Research-reform advocates must beware unintended consequences.
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.
The AHRECS team supports open science and free access to research outputs, data and protocols. Amongst its many advantages is that it will shine a light on pay-to-play (titles in questionable publications), papers from paper mills and the products of questionable research. But as this Nature piece observes, we need to be mindful of untended consequences (OA publication fees making it harder for researchers in poorer countries to publish). Strategies that might help address this are grants including funding provision for such fees and as part of celebrating open science, institutions providing some support for such fees.
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 go.nature.com/3kypbj8).
Open science is a vague mix of ideals. Overall, advocates aim to increase transparency, accountability, equity and collaboration in knowledge production by increasing access to research results, articles, methods and tools. This means that data and protocols should be freely shared in high-quality repositories and research articles should be available without subscriptions or reading fees.
Making all that happen is expensive. Wealthy institutions and regions can afford this better than can poorer ones. At my university, in a high-income nation, I know I am privileged. In a collaboration to introduce open science at Ukrainian universities (including those displaced by conflict post-2014), I’ve been privy to difficult conversations about how to pay publication fees that are three times a professor’s monthly salary, and how to meet data-sharing requirements to be eligible for funding when institutional support is lacking. And privilege comes in many forms. For instance, the fact that career-advancement criteria don’t reward open practices puts early-career adherents at a disadvantage.