2. About open access, ethics and reproducibility in science

Open access

15 years have gone by since the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. The progress is clear, and more than 600 European institutions have already signed it. Nevertheless, 80% of all scientific publications are still behind a 'pay wall'. On a global level, counting all subscriptions, "European institutions pay €3,800 per article, on average, just to be able to read it," explained Colleen Campbell, who leads outreach for the Open Access 2020 Initiative. However, "publishing an open-access article, which everyone can read free of charge, costs an average of €2,000."

On top of the very limited open-access publication, Campbell revealed that "organizations' subscriptions to journals is a very opaque process. Institutions never know what the rest pay, which decreases pressure on publishers." Therefore, "there is no real competition on the market, which makes it more difficult for there to be a transformative change." In any case, "we can’t continue supporting a subscription-based system," she said. "We need to encourage agreements that change the landscape."

One of these movements is being promoted by the Health Research Board (HRB) in Ireland, which has implemented and open-access platform where its researchers can publish their results directly. As the head of the board, Patricia Clarke, explained: it means shifting the traditional view, as the papers only take "seven days to become available and the peer-review process is done in public afterwards." The platform itself recognizes that its publications lack impact factor, but they explained that "a growing number of institutions firmly support a move away from journal-based metrics. We believe that it is the intrinsic value of the research that matters, not where it is published. We hope that the HRB's open research helps change the focus of scientific publication towards practices that incentivize, recognize and reward good research."

Portugal is also on this path. As explained Secretary of State for Science and Innovation Maria Fernanda Rollo, a national Open Science policy is already being implemented, changing assessment policies and recognizing that this goes beyond open access and should bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and society.


Ethics and reproducibility

Are we facing a reproducibility crisis? Are most scientific studies biased and tainted by the overriding need to publish? Scientists at Amgen could only reproduce 11% of 53 landmark basic studies on cancer. Others, at Bayer, only managed to do so for one fourth of the papers on 67 drugs being researched.

For Ian Sullivan, coordinator of the Center for Open Science in Richmond, United States, the 'crisis narrative' has its advantages, as it can act as "a powerful switch for debate and encourage us to find solutions." However, it also has its dangers, like focusing too much on the actions or actors that aren't working or promoting a vision of science based on what is called 'alternative facts', conspiracy theories and 'fake news'. Sullivan proposes moving quickly into a 'narrative of opportunity', which seeks out solutions without losing sight of the goals achieved. As part of the former, open science is an attractive promise: greater transparency in research that puts the emphasis more on value and cooperation than just competition. To promote this, Sullivan does not think everyone in the world has to become an activist. He advocates for altruistic egotism, for "contributing selfish motivations for practices that have the desired collective benefits."

Itziar de Lecuona, a member of the Bioethics and Law Observatory at the University of Barcelona, disagrees with that approach: "We should move away from principles and towards acts, not vice versa," she says. Plus, she was critical of the "ideals that look good on a PowerPoint," because then "you come back down to earth and see the huge gap between how things are and how they should be." In fact, "many of the open-science guidelines have already been law for decades, but little progress has been made."

On the other hand, "much is made of the relationship between science and society, but people in general know nothing about how the scientific world works. Open science is positive, but this world is a savage fight subject to market rules. There are many issues to resolve on top of the problem of open science."