Open Science: The challenges of a deep transformation of scientific communication

Despite a proliferation of initiatives to promote Open Science, many obstacles persist. Here, Jean-Pierre Finance examines the progress that this movement has made and looks to the next steps, including how EUA can continue to support it.

As a wave of digital innovation disrupts and transforms society, Open Science is deeply and rapidly revolutionising scientific research methods as well as interactions within the scientific community - and even throughout society.

Having started in the field of publications and software - with counterbalancing the hegemonic positions of multinational companies among the main aims in both cases - Open Science has expanded to research data and aspires to share the scientific process, its successes and its failures, with the general public.

However, the growing expectations of researchers, research institutions and citizens (as summarised in the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science) mean tackling a particular set of challenges. The European University Association’s Open Science Agenda 2025 identifies and collates these challenges.

A proliferation of initiatives

Multiple national, European and international initiatives aim to promote open access to research results and data, and even innovation:

  • By removing regulatory or legislative obstacles (diversification of copyright transfer rules, allowing authors the possibility to grant open access to their articles, text and data mining, etc.);
  • By mandating full and immediate open access to research publications in the case of public funding (e.g. the Plan S initiative);
  • By creating national funds accelerate open access or even to develop open national archives;
  • By pooling and federating services and infrastructures dedicated to the sharing and use of research data at European level (e.g. the European Open Science Cloud);
  • By making open source software available to the general public, demonstrating the dynamism of the open source community and introducing healthy competition into these very competitive markets.

The openness of science remains limited

Despite the various actions mentioned above, many obstacles persist. These include economic, financial and legislative obstacles, as well as more deeply ingrained factors related to how research is carried out, evaluated and recognised.

Firstly, the financial aspects of scientific publication in journals, which are the property of editorial oligopolies, remain a major issue. This is particularly evident in the production of articles (i.e. exorbitant author processing charges).

Various publishing models, such as Read and Publish, are being tested. However, the major scientific publishers are still very present, in excellent financial health, and rival each other in the ingenuity of proposals for multiannual contracts with research institutions. These contracts include the reading and publication of articles, conditions and duration of access to acquisitions, etc.

Each negotiation is now a much more complex process than was the case 15 years ago - during the era of Big Deals. This development makes it even more necessary to create spaces for exchange, where negotiators can share information and experiences, to foster invaluable cooperation in the context of increasing complex negotiations. The OA2020 initiative facilitates such sharing and collaboration; as does EUA, by supporting the expectations and needs of universities through its Group of Negotiators.

For want of just economic balances with private publishers, the path of publication by research institutions themselves - the "Diamond" path - has demonstrated its value in several instances, but still remains marginal on an international scale. Interestingly, this approach revives publication systems that were once under the direct responsibility of learned societies. It may also run into regulations such as the new Digital Services Act, which - by equating platforms dedicated to research to commercial services - introduces economically unsustainable content verification constraints.

A paradigm shift in assessment

Beyond the financial dimension, ensuring researchers’ commitment to Open Science remains key. As such, it must help them to both carry out their research and foster their visibility and career advancement.

In particular, more open research methods and results require a radical shift in assessment across all dimensions: researcher, project, laboratory and institution. This transformation of evaluation methods, promoted for many years via initiatives such as DORA, is now being accelerated in Europe with the creation of the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA).

CoARA’s main objective is to get out of the "all quantitative" approach, which is essentially based on the use of unsuitable and biased indicators such as the "impact factor". This evolution is courageous and necessary, but rallying researchers is a delicate task. Similarly, it is tricky to source funding and establish diversified mechanisms that leave considerable space for qualitative evaluation.

In terms of open data, which is highly dependent on the scientific field, archiving and opening can be very complex, requiring significant investment from researchers themselves as well as the support of qualified data stewards.

We shouldn’t be naive

Although Open Science is a noble goal that posits cooperation as a counterpoint to competition, competition between researchers can still be fierce and certain dishonest behaviours will not necessarily disappear. Thus, beyond difficulties in implementation, the concept of openness itself carries risks for the desire cooperation and sharing that are its very essence:

  • The opening of scientific publications may accelerate various forms of misconduct, e.g. plagiarism, the theft of ideas, the development of predatory journals, or the use of non-verified results for disinformation;
  • The opening of research data, even guided by the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable), even when protected by patents - in the case of late-stage research, can facilitate malicious use contrary to scientific ethics and integrity, and even criminal uses. Implementing the principle of “as open as possible, as close as necessary” remains challenging.
  • The opening of software, which is subject to copyright and not patents, may also encourage criminal use.

In essence

If Open Science indeed opens up new horizons for the entire scientific community and wider society, its broad implementation still requires significant work to make it effective and safe. Contributing to this collective effort is an important part of the efforts of EUA’s Expert Group on Open Science (EGOS).

“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.

All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.

Jean-Pierre Finance

Jean-Pierre Finance is Professor Emeritus in Computer Science at Université de Lorraine, France. He was previously President of the Conférence des présidents d'université (now France Universités), 2007-2008, and served on the EUA Board, 2009-2013. Jean-Pierre was among the initiators of EUA’s Expert Group on Science 2.0/Open Science, which he chaired from 2015 to 2022. 


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