Season 2 Episode 1

SEASON 2 EPISODE 1

Perspectives on the UNESCO Open Science Recommendation

In our second season, we continue our mission of interrogating the politics of knowledge production, exchange and circulation – but with a specific focus on open science and open access. In this first episode we speak with Eleanor Haine, Program Officer at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and Fernanda Beigel, Chair of the UNESCO Open Science Advisory Committee and Researcher at CONICET. Both have been actively involved in the drafting of the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science – and from their different geographical, institutional and personal perspectives they share what open science means to them and what they and their colleagues have been fighting for.

Transcript

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Safa  

You are listening to the Unsettling Knowledge Inequities podcast, presented by the Knowledge Equity Lab and SPARC – the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

Safa

Hello and welcome back to our second season! ! My name is Safa and I’m your host.  Thanks for joining us as we seek to unsettle knowledge inequity in academia and beyond. 

This season, we continue our mission of interrogating the politics of knowledge production, exchange and circulation – but with a specific focus on open science and open access.

Have you ever wondered how intergovernmental or United Nations level policies are developed, who they involve and what they hope to achieve? Well, you are about to find out! 

Over the past few years UNESCO has been facilitating extensive dialogue and exchange amongst diverse stakeholders around the world – including the global scientific community, academic institutions, governments, practitioners, youth and community members – in an effort to collaboratively draft the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science – a set of global commitments on open science that are intended to influence the development of national laws and practices.

To help us learn more about the process behind drafting the recommendation and some of the key themes, we are joined by Eleanor Haine, Program Officer at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, and Fernanda Beigel, Chair of the UNESCO Open Science Advisory Committee and an Argentinian Sociologist. 

They have both been actively involved in the consultation process over the past year –  and from their different geographical, institutional and personal perspectives they share what open science means to them and what they and their colleagues have been fighting for. 

Eleanor  

My name is Eleanor Haine and I’m based at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. I’ll just start with UNESCO  – so UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and it was created after World War II to rebuild the world’s education systems, and its overarching goal is building peace through knowledge exchange and cultural exchange. It works towards this goal through initiatives in education, sciences, culture, communication and information. And unusually for an agency of the United Nations, UNESCO operates through National Commissions, so each of its 193 Member States has a National Commission. So the Canadian Commission for UNESCO is one of these – Canada is a member state of UNESCO. And we work really to carry out UNESCO’s mandate and priorities here in Canada. We knew that UNESCO was going to be developing a UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. In 2017, it was proposed that there should be a recommendation on open science, so the Secretariat in Paris at UNESCO headquarters went off and built a roadmap for how the consultations would be done and what that might look like. So what we had to do was to establish what is Canada’s position on open science?  So I formed a small working group of people, we published a white paper, really about what were Canadian perspectives on the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. And that helped us to represent Canada’s interests in terms of what the next stage of developing a recommendation should look like. 

Safa

Before we hear more about this paper – lets move from Canada to Argentina and hear how Fernanda got involved in these consultations.

Fernanda  

My name is Fernanda Beigel, and I am Argentinian. I work in a small city in the center of the country, which is called Mendoza, and I’m a sociologist and a full time professor in the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. And the principal researcher at Conicet ( Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas), which is our national research agency. I think that – well, maybe everybody can agree that this pandemic put forward the real need to make science accessible – for example, the urgent need for scientists working from home to have access to the scientific literature that normally we accessed in the institutions and in the computers that we had in the institutions, this was one of the things that that was immediately observed. But also, I think that, particularly this year, after the vaccine started to be distributed, the pandemic showed the world the inequalities and the structural asymmetries were so deep that even in the distribution of the vaccines, this is at work. And that’s why I think that we were all very well concerned about this, because we were living it every day. And so I simply received – and I was very thrilled with this, I simply received the call from my government, from my Science and Technology Minister, saying: well, because of your involvement in these general issues, because of your scientific trajectory, we would like to nominate you as a representative of Latin America because they had to choose four for Latin America, four experts. And well, I said, yeah, it looked like a very interesting challenge. And I said yes. And well, finally, I was accepted with other three Latin American colleagues. We have a global consultation that was made online in the beginning of 2020. And well, we were surprised because all the meetings had to be virtual. And so this changed, I think, the general scope of everybody, because it was not just that open science had to be a good and nice project. But we felt like the urgency of pulling this out. And so we had a lot of inputs. This was a very participatory process, really very interesting. And in the emotional part in myself, I was completely surprised in the second meeting, because I was elected the Chair of this Committee, something I never, never expected. So my involvement was was very high. And so all these inputs were very important. And one of them I think, was the most complex of all, which was the fact that the definition of open science is not something with global consensus. And so in between all these discussions in the experts’ committee and all the consultations and the inter-governmental meeting that took place in May, I think that we have arrived to the idea that the open sciences, openness, but what type of openness? I mean, not only access to publishing, scientific publishing, that would be an openness for scientists and for their own results. But it’s also important to have open access to data, to primary data, to all the data that sustains this scientific results. But also it has to do with infrastructures, because open science means more collaboration, more openness, also, to other ways of doing science and to other epistemologies, to other ways of thinking the same thing that way of thinking in our laboratory. And it’s not only the traditional research collaboration, which has been taking place for many decades, but it’s to try to involve society within science. Open Science is precisely a project for the openness of science to society. And so each one of us, in the different type of work, family that we live, we all have knowledges. And all these knowledges are important for science. And that’s one of the main concerns, because if not, you know, the definition would not be open science, it would be just open access. And so one of the main differences that open science is willing to delve on this openness to the whole societies, to citizens. I mean, think about, for example, communities that are interested in their local environment, and they can help in order to make records of changes that they are seeing in their local geography. Well, sometimes this knowledge that resides in the community is very important for science. And this openness means to open science to society. And not to think science as just, you know, like an imposition – we discover something new, and we just have to make an application in society. But more as an interaction, as the need to have a dialogue in between scientists and society.

