A report on the panel ‘Open Science in a Time of Global Crises’ from the Open Science Conference 2021. The panel covered perspectives from Open Science practitioners on the implications of doing better science and reducing the science and technology divides internationally.

The panel brought together a number of Open Science practitioners to look at how the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis is testing their open practice and reflect on how Open Science can respond to multiple crises in a global context.

The panelists were Ana Persic leading UNESCO’s initiative ‘Recommendations on Open Science’; Dr. Jessica Polka, Executive Director of ASAPbio supporting communities in preprints and open peer review; Dr. Paola Masuzzo an independent researcher with IGDORE co-author of the preprint ‘Open Science Saves Lives’, and; Dr. Tobias Opialla of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) who upscaled COVID laboratory diagnostic testing in Germany with the project LabHive.

Professor Klaus Tochtermann as moderator kicked off the panel with the statement that helped frame the discussion,

‘The goal of the discussion is to explore how Open Science can overcome global crises – such as the Corona pandemic – but also to raise another perspective which is to highlight the implication for researchers in applying open science principles to address global crises’.

Klaus asked the panelists – what is your contribution to apply Open Science to overcome the current pandemic?

Paola described her contributed to a campaign lobbying the Italian government to open up health data related to Covid, with a belief that citizens have a right and a need to know what is going on. But reflected that although the campaign has had some successes, that it’s also disappointing that this even has to be done in the beginning – taking account of how much effort campaigning has taken. Paola noted how important it is that there is disclosure and open data wherever possible.

Jessica outlined ASAPbio’s focus on preprints and their review, which is aimed to make the literature as productive as possible. Preprints have proven their worth and have accelerated discoveries that have led to treatments and furthered the understanding of the disease. ASAPbio’s contribution has been to maintain a list of preprint policies and practices of preprint servers; to produce resources to help understand the potential uses of preprints and how they fit into a broader communications landscape. Also the project ‘Preprints in the Public Eye’ has been setup to convene meetings of stakeholders to look at how preprints have been represented in the media. Peer review initiatives are also key – including the open commenting of to promote more engagement with preprints in the absence of conventional review processes.

Tobias of MDC introduced the LabHive platform that he was part of starting at the #EUvsVirus hackathon to increase COVID diagnostic testing capacity in labs across Germany by sharing information about equipment and trained staff. There were two goals: first, to make sure tests were made available where needed, and; second, to measure capacity ‘as you can only manage what you can measure’. In Germany until LabHive came along there was only a PDF report once a week on critical test capacity, now there is a daily live view at least on hospital diagnostic testing capacity.

Ana covered the efforts of her UNESCO section – Division of Science Policy and Capacity-Building – to advocate for Open Science, stressing that the current crisis has given the emphasis that Open Science should become the norm and that scientific knowledge should be open, accessible, and participatory.

Ana noted,

‘In March 2020 early on in the crisis UNESCO convened a meeting of scientific representatives of 130 nations as an online conference advocating Open Science and this did make a difference – with some countries opening up data and platforms.’

At the UNESCO General Conference at its 40th session (2019) the member states tasked the organisation with the development of an international standard-setting instrument – UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. These recommendations came at a good time as the Covid crisis made it relevant that an ‘international framework’ was needed to make Open Science operational as the benefits were many and tangible – but at the same time there are responsibilities and need for accountability.

The report contains seven recommendations: promoting a common understanding of Open Science and the diverse pathways that lead to its practice; enabling policy environments; investing in infrastructures, and capacity building; transforming scientific culture and aligning incentives for Open Science; promoting innovative approaches at different stages of the scientific process, and; promoting international cooperation.

The panel developed in a very interesting way with the audience of nearly one hundred and ninety viewers sending in a large series of questions that the whole audience could see and vote on. There were too many questions for the panel to directly answer. The following is a sample of the many questions the panel did get to address.

A question from the audience was ‘with so many open peer review platforms around – why is uptake so slow’? Jessica commented that we don’t have a culture of openly criticizing one another in many scientific fields, but that when the need really arises and outweighs the social inhibition you will see many public comments as with the preprint comparing Covid-19 and HIV spike proteins. Paola brought up the need for professional training and skilling in reviewing, which still seems to be generally lacking and somehow researchers are just supposed to intuit the practice.

Asked about the threat to Open Science from science budget cuts the responses were varied. Tobias noted that the cuts were more a threat to science and that Open Science could often bring budgets to researchers for making data open. Paola rightly flagged that journal subscriptions budgets could be redirected to more beneficial use, for example paying for data managers in universities. And Ana brought up a contrary view that in fact budgets for science should be increased as the benefits can be seen in health and SDGs for example.

A combination of questions arose around institutional support: Firstly, how can funders broaden their indicators to support Open Science, and; second, are there any intergovernmental agencies looking to lead a ‘new internationalism’ in global scientific collaboration. On indicators, Jessica pointed to Open Notebook Science as being the ideal mode of research, and following that Paola raised the point about a need for self-correction to the scientific system to being able recognise all part of the process, not just the results, and the need for the emphasis on Open Science as being about ‘doing good science’. In terms of internationalism Ana underlined UNESCOs role as being a standards setter and being able to bring people together – with an important goal of reducing the gap between countries in science and technology. Tobias mentioned non-government initiatives working globally, like from the JOGL research organisation and developing low cost COVID-19 diagnostic tests (LAMP tests) internationally with partners from US, Europe, Africa, and East Asia.

In conclusion the current crisis has shone a light on the scientific process which is many ways echoes the efforts of the Open Science movement which has been to bring a greater scrutiny to these processes. But what we see now is a need to acknowledge that science is changing and with this change a whole variety of training and updating of colleagues is needed across a wide variety of actors and stakeholders. As Ana Persic noted ‘Open Science is happening anyway’. You could say the genie is out of the bottle – and for now the voices of Open Science advocates and activists now have a greater audience.

Panel discussion on „Open Science in a Time of Global Crises“ 19 Feb 20219.