Open Access Week 2020

The Fellows reflect on Open Access Week

The theme of this year's Open Access Week is "Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion". How can we be more purposeful in the open space? How can we work towards true equity and inclusion? The following blog is a compilation of the Fellows' thoughts and reflections on this theme.


When I read this year's theme I wondered how I could relate to it. Inclusion was the word that made it for me. At first I thought about how the Fellowship itself was inclusive for me, a person with a humanities background that had not had the chance to receive any institutional or structured support when it comes to programming and data management. Afterwards, what came to mind is how inclusive are the things I'm currently learning on the programme with regard with the populations I work in my clinical role. Cognitive accessibility is an effort to make online content more accessible to persons with overall cognitive difficulties, that is difficulties with memory, attention, and language. These are not rare difficulties, as they characterize individuals with learning difficulties (developmental language disorder, dyslexia), autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dementia, aphasia and other cognitive difficulties following a stroke. I discovered a lot of initiatives and guidelines on how online content could be more accessible: using alternatives to text, such as figures, audio, or a simpler layout, making content appear in predictable ways, giving more time to individuals to interact with the content, focusing on readability of the content among others. In sum, many individuals among us have difficulties accessing online content in an optimal way. More information about what we can do about it here and here.


Once again, we see academia and the overall scientific research environment engaged in a discussion about who should bear the costs of scientific publications. Few have welcomed with open arms the new agreement between a few German institutions and the Nature Publishing group. The obvious gap between what the prestigious publishing group demands and what researchers can afford has turn the news into some sort of bad joke. However, it seems that many have accepted by now other relatively cheaper Open Access publishing arrangements. At least, relatively cheaper for them. Research funding is nowadays so scarce and precarious in many countries that a simple article processing charge of 1200€ will prevent researchers from submitting to such journal. No doubt there is good will in those who fight to make the current publishing model more open. However, I can’t help but feel there is a lack of awareness of the financial gap involved in setting an acceptable threshold for article processing charges that are based on the standards of the world's major economic powers.


Libraries spend an enormous amount of money paying journal subscription fees in order to give their patrons access to cutting edge research. Imagine a world in which paywalls are a thing of the past and these thousands of dollars currently reserved at every library for journal subscription costs could be redistributed. Librarians need to support Open Access and to publicly reject the current systems in place that restrict access to information for the majority of the global community. Librarians should stop and ask themselves, what are the long term effects of supporting the current system? What historic injustices are being perpetuated by paying for standard subscription-based journals? If librarianship is based upon providing equitable service to all information users, supporting Open Access is a necessity.


My colleagues and I have been having interesting discussions about what Open Access means in the context of our respective disciplines, and so many of them have boiled down to funding models, and how to make sure that the (financial) incentives are in the right place. So when I approached these questions of structural equity and inclusion, I wondered how we can balance the ideals of open access that allow for creative collaboration, open knowledge, and more equitable contributions (all things that brought us all together at OKF) with the necessary requirements of funding and the pressure to publish. In my own discipline, these debates have been happening for a long time, and were recently brought to light because of an experimental Open Access journal called HAU, which was founded by the late David Graeber. Furthermore, as a journalist, I tend not to equate open access with accessibility more generally, because making something available or open doesn't necessarily mean that it will be used (let alone understood by a wider audience!). This is the integral role that journalism can play within the open access academic community, in my view: through increased data literacy, visualisation tools, and what I call "translation through storytelling". This is what drew me to #dataviz, and why I'm creating interactive visualisations of human rights data from the United Nations with OKF. While the Universal Periodic Review is well-known for being one of the most inclusive and equitable venues at the UN, few know about it outside of Geneva. So as Open Access Week comes to a close, I've been starting to re-think the movement as "open, accessible, fundable, and understandable". Maybe it's not as catchy, but it's what I hope to embody!


Wherever I see terms as 'Open access' and 'Open Science', I usually think about how we can make changes to the current research environment so as to extract meaning from open research space and allow people to learn more about this and move beyond conventional 'Research Journals'. One of the ways we can empower structural and racial equity in research is by investing in Open Science infrastructures and services and capacity building for Open Science by including Open translation services and tools like github to lower the language barrier. Not every potential reader of openly available science is fluent in English and Automatic translation is not always correct, but mere information translations can still convey the overall meaning. We can take help from open source development programs to empower organisations like CC Extractor and other local translation free softwares so we can include languages like Spanish, Italian, Hindi, Japanese and other native languages so that everyone is able to break those barriers and understand literature promoted in different languages. Similarly provide sustainable funding mechanisms and foster decentralized, community-owned/-run non-profit open source initiatives in this space. Apply an inclusive, holistic approach to science and research in the sense of Open Scholarship to include human value education, open scholcomm and open education with a view on teaching in the seminar and classroom, etc. - basically the whole variety of research and teaching practices that define academic life, but still remain underrepresented in the larger debate around Open Science.


Equity’ and ‘inclusion’ are two words that I know too well given the yawning gaps that exist between the haves and have-nots in the African society. Research indeed is the core of any society, identifying calamities and solving them in the most sustainable of ways. These two words therefore occupy an integral space in the open research arena since structural equity and inclusion would mean that research knowledge is given for free irrespective of any societal construct for productive downstream research. Although open access has been lauded for promoting access to high quality research at no costs, authors have so far faced sky high publishing costs that have quite limited the number of papers that make it to the open especially in low and middle income regions like Africa The need to subsidize publishing costs to the open space is thus apparent with the overall goal of strengthening research capacity and impactful research especially for such regions to be at par with the rest of the world in research and development. Research societies and governments need to forge bilateral pacts whose main purpose is to encourage open access by introducing waivers on publishing costs and also curbing predatory journals that most often than not derail the reputation of scientists.Indeed the achievement of structural equity and inclusion will require that the authors and users of scientific papers alike get to disseminate and access knowledge for free.


In organizing my ideas for a coherent reflection on the theme of this year’s Open Access Week, I thought of recent news out of the United Kingdom. UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) recently revealed new measures no longer requiring universities to have memberships to specific charters and concordats to receive grant funding. This may seem like a move towards removing roadblocks for funding, however membership to these charters, such as the Athena SWAN Charter and Race Equality Charter, provide universities strategies to identify and address institutional and cultural barriers. In a 2020 world in which the Open Access community picks a theme that specifically mentions “structural equity and inclusion” as its goals, institutes of power, like UK’s NIHR, seem to be tone-deaf by no longer requiring charters to guide them in those structures. I commend the Open Access community for leading the way by prioritizing equity and inclusion in its pursuit to share knowledge, and I believe we should all challenge institutional framework, like UK’s NIHR, to embrace the values of the open access community.


As a machine learning researcher, this year’s Open Access Week theme resonates. Open access, structural equity, and inclusion should be explicit goals in artificial intelligence (AI) research. To quote the Algorithmic Justice League, "Technology should serve all of us. Not just the priviledged few." However, the demographics of the AI community do not reflect societal diversity, and this can allow algorithms to reinforce harmful systemic biases. But even if we know who is writing the algorithms that affect our lives, we often don’t know how these predictive systems make their decisions. A recent response to a Google Health closed source tool for breast cancer screening argues that failing to release code and training data undermines the scientific value, transparency, and reproducibility of AI systems. Ironically, however, this well-worded argument lies behind a paywall that limits transparency by design. Competing views on closed access AI publishing are captured in the 2018 boycott of Nature Machine Intelligence, its coverage in the scientific media, and the journal’s rebuttal. Whether you stand by Plan S or not, open conversations around the ethics of access and transparency are important steps toward safe, equitable, and inclusive AI.