Safa

This more expansive and equitable definition of open science is something that was also taking shape and being discussed amongst Eleanor and her colleagues in Canada. 

Eleanor  

And we published that paper in early 2020. And then, it was really interesting because I shared it with a number of our UNESCO Chairs, a number of partners in the government and the universities and had some feedback that our paper really didn’t go deeply enough into the importance of open science when it comes to decolonizing knowledge. So I kind of threw the gauntlet back at this UNESCO Chair and said: well, can you produce a paper for us about open science and the decolonization of knowledge? The UNESCO chair was Budd Hall, who is based at University of Victoria. And he collaborated with Leslie Chan, from the Knowledge Equity Lab at the University of Toronto in Scarborough, with Florence Piron at the University of Laval, with Lorna Williams from the University of Victoria, and Rajesh Tandon, who’s based out an organization called PRIA in India. And they produced a paper for us: “Open Science – a Step Towards the Decolonization of Knowledge.” And we published that in July 2020, so just over a year ago. And they put it up on Zenodo, and it got a lot of interest – I think to date it has had over 6000 views and nearly 4000 downloads. And it was really interesting, because it really contributed a lot to my thinking about what does open science mean when it comes to citizen scientists, when it comes to Indigenous knowledge holders, when it comes to the kind of access of science to a number of people. And what led on from that was, we sent the paper to UNESCO in Paris. And a lot of the ideas within that paper ended up being incorporated into the first draft of the UNESCO Recommendation. That was really exciting that some of those ideas ended up in the first draft of the Recommendation. And then meanwhile, we really thought we need to share these ideas with a lot of other member states of UNESCO and a lot of other stakeholders around the world. So we ended up having this series of 11 webinars, in a lot of different languages. In fact, the paper was translated into 5 different languages. And over fall and winter last year, we did all these webinars, and we had over 1500 participants, with speakers from over 24 countries. And that led to a lot of support for these ideas about decolonizing science, decolonizing knowledge when it comes to open science, which we got support from other member states for in subsequent consultations. And then UNESCO asked us to do national consultations about the draft text for the Open Science Recommendation. So I sought input from a lot of people like the diverse stakeholders that I mentioned before, and it culminated in an inter-governmental meeting, which happened in May this year. And that’s when all 193 member states came together, we had this team of 12 Canadians who were working together to ensure that we could represent Canadian interests well in the negotiations, and literally over three days it went sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, word by word through the final draft of the Recommendation on Open Science, to produce a final draft, and that should be adopted by UNESCO in November this year at the next General Conference.

