The Open Science Movement

August 22, 2023  • Nataliya Shulga, Ph.D.

The groundbreaking concept of transforming science into a universal methodology for both humanity and the planet—to address current challenges, offer solutions, and proactively avert future global issues—is now progressing via a robust, worldwide initiative known as “Open Science.” At its core, Open Science 1) posits the importance of an ecosystem where access to scientific knowledge is equitable and 2) grapples with negotiating barriers to such access in the context of monetary economies, national security, and intellectual property rights.

To operationalize this concept, the Open Science movement requires the integration of various separate movements and objectives that work to further key principles such as reproducibility, transparency, and sharing, including:

  • Open multilingual scientific knowledge,
  • Open science infrastructures,
  • Open science communication,
  • Open engagement of societal actors into scientific projects, and
  • Open dialogue with other knowledge systems.

Through its upcoming work, the Aspen Institute Science & Society Program will leverage its networks and platforms to contribute to the global dialogue on the principles and outcomes of the Open Science movement.

On its surface, the idea of open access to research publications seems obvious and simple.  Instead, today’s costly subscription-based publishing system is far from straightforward and has locked knowledge behind paywalls, leading to dramatic instances of hacking that have played out around the globe. Such behaviors—taken in the name of advancing research—violate copyright law, entail high-stakes criminal liability, and have notably ended in cases of isolation and suicide. These preludes have sparked considerable interest in and discussion about the possibility of free access to scientific data amid local and global informational gaps, where it is not an overstatement to say that those left behind live in parallel worlds.

In the not-too-distant past, accessing articles cost a scientist no more than the price of the postcards they would send to colleagues, a way of requesting free reprints before the Internet made this practice obsolete. Over time, knowledge that was once available to every researcher worldwide has become embedded within expensive services, institutionalized through organizational subscriptions based on the quantification of average hits per IP computer per day. In addition, individual articles are available for purchase at a significant cost. To make matters more complicated, authors are asked to pay article-processing charges for the opportunity to publish their findings with open access. Hence, an unfavorable situation has developed for those scientists and countries that cannot afford either institutional or individual subscriptions to scientific databases, Meanwhile, the ultimate profits go to the largest private publishers, such as Elsevier or Springer Nature Group, which produce the most respected, read, and influential science journals, as measured by their citation impact factor

Although the idea of Open Science has evolved over time, the concept has gained considerable popularity in recent years as a response to the changing landscape of scientific research and the growing importance of open access to knowledge. While it is difficult to attribute the origin of Open Science to a single person, Jean-Claude Guédon, professor of comparative literature at the University of Montreal, is often associated with its early promotion. In the early 2000s, Guédon advocated for open access to scientific literature and was instrumental in raising awareness of the potential benefits of Open Science. Another notable figure in the Open Science movement is physicist and writer Michael Nielsen. In his book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science, published in 2011, Nielsen discusses the transformative potential of Open Science and explores how online collaboration and the sharing of scientific knowledge can accelerate scientific progress. 

Notable milestones in the international development of the Open Science movement include the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) in 2002. The BOAI meeting brought together researchers, scientists, librarians, and advocates who released a declaration on promoting open access to scholarly research. While the BOAI primarily focused on open access to scholarly publications, it simultaneously contributed to the broader discourse on openness in science. In 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the “Recommendation on Open Science,” which called upon member states to support open access to scientific information, open data, and open educational resources. This recommendation highlights the potential of Open Science to contribute to innovation, social progress, and the UN Millenium Sustainable Development Goals. The 2019 United Nations program on Open Science also underscored the need for free and equitable access to scientific data for educators from all nations.

UNESCO’s ongoing efforts to advance Open Science globally are supplemented by other organizations and institutions (such as OSDF, The European Commission, OpenAIRE, CERN, SPARC, EIFL, Mozilla Foundation, The Wikimedia Foundation, and the World Bank Open Knowledge Repository). These initiatives aim to encourage countries, researchers, and institutions to embrace Open Science practices and use them to benefit society. Therefore, what we now call Open Science has attracted public attention and sparked global discussions at the international level, not only in the scientific community but also at the level of politicians across national governments and international organizations. 

Several countries around the world have adopted policies or initiatives related to “Open Science” to varying degrees. For instance, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) released their own official definition of Open Science for use across the U.S. government: 

“The principle and practice of making research products and processes available to all, while respecting diverse cultures, maintaining security and privacy, and fostering collaborations, reproducibility, and equity.”

 A unified, official definition with a broader interpretation of Open Science will galvanize federal efforts, promote interagency collaboration, and drive progress. 

OSTP announced new actions to advance open and equitable research, including new grant funding, improvements to research infrastructure, broadened research participation for emerging scholars, and expanded opportunities for public engagement. OSTP has also designated 2023 as the Year of Open Science, featuring joint actions across the federal government to advance national open science policy, provide access to the results of the nation’s taxpayer-supported research by the end of 2025, accelerate discovery and innovation, promote public trust, and drive more equitable outcomes.

The U.S. is far from alone in recognizing the importance of the Open Science movement:

  • The EU has been a significant advocate of Open Science. The Horizon 2020 program and its successor, Horizon Europe, emphasize open access to research results and data.
  • The Netherlands has been a pioneer in open access and Open Science initiatives. Dutch universities and research institutions have been strong advocates for promoting open practices. 
  • The UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) has emphasized the importance of open access. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has also promoted Open Science principles. 
  • Germany’s Projekt DEAL aimed to negotiate transformative agreements with publishers to enable open access to research articles. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has supported Open Science initiatives. 
  • France has been working on open access policies, and institutions like CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) have supported Open Science practices.
  • Canadian institutions and funding agencies have been moving towards Open Science, promoting open access to research outputs and data. 
  • Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australian Research Council (ARC) have policies supporting open access and research data management. 
  • Brazil has shown interest in Open Science, with some universities and research centers endorsing open access principles
  • China has also been taking steps towards open access and Open Science strategy to increase the global visibility of its research.

Collaborative international efforts also continue. In February 2023, the United Nations organized its 3rd global Open Science Conference, “Accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals, Democratizing the Record of Science,” under three main themes:

  • Equity in open scholarship,
  • Reforming scientific publishing, and
  • Strengthening the science-policy-society interface.

    Slowly but surely, scientific methodology and data are becoming increasingly recognized as powerful tools for social transformation and the basis of social development in all aspects of life.

    Today, Open Science goes beyond open access to published data. It refers to the movement and practice of making scientific research and its outcomes freely available to everyone, without financial, legal, or technical barriers. It involves sharing research data, methodologies, protocols, software, and publications openly and transparently, which will promote collaboration, reproducibility, and innovation by allowing researchers from around the world to access and build upon existing knowledge. 

    Through its upcoming work, the Aspen Institute Science & Society Program will leverage its networks and platforms to contribute to the global dialogue on the principles and outcomes of the Open Science movement. As a next step, we aim to organize roundtable discussions to generate  recommendations on how to address issues related to the implementation of Open Science.

    NATALIYA SHULGA, Ph.D. is Senior Manager for Global Science at the Aspen Institute Science & Society Program. Dr. Shulga is a molecular biologist by training with extensive experience as a scientist, educator, policymaker, and non-profit leader in Ukraine.