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Academic year: 2022

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Science, Open

Science, Covid and Climate

Geoffrey Boulton

International Science Council

& University of Edinburgh

“From Tackling the Pandemic to Addressing Climate Change”

United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library Open Science Conference 2021


1. Some Scientific Fundamentals

2. Open Science: How did we get to here?

3. Covid: seizing the Open Science opportunity 4. Why it matters: the wake-up call

for science and society Science, Open Science, Covid and




Scientific Fundamentals and Practices

The fundamentals do not change as we enter a new era of open science:

o maintaining rigour by sceptical scrutiny of accessible concepts and evidence o communicating and disseminating understanding

But:the way science is done and its contribution to the public good are changing because:

o digital technologies have enlarged opportunities for discovery, communication and dissemination

o social and political expectations of science and of the global public good have evolved


The Open Science Movement


No amount of experimentation can prove me right.

A single experiment can prove me wrong.

Albert Einstein

The progress of science is strewn, like an ancient desert trail, with the bleached skeletons of discarded theories that once seemed to possess eternal life.

Arthur Koestler

each others' raw

The purpose of science is not to open a door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error.

Bertholt Brecht


2. Open Science: How did we get here?


Open Science - Act 0 1665


edifices, even though in science at least, electronic access anywhere, any time, is the norm, dispersed support from appropriately trained e-librarians is the need, and few scientists now darken the door of a conventional library.

The data explosion and our capacity to combine, integrate and analyse data offer powerful new ways of unravelling complexity, improving forecasts of system behaviour and detecting patterns in phenomena that have hitherto been beyond our capacity to resolve. They offer the opportunity to reuse, to combine and to recombine data in ways that deepen these capacities. Exploiting these opportunities will depend upon access to and linking between many data sets, requiring that research data should be made routinely open and readily accessible. It will depend upon developing an ethos of data sharing and facilitating new modes of collaboration that increase the creativity of the scientific enterprise through interaction of many brains and many communities unbounded by institutional walls. These changes would also enable scientific concepts and the evidence that

underlies them to be more effectively disseminated through society and in education, in ways that could change the social dynamics of science, contributing towards the evolution of science as a public enterprise rather than one conducted behind closed laboratory doors.

There is, however, a downside to the ‘data explosion’, of which we have only recently become aware. Such are the magnitudes of much of the data that provide the evidence for scientific concepts, that traditional habits of

rigorous inclusion of data, and the metadata that describes their genesis, in conventionally published work have fallen away in recent decades. As a consequence, science may have been sleepwalking into a crisis of credibility. This was exemplified two years ago by a paper in which the authors reported attempts to replicate the results of 50 benchmark papers in pre-clinical oncology2. They succeeded in doing so in only 11% of cases. The failure in 89%

of cases reflected in part failures of scientific logic, but in many it reflected the failure to include adequate data or metadata, such that even if the conclusions had been logically

“… many brains and many communities unbounded by institutional walls.”

Figure 1. Henry Oldenburg, first secretary of the Royal Society, who launched the first and most enduring scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and the title page of its first volume. Oldenburg also invented ‘peer review’ by asking two Fellows of the Society to review submitted work and give him advice on whether it should be published.

Henry Oldenburg


• Publicly available (at a price)

• concepts must be supported by evidence (data)

• in the vernacular, not Latin

• peer review by Society’s Council members


0.02 Zettabytes

1 Zettabyte=1021 bytes

The digital revolution

storage – analysis – communication

Global information storage capacity In optimally compressed bytes

Digital Storage

Analogue Storage

1986 1993



2020 7 Zettabytes


Johannes Gutenberg 1400-1468

A World Historical Event

vast data streams

vast source diversity

vast computational capacity

learning algorithms

instantaneous communication

access anywhere anytime

low cost


The Digital Revolution – 1990 - ?


The technologies by which knowledge is acquired, stored and communicated have

always been essential drivers of human material and social progress


The Budapest Open Access Declaration – 2002

“An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good.

The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge.

The new technology is the internet.

The public good they make possible is the worldwide electronic

distribution of the peer- reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students and other curious minds.”

Open Science Act 1: Open Access


scientific rigour


Act 2 - Open Data (2002/2012)

Stephen Hawking 2000

“….the next [21st]

century will be the century of complexity”

general availability of findable,

accessible, interoperable re-useable (FAIR) data

data, meta-data and code that provides the evidence for a published claim to be concurrently available for scrutiny.


Act 3 - Open to Society

Democratisation of science (2018)

Science in Africa must becomes a more public enterprise that engages actively with business,

policymakers, governments, communities and citizens as knowledge partners in jointly framing questions and jointly seeking solutions rather than one conducted behind closed laboratory and library doors.

The Platform will work to:

enable scientists and communities to create actionable knowledge;

enhance the credibility, practical relevance and

socio-political legitimacy of science in and for Africa;

strengthen the pan-African voice in global science.