Fernanda  

The meetings were very, very intense. But in a very nice environment. I mean, everybody had something to say. And in these types of meetings, well, the Chair has to try to get to a point, you know, and not only just make abstract discussions, and so I had to be very, very aware of the time. And at the UNESCO, you have a very professional team that works in all that has to do with the organization of the text, they are well trained researchers, and they know how everything works. And we relied a lot on them, and they have a lot of experience on drafting a Recommendation. And most of our committee experts, none of us had worked ever, ever in the past on a Recommendation. So it was really a very intense team work. It was very interesting. In all the drafting process, we were dedicated to list the stakeholders, because you have many diverse types of groups, people, citizens that are interested in open science. And for example, in the scientific community, the students are very important. In the global consultation, we could see that many of the people that responded were young people. For example, I was in the region and Latin American consultation, in the Argentinian consultation. In the public, we had a lot of young people, because young people, it’s like they enter this scientific world when open science and open access was already ongoing. And it’s like they feel that’s the natural thing, you know. What’s not natural is to have journals by subscription, what’s not natural is to have to pay to read, and it’s not natural either to pay to publish, you know. And so this recommendation for open science is also explicitly against this type of commodification or commercialization that we’re seeing in the open science transition. We were aware of the importance of the approval by the government and the commitment by the government, because they are the one that had to be willing to put the resources that we need. But I didn’t feel like this put some limits – we knew that we couldn’t just write whatever some intellectuals want on open science, we had to think of a realistic thing that could be approved, first of all, and then a Recommendation that could be useful. And that’s why in May, except for a few details, mainly the text was approved in the first inter-governmental meeting.

Safa

This draft text of the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science includes some key themes that participants had identified as being of high priority.  

Eleanor  

There are a couple of things which really stood out to me. The first was the importance of participatory research. And that really is about science being done by multiple people, not just scientists at universities or in the private sector, but science being open to all people to participate. UNESCO takes quite a very human rights based approach. So UNESCO acknowledges that science is a human right. And so to be truly open, science needs to be available to young people, it needs to be available to citizen scientists, it needs to be available and accessible to everyone. So it was really ensuring that within the Recommendation on Open Science, it named all these different stakeholders who could be involved in science and should be involved in science, and pay particular attention to the importance and the needs of Indigenous knowledge holders, to gender equity, to ensuring that racialized groups have access to science and its benefits, and so on and so forth. So that was one of the things and then the other thing was about, well it’s two things really – initially in the Recommendation, they said that open science should recognize bibliodiversity and linguistic diversity. In the final text, those two things were actually separated. Bibliodiversity is really about having a diverse range of publications or ways that knowledge is transmitted or published. And you know, in the science world, the western science world, we’re very used to a lot of the science being published in academic journals and the way it’s written is not very accessible to the average person unless you have been in that environment, you’ve done postgraduate studies, it can be very inaccessible. But if science is to be a human right, you have to also acknowledge that open science needs to be available in diverse forms. Hence, the bibliodiversity’s importance. And then the second one related to that was linguistic diversity. Before I joined the Commission, I had an academic research career. You know my first language is English, I’m actually from England as you can probably tell by my accent, and it was very easy for me to access scientific research – but if English is your second or even your third language, you really can be at a disadvantage. And then there’s other aspects which is like Indigenous knowledge holders are able to most efficiently, in some respect, transmit their knowledge in their own language, because their own language can actually speak to the relationship they have with the things they’re studying. So linguistic diversity is also really important. So for me, it was really, really crucial that the final draft text of the recommendation acknowledge the importance of not just the participatory research, that everybody should be able to take part in science, but also, they should be able to do it in their own language and access it through a diverse range of publications, not just your standard scientific publication.

Fernanda  

In Argentina, particularly, we have a very singular, very unique research assessment system, very different from other countries, even in Latin America, because we don’t have a salary incentive for publication. I mean, if you publish in the mainstream, one, two or three, it has a relevance in your promotions, of course, but there’s no difference in monetary or salary incentives. And that’s something that has made most of our researchers in Argentina, more committed to science, and not dependent on the commercial side or interested in getting involved with, I don’t know publishing enterprises or things. And so it’s like our researchers are very used to publishing in these journals that were normally by subscription, the closed ones, the traditional and very renowned journals. And now they would love to see them in open access, and our agency wants to push open science and open access practices. We have a law that was approved in Argentina for open access and repositories in 2013. And this has been at work and we have the repositories and the obligation to put our production in these repositories. But they are afraid, and I think they have reasons to be afraid, that now all these journals are becoming ‘open science’ – but with this payment of the article processing charge. And so this is a high, high threat for our academic community. Because in Argentina, we could never pay, I don’t know $2,000 or $3,000 to publish an article, and we’re not used to that. I mean, in Argentina, most of our research is published even in these mainstream journals, but we’ve never paid. We’ve always published without payment. And so in our current financial situation, which is very difficult in Argentina, we don’t have a normal currency that has equivalence with dollars or euros, it would be like the impossibility to publish. And so that’s one of the main threats and the main concerns that people have. And one of the main messages that I think that open science has to take in its hands as a project, is that open science has to be open science with non-commercial ends. That, for scientists at least, its something that that we do because of real deep vocation, and so we have to boost this type of science. And well, all the interests that are behind the laboratories that are building the vaccines, all the interests behind the big publishers. Well, us as citizens, and I’m not speaking now as a researcher, but as a citizen, us citizens have to struggle against that. We have to defend an open science that also is open for society, and really completely outside of these economic and commercial interests.

