From November 13th to 15th, I was able to attend the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) in Ottawa as a CIC News Correspondent. I didn’t know what to expect, but my interest grew as the program was revealed. There were two panels that addressed the topic of open access and open science which, as I learned, have two very different meanings. In open science, anyone can go and figure out what you’re doing and could possibly join you. In open access, the process is kept private and you have the published article accessible to everyone. Both are interesting, but I was keener on what was needed to make science open access. Germany is evidence that it is possible to implement such a system, but a representative from that country did say that they were working through some faults. After listening to what was presented at the CSPC, I present a list of items that appear to be required for open access publishing across the sciences.
- Acknowledge that problems are becoming ever more complex and integrated in nature.
We will still have questions about the fundamentals of our fields that will need to be investigated, but not every question is about fundamental science. The most interesting example I heard at the conference was from a keynote panel. Ted Hewitt, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, noted that he had received a funding request from a team of applicants in engineering and religious studies, who wanted to examine the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. By acknowledging the need for this kind of diversity in research, we begin the process of accepting that open access is a better method of spreading information than our current system of hoarding scientific resources behind a pay wall.
2. Acknowledge the problems with our pay-to-play system.
By blocking scientific publications behind pay walls, a large portion of the world’s scientific community is left unable to build upon scientific findings, let alone contribute to them. In developed countries, this problem may hold back graduate students at institutions that cannot afford exorbitant subscription prices for journals, while in the developing world entire countries may be in this situation of being unable to keep up with research literature. These barriers also increase the repetition of research, piracy of articles, and widespread consumption of faulty science. The latter is an extremely problematic artifact of our pay-to-play system, as not only does misinformation spread as a result of lack of access to creditable scientific articles, but it also leads to a divide amongst scientists between those that can access this information and those who cannot. An argument can be made as to whether this system has also contributed to the rising distrust of formerly authoritative sources and facts. However, this problem is also caused by the lack of high-quality science communication. The current approach to scientific publishing was established some time ago, when science generally was not as accessible to anyone who did not work in these fields. Nevertheless, we can still change this system to match the needs of the modern, or future, world.
3. Acknowledge the need for better communication and science communication skills in the current and next generation of scientists.
By improving this skill, scientists get better at explaining their work. As it improves, they can address wider and wider audiences, which increases the spread of scientific information in a broadly accessible form. If we want to switch to an open access system, then we need to have the ability communicate our ideas in a more approachable manner. Do we need better science communication to implement open access? Perhaps not, but why have such as system if we cannot use it to the fullest extent? Western University, my home for my undergraduate and Master’s degree, has implemented the requirement that a thesis submitted must now have a “Summary for Lay Audience” that is meant to explain the work in such a way that someone with no prior knowledge of the subject can appreciate its importance, impact, and content. In theory, this is a great idea and helps increase the accessible of this published works. In practice, it only works if the author has adequate science communication skills to boil the work down to the simplest form. Yet this will, hopefully, act as a step in the right direction.
Open access will create a bridge between scientists and the public that can assist the two connect with and understand each other better. The world and its needs are changing, so it makes sense that is how we come to understand that world changes too.
Editor’s note: The Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering and our partners at Wiley publish The Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, which follows the subscription model and helps fund the society. However, authors do not have to pay to publish regular articles in Can. J. Chem. Eng. As a hybrid journal, we do have open access options available, with preferred rates for CIC members. We continue to discuss the future of open science and how the CIC and its journal can help make chemical sciences research accessible to everyone.