Act 4: Defining Open Science (2020/21)


Open Access

Open Infrastructure

Open Data

Open Source

Open Evaluation

Citizen Science

Open Notebook

Open Labs

Open Educational Resources

Open Innovation

Open Hardware


scrutinise and challenge truth claims (rigour)

serve the knowledge needs and interests of wider publics (democratisation)

maintain the record of science, its evolving stock of

knowledge, ideas and possibilities accessible and free to all, irrespective of geography, gender, ethnicity or financial

circumstance (efficiency)

open the data and evidence of science to be accessible and re- usable by all, subject to constraints of safety, security and

privacy (complexity)

engage with other societal actors in the common pursuit of new knowledge, and in supporting humanity in achieving

sustainable and equitable life on planet Earth (sustainability)



A Barrier to Open Science

how not to Assess Science – use proxy metrics

Proxy measures

citation indices

journal impact factors

university rankings

A dysfunctional market

paper productivity not science productivity

drive predatory journal market

drive price inflation

fragment the science community

undermine education

places record of science behind paywall

strategic data about science in private hands

Goodhart’s Law

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.

Richard Goodhart


3. Covid: seizing the Open Science Opportunity


The Open Science in Action

Delivering access to knowledge

• Websites & data platforms

• Sharing and rapid release of results

Communicating to diverse audiences

• Clarity – Credibility

• Communicate uncertainty and risk – a basis for trust

• Context and relevance to varied audiences

Co-production of knowledge

• Science & civil society

• Supporting community action


A stress test for Open Science. The utility of broad-spectrum Open Science has largely been a matter of conjecture - no longer:

Spontaneous response from a great diversity of sciences

Unrivalled sharing, and across the public/private interface

Agile release of emergent science

New open data resources

Rapid publication and pre-prints

Effective communication of science in the public domain

Revelation of the richness and relevance of scientific knowledge over a wide spectrum

The Director of the US National Institute of Health: “we have never seen anything like this”

“the phenomenal effort will change science – and scientists – for ever’”

The opportunity for this be the new normal for science?

What would make it so?

The big lesson for science from Covid


The Challenge for Science

“Never waste a Good Crisis!”

W.S. Churchill



I. Affordable, universal open access II. Open licensing

III. Rigorous, efficient, timely peer review IV. Data publication

V. Maintaining the record of science VI. Inter-operation between disciplines

VII. Digitally enabled publication & dissemination VIII.Governance in scientific hands

Priorities for change



Urgent reforms

Robert Terry

World Health Organisation 2019


• Pre-prints, servers, overlay review

• Open Licenses

• Citable data publication Implement:

• Novel peer review

• Platform-agnostic discovery services

• Global curation infrastructures for the Record of Science


• Within the science community

• Incentives from bibliometric to open science

• Globally inclusive/nationally efficient

• Distributed functions/common standards

Exploit the Digital

“The Journal is dead, but if its not, it should be. Journals are

unnecessary with online publishing.

Using a journal to restrict access is outrageous.”


The government-led response to the West African Ebola outbreak included many

different international organisations.

Only a selection of international responders is shown. There were many more.

Governance and inclusivity are vital: common standards, distributed functions

e.g. International response to the 2014-2016 Ebola Crisis


Only a selection of international responders is shown

When the outbreak ended and organisations left the region, the data was scattered globally

At the end of the outbreak, international institutions left, and took the data with them


4. Lessons from COVID:

the wake-up call

for science and society


Lesson 1:

We’re all in this together


COVID and CLIMATE are predictable parts of the planetary economy.

They are not, in any rational meaning of the term, “externalities”.

The human economy is also part of the planetary economy, but not, in the short term, so predictable.

Do we have to monetise the environment In order to deal rationally with it?

Lesson 2: Nature isn’t a random economic externality




Lesson 3: Act early, act Hard

Confirmed cases



Inbound quarantine

Early Hard

Inbound quarantine

A tale of two islands


Emerging Scientific consensus

0 10k


30kYears before present 200300400

Warming & C02 100x faster than the end of Ice Age warming

30,000 years

1,000 years

130 years Parts per million C02

Carbon Dioxide: the global thermostat It’s getting late

Emerging Scientific consensus

Lost opportunity


Why do we fail to act?

Populist politics – don’t be a bringer of bad news?

Credibility – it’s only a theory?

Hard wired for the immediate?

Lack of imagination?


We need to understand these psychologies in an age of pandemics, of climate change and looming planetary boundaries


“because of capitalism, because of


Lesson 4: Where does all this

science come from ?


Funding Agencies


Institutes Gov’nt

Self-organizing Triad Priorities


Jobs/growth/innovation Knowledge exchange Funding agencies Strategic

Excellence Universities

Highly competitive Strategic research

Academic freedom as enabler of broad-spectrum research

Public Good

Motivation It comes from efficient national science systems


Funding Agencies


Institutes Gov’nt

A quartet? Priorities


Jobs/growth/innovation Knowledge exchange Funding agencies Strategic priorities Excellent research Universities

Highly competitive Strategic research

Curiosity-driven research Institutes

Strategic Research

Public Good


Commercial Platform

Shareholder value

System disruption?


Ian M. Mackay

Lesson 5: There is no silver bullet


Final Lesson: no vaccine for climate change



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