Eleanor  

One of the interesting things when we’re doing the inter-governmental meeting to negotiate the text, was that some countries are not quite as open about open science as others and some countries don’t put as much emphasis on the human rights based approach when it comes to access to science as others. So when we were doing the negotiations, it was quite interesting, because we have a permanent delegation to UNESCO, who speaks at all these meetings, our ambassador and their team. And it was quite interesting to see what was going on in the background, where other member states were chatting to see what wording could be acceptable to everybody, because UNESCO does things by consensus, rather than majority vote. So everybody has to reach a consensus about specific wording. And we were keen to make sure that gender equity was always mentioned, and youth empowerment, youth engagement was mentioned. And so I think Canada has some soft influence through the recommendation in terms of making sure those things were included in the final text. But in terms of the content of the recommendation, I think that the pandemic situation contributed to the recommendation being very quite far reaching in terms of its scope. A lot of journals have, for example, reduced their pay wall when it comes to articles about COVID-19, vaccines and treatments and that sort of thing. So in terms of publications, it appears that there’s been a lot more open science happening during the pandemic. I think in terms of data access, it’s not necessarily the same case. So open science is more than just open access, it’s also open data, open source code, for example, if people are generating code for analyses, and there’s still a way to go when it comes to open data. And I think that that has come across in the Open Science Recommendation, because a lot of countries have pointed that out, that while the publications are getting more open access – when it comes to issues like like global problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the infrastructure for data sharing, and open data is not yet advanced. So hopefully, that is the next thing that will happen. I mean, it’s really interesting  looking at it from a kind of human rights based approach, again. To be truly equitable and inclusive, the global community needs to look at solutions to global problems through a human rights lens. Things like intellectual property, when it comes to vaccines and treatments for the COVID0 19 pandemic, really need to be looked at through that lens of human rights, especially when it’s a global problem. I mean, for these global problems that impact everybody, should that be pay walls? Should there be patents, that sort of thing? These are very big, moral and legal questions, which I think the pandemic has kind of accelerated the discussions about.

Safa

Even though access to science and data are a human right –  the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science has one logistical limitation that may constrain its impact – which is the fact that it serves as a guide rather than an obligation for UNESCO member states. 

Fernanda  

The recommendation or any type of recommendation by UNESCO or other international or inter-governmental agency are not mandatory. They are a recommendation, as the name says, right. And, of course, there is a monitoring process. And we have representatives in each country that are trying to push this recommendation, to transform it into real practice. But I think that one of the main issues that can help in this sense is that this recommendation is not naive. I mean, like in the abstract part saying: ‘open science is beautiful, let’s go to global infrastructures’. No, it’s very explicitly aware of these threats, and all these problems that not only they cannot improve our scientific world, but they can clearly make it more unequal and more asymmetric – which is, for example, this transition to open science in the modality of the payment by the author. Because in Europe and in the United States, we’ve seen a lot of agreements that the libraries of the wealthy universities are doing with the big publishers, and these agreements are called Freedom To Publish. And so you can have all the subscriptions as before, but now you also can publish in those journals without payment. But that’s only possible for the big universities, the wealthy universities of the North, that could not be possible for any university nor government in Latin America. Those huge agreements with millions and millions of dollars. And so we would be left you know, individually, completely aside and deciding for ourselves if we have $1,000, which we don’t have, because, you know, our salaries are way lower than that. So I think that this recommendation is very, very clear in this sense, the global inequalities are an essential part of the recommendation. And the other part that’s very important than the recommendation is bibliodiversity, the need to defend multilingualism. When we speak about multilingualism, or bibliodiversity its because in the last 20 or 30 years, mainstream journals that are all published in English, have gained like this symbolic prestige that was built through what these big publishers call the ‘impact factor’ – and the university rankings and all the journal rankings work with this indicator. And so some journals started to have a higher impact factor, and so many researchers wanted to publish there, and this was like an accumulation of scientific power that was concentrated in these mainstream journals. I’m speaking about Web of Science and Scopus type of journals. And so, its like they concentrate the symbol prestige that a scientist is looking for. And so these type of journals are 95% published in English. And this forced the whole world that speaks in thousands of languages to adapt to the English writing. And so this has had a harmful effect in the interculturality, in the dialogue between different languages. And instead of creating translation politics, which would be the thing that we have to try to boost now. Well, everybody started to adapt to English. And so what we face now is the possibility of an open science with an English grammar. I mean, if everything is in English, open science can also push this hypercentrality of English, so we have to be very well aware of that. Because this would be a very impoverishing thing for science, the linguistic diversity and the bibliodiversity, which is not only to publish papers, but to also publish books, to publish reports, to publish proceedings, and other types of documents. And especially to try to think of new forms and new ways of communication for citizen science, which is one of the most important pillars of open science. And well, that involves not to concentrate everything in English, but to go in the in the other way, you know? And so I think that all these issues will help our governments to install scientific policies that can push open science, but open science with a direction – I mean, not just open science going anywhere, but open science going to really improve the quality of science and improve the quality of the relation between science and society.

