Statement from the International Science Council delegation to the UNESCO Special Committee meeting on Open Science, 6-12 May 2021

“Now UNESCO has taken a stance. It seeks to formalize these trends at an international level by placing a recommendation on Open Science before its 193 Member States for their endorsement3 . It has engaged with the scientific community over the last year to generate a long list of draft recommendations for open access to the published record of science, open data, open educational resources, open-source software and code, open hardware and infrastructures, and open engagement with society. The draft’s first contact with political reality, in the form of national representatives, took place in early May 2021. Representatives were almost universally supportive, and even added “bite” on some crucial issues. For example, there is an increasing awareness of the moves of some major commercial publishers to evolve into broadly based “science/knowledge platforms”, able increasingly to monopolize not only access to scientific knowledge but also to data about science and scientists, their evaluation, scientometrics, management, networking, priorities and funding, with little accountability to the scientific community or its organizations 4 . Indeed, the commercial public sector has been more than effective in monetizing scholarly output, creating an oligopoly of control, and is learning how to take control over additional aspects of the research life cycle, now especially focused on the interaction between publishing, data repositories, and access to data. Awareness of these trends was reflected in a critical insertion in the text by UNESCO Member States that: “The monitoring of Open Science should be explicitly kept under public oversight, including the scientific community, and whenever possible supported by open non-proprietary and transparent infrastructures. This monitoring aspect could include but should not be delegated to the private sector.”

The UNESCO recommendation and potential cascading interventions by Member States could develop along two divergent pathways. They could enhance governmental support for the scientific community, and the stakeholder ecosystem of which it is part, as they develop new policies, infrastructures and collaboration strategies that serve the Open Science paradigm as it has progressively evolved over the last two decades. Alternatively, Member States could disregard the tradition whereby the scientific community self-organizes to achieve its purposes, and come to specify, or even regulate, how it should be organized. We are strongly in favour of the former, and concerned about the potential of the latter, which could create a mode of Open Science that opens the door: “to capture of publicly funded research value by commercial platforms, yet more ‘metrics’ of productivity to ‘incentivize’ scholars to work harder and a focus on the system-wide progress of science, ignoring costs and benefits to individuals, whether scientists or non-scientists” 5 . Nonetheless, we welcome the draft UNESCO recommendation most strongly, with the comment that awareness of danger is the first step in averting it.”

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