Open Science for the few is just the extension of privilege. Equity is a key aim of Open Science, but could current Open Science policies actually worsen existing inequalities? Open Science needs resources (funding, time, knowledge, skills), and the traditionally advantaged people usually have more of them. Will their privilege mean that they are the ones to benefit most? How can we avoid the dynamic of the rich getting richer, known as the Matthew effect? The EC-funded project ON-MERRIT (on-merrit.eu) aims at contributing to an equitable scientific system that rewards researchers based on merit. For this purpose, it investigates the impact of Open Science practices using scientometric, sociological and other approaches.
Open Science has equity as a key aim but might in some circumstances actually endanger it.
Less well-resourced researchers, institutions and regions as well as women and young researchers most at risk.
ON-MERRIT’s first major publication will be published online on 19th January 2022 in Royal Society Open Science. Entitled “Dynamics of Cumulative Advantage and Threats to Equity in Open Science: A Scoping Review”, the paper systematically scopes the scientific literature to, for the first time, synthesise knowledge to date on this subject. Key points we identify include:
High costs of participation: Open Science is resource-intensive in terms of infrastructure, support, training. Even exploiting resources like Open Data is strongly linked to access to infrastructure and data-literacy. Less well-resourced institutions and regions are hence placed at a disadvantage.
Discriminatory business models: The author-pays model of Open Access is exclusionary and risks stratifying authorship patterns.
Disciplinary differences: Meanings and limits of openness not uniform across disciplines. Uncritically extending quantitative standards methodologies may obscure necessary interpretive work or further devalue qualitative approaches.
Lack of reward structures: Open Science infrastructures often rely on short-term project funding or volunteer labour which is not properly rewarded within current incentive structures.
Privileging of economic aims: Open Science is accused of enabling commodification and marketisation of research knowledge as an economic resource to be exploited rather than as a common good for the well-being of humanity. Industry is free to take up Open Science or not, privileging economic over epistemic aims.
Our paper details these diverse findings and their implications. We do not think these issues diminish the overall importance of Open Science, but they do highlight the need for nuance and care in implementing it.
In the meantime, our project has been conducting primary research into many of these issues and will shortly release recommendations on what researchers, institutions and research funders can do to mitigate these effects.
Study: Tony Ross-Hellauer, Stefan Reichmann, Nicki Lisa Cole, Angela Fessl, Thomas Klebel, Nancy Pontika (2022). Dynamics of Cumulative Advantage and Threats to Equity in Open Science: A Scoping Review. Royal Society Open Science. DOI:10.1098/rsos.211032