By Mariano Fressoli
In recent years several countries in Latin America managed to develop policies and legislation on open access. For example, Argentina, Peru and Mexico have national legislations. While Colombia, Brazil and Chile have been working for years in the management of national systems for digital repositories. In this regard, Latin America has become an example for scientists and officials from other countries who refer to our policies. Open access to publications is on track to become a consolidated practice. But, far from being the end of the road, the challenges of opening have just begun.
Open access to publications implies that other social actors can approach scientific information, facilitating the democratization of knowledge. But accessing information does not necessarily mean understanding what is read or having the necessary skills to use it. It is at this point where open access becomes a problem of accessibility, and capacity building is an essential point to contribute to inclusive development and the expansion of democracy.
Opening means changes. On an ideal level, open access should invite other actors to participate and contribute with their ideas in a framework of minimum understandings. However, in a world in which you can access, produce and interact with seas of information, scientific publications continue to promote a unidirectional communication model that is focused almost exclusively on a limited expert audience. In this sense, it would be naive (and even dangerous) to think that the format of scientific publications will remain unchanged during this transformation process.
Fortunately, several authors, including Hebe Vessuri in this post series2, have pointed out the need to rethink the format of journals and the communication of science.
Part of the challenge of scientific publications is at the practices level. The aim is to explore how journals can be integrated with other open science tools and experiences.
A possible trend is to “show the kitchen” of scientific publications. This involves those practices that allow us to understand the different steps and elements that are articulated to achieve a publication. For example, preprints allow the publication of articles without prior assessment as a way to accelerate the lengthy review process. In a way, preprints are articles in the making: they accelerate the dissemination of knowledge while allowing interaction as comments and criticism before formal publication.
Another interesting practice is open peer review, which increases the transparency of the review process by fostering the referee’s accountability. In fact, the evaluations with signature are transformed into one more publication that can work as an appendix to the article and foster the exchange process and scientific learning. In Latin America there is a disparate development of these practices. While SciELO is preparing a preprints server that will promote its use in the region, we have only four journals with open peer review in South America.
The confluence between open science and publications is not only limited to the journals’ backstage. The use of open data, open laboratory notebooks, open software such as Python and Jupyter, and free hardware provide the elements to replicate (and also modify) the experiment results. In general, the publication of these tools is done in open repositories such as GitHub or GitLab (for free software and hardware), and in institutional data repositories. These practices begin to be gradually incorporated and some journals already request the availability and citation of datasets and software following established principles such as the Joint Declaration of Data Citation Principles.
The incorporation of these tools allows us to envision a different future for scientific publications. From an exclusive means to account for research results – constrained by editorial rules and the limit of word extension – the publication could begin to establish itself as a dynamic space, which can be enriched by evaluation, citations, corrections and the contributions that other scientists and social actors could make.
Accompanying publications with tools to experiment and learn to produce scientific knowledge is not new. During the first years of the Royal Society, Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke insisted that the experiments not only had to be carried out effectively but also that they needed to be witnessed collectively. Witnessing the experimentation ensured that citizens could accredit knowledge more reasonably than those who had not seen the phenomenon with their own eyes (see Shapin and Schaffer, 2005).
In the midst of the growing global wave of mistrust of scientific expertise, resuming the collective accreditation of science could become a virtuous practice. But it could also help other actors contribute in new ways with the production of knowledge. The questions that arise when you think about changing the communication format are fascinating: Will the new formats contribute to accelerate the resolution of scientific problems, but also social and environmental ones? Will they allow to integrate different expertise in order to reach new forms of collective intelligence?
Undoubtedly, the institutional and political challenges to carry out this transformation are not minor, and involve changes in the system of evaluation, incentives and financing of science. At the same time, the tools to accelerate the publications transformation seem to be at hand.
The open access movement in the region has a historic opportunity to connect with other open science practices and face the challenges of openness. The actors of this movement have worked in its consolidation for more than two decades, gaining a rich experience in the promotion of openness. It is time for its pioneering role to once again be placed at the forefront of openness in the region, promoting collaboration and mutual learning with other actors and building networks to strengthen open science.
The big question is what are we waiting for?
This post was written as a contribution to the panel “The political and social impact of journals and the research they communicate” of the SciELO 20 Years Conference.
Source: Scielo Blog