantages for less-resourced actors, in terms of capacity and ability to engage in these practices.
Article-processing charges and the stratification of Open Access publishing: The article processing charge (APC)  model within Open Access publishing seems to discriminate against those with limited resources (especially those from less-resourced regions and institutions). These facts seem to be having effects of stratification in terms of who publishes where. 
Societal inclusion in research and policy-making: Open and responsible research processes take place within broader social systems where inequalities continue to structure access and privilege certain actors while others are disadvantaged. Despite laudable aims of equity, inclusion and diversity in open and responsible research, the most marginalised, vulnerable, and poor remain mostly excluded. 
Reform of reward and recognition: Institutional processes for reward and recognition not only do not sufficiently support the uptake of open and responsible research, but often get in the way of them. This disadvantages those who wish to take up these practices (putting early-career researchers especially at risk). …”

Open science, done wrong, will compound inequities

“Ten years ago, as a new PhD graduate looking for my next position, I found myself in the academic cold. Nothing says “you are an outsider” more than a paywall asking US$38 for one article. That fuelled my advocacy of open science and, ultimately, drove me to research its implementation.

Now, open science is mainstream, increasingly embedded in policies and expected in practice. But the ways in which it is being implemented can have unintended consequences, and these must not be ignored.

Since 2019, I’ve led ON-MERRIT, a project funded by the European Commission that uses a mixture of computational and qualitative methods to investigate how open science affects the research system. Many in the movement declare equity as a goal, but reality is not always on track for that. Indeed, I fear that without more critical thought, open science could become just the extension of privilege. Our recommendations for what to consider are out this week (see …

Even those rooting for equity often argue that we should first enable access and then consider unintended side effects, such as marginalization of authors from low-income countries. But how change is implemented will have long-lasting consequences. Once new forms of inequity are in place, it will be too late to fix the system efficiently….”

ON-MERRIT final event: Ensuring Equity in Open Science, March 22, 2022, 1-5pm (CET) | on-merrit

Are you interested in how Open Science and Responsible Research and Innovation can contribute to a more equitable scientific environment?

Then join ON-MERRIT’s final event on ensuring equity in Open Science!

ON-MERRIT is an EC-funded project investigating issues of equity in the transition to Open Science and RRI. As we reach our closing stages, we are pleased to invite you to join our final project event. Here, we will showcase ON-MERRIT’s research results and recommendations to institutions, researchers, funders and policymakers on mitigating key threats to equity in Open Science and RRI. Renowned speakers Sarah de Rijcke and Leslie Chan will also contribute their perspectives on these issues with insightful keynotes on reform of rewards and recognition and equity in Open Science respectively.

Attendees will gain an understanding of the current status of the implementation of Open Science and RRI policies at all levels, learn about the challenges in fostering their adoption, and have the chance to discuss the practical recommendations proposed by the project. Everyone, including researchers, funders, research institutions and policymakers and beyond are invited to attend.

How (not) to incentivise open research | The Bibliomagician

“Lizzie Gadd makes the case for open research being required not rewarded.

There’s no glory associated with running due diligence on your research partners and following GDPR legislation won’t give you an advantage in a promotion case. These are basic professional expectations placed on every self-respecting researcher. And whilst there are no prizes for those who adhere to them, there are serious consequences for those that don’t.  Surely this is what we want for open research? Not that it should be treated as an above-and-beyond option for the savvy few, but that it should be a bread-and-butter expectation on everyone.

Now I appreciate there is probably an interim period where institutions want to raise awareness of open research practices (as I said before, they need to be enabled before they can be incentivised).  And during this period, running some ‘Open Research Culture Awards’ or offering ‘Open research hero badges’ to web pages might have their place. But we can’t dwell here for long.  We need to move quite rapidly to this being a basic expectation on researchers. We have to define what open research expectations are relevant to each discipline. Add these expectations to our Codes of Good Research Practice. Train researchers in their obligations. Monitor (at discipline/HEI level) engagement with these expectations. And hold research leads accountable for the practices of their research groups.”

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“ON-MERRIT is a 30 month project funded by the European Commission to investigate how and if open and responsible research practices could worsen existing inequalities.

Our multidisciplinary team uses qualitative and computational methods in order to examine advantages and disadvantages in Open Science and Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI). ON-MERRIT aims at eventually suggesting a set of evidence-based recommendations for science policies, indicators and incentives, which could address and mitigate cumulative (dis)advantages, so called Matthew effects.
The project acronym stands for Observing and Negating Matthew Effects in Responsible Research & Innovation Transition….”