Eleanor  

UNESCO recommendations are normative instruments, that means they are standard setting, but they’re not legally binding. It sets out those norms and principles which member states can use to influence their policymaking. So it’s going to be really interesting to see how this recommendation will influence policymaking of all the UNESCO member states and how that might eventually lead to changes in the science ecosystem. So my work in this field is not finished. I’m excited about being able to continue looking at how the recommendation will affect different people. I mean, it’s our job really, as Canadian Commission for UNESCO to work with multiple partners, to build awareness of the recommendation, to ensure that it reaches as many people as possible. So that’s one of the first things I’m going to be doing next year, is really looking at the recommendation and saying: Okay, so how does it impact this group of people? Let’s say, it’s people doing community-based research. How does it affect science funders? How does it affect the universities and their researchers? How does it affect Indigenous peoples or implications for women in particular? I think one of the things I’d like to see happen from this recommendation is that by educating people about what it means for them in particular and their organizations in particular, it will empower people to say: I do have a right to access science. I do have a right to access data. I do have a right to participate in science, and I can do that within my own language. And I can read about science in ways which is not just the journal articles, which are only really accessible to the academy. So my hope is that through the work we continue to do with multiple partners, that we can ensure it has maximum reach and empowers people to be able to have a voice in that respect.

Safa

While the urgency of implementing open science in the face of shared global problems like the COVID -19 pandemic and the climate crisis is currently being felt – there are many other interconnected structural knowledge equity issues that cannot be overlooked and deserve equal attention. 

Fernanda  

If you ask me for any other issues on equity, well, I think gender asymmetries is one of them. Because our scientific world has been very organized in relation to men type of productivity in publishing especially, right. And promotion, tenure is all related also to publishing. And so since publishing is so important, just to give open access, or create open data it is not enough to struggle and to fight against gender asymmetries. We do have to have particular and special measures to work against gender asymmetries in science.

Eleanor  

I think one of the biggest challenges that potentially is faced in science research is the notion of ‘research excellence’, and people measuring research excellence by how many publications you have in what sort of ‘impact factor’ journals. And I think that that’s a very challenging way to measure research excellence in the context of open science. But if those journal articles, a) are not open access, and b) how do you measure the impact of the research on a wider level? So if we shifted to a different way of measuring excellence in research, one that considers the impact that the research has on policies, and its availability to people who would benefit from it the most – that might be a better definition for research excellence, which would conform well to open science principles than the ‘impact factor’ journal publication rate kind of measure of research excellence. And I think that until you shift kind of your measure of research excellence to that which is about more accessibility to research and having it available to people who benefit from it, how it impacts policies, etc, I don’t think you’re really going to be in a situation where science is fully open.  So I think those two things are kind of related. One of the really important things that people can do is participate in like citizen science research, to download things like iNaturalist on your phone and take photos of birds or plants or whatever. And that all contributes towards science. But the other thing is – one of the things that people can do is if they’re interested in  science, ask the people who’ve produced the research, if they are university researchers, to explain that to them in more simple ways, or make it more accessible to them. And I think that’s one of the key things for academics is, how do you make your science available to a wider audience than just your peers in the universities? So I think one of the key things as a person who might not be directly involved in science research in the academy or in government, is to understand that you do have a right to science and you do have a right to participate in science. And so if you’re, if you’re feeling like you’re excluded from it, find ways to take part or ask people to include you in it because it’s a human right for everybody.

Safa  

To read the draft UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science or learn more about the work of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and Conicet , please visit the link to their websites in our show notes.

Safa

Thank you so much for tuning in. If you are provoked by what you heard today and want to dive further into these things, we invite you to join us at the Knowledge Equity Lab. Together we can fundamentally reimagine knowledge systems and build healthier relationships and communities of care that promote and enact equity at all levels. Please visit our website,  sign up for our mailing list, follow us on social media and send us a message