The need for Open Science in the pandemic era
The COVID19 pandemic shed new light on the need for scientific cooperation in order to face the new challenges and pave the way to recovery. Scientists shared knowledge about the coronavirus, starting with the decoding of its genome by Chinese scientists who put their findings at the disposal of the scientific community, followed by their German counterparts and many others.
The ICOLC (International Coalition of Library Consortia) statement dealing with the impact of the pandemic on library services and resources[i] was another step towards Open science: it included an appeal to publishers to put “any relevant content and data sets about COVID-19, Coronaviruses […] vaccines, antiviral drugs, etc. behind subscription-only paywalls Open Access immediately”, in order to facilitate and accelerate research. The WHO “Solidarity call to action”[ii], launched in the aftermath of the WHO General Assembly on May 29, prompted all the relevant stakeholders, first of all governments, to “make the response to the COVID19 a public common good”, through pooling knowledge and data, but also, and more importantly, intellectual property and the relevant health technology. This call aimed to emphasize the utmost necessity for universal access to treatments and vaccines, to stress the right to health as a universal human right, and to put forward “the fallibility of traditional ways of working when it comes to equitable access to essential health technologies”.
Unfortunately, the pandemic emergency fostered competition as well as “star system” communication on behalf of big businesses and allegedly prominent scientists. Multinational pharmaceutical companies opposed the opening of data and intellectual property, pretending that it would be in the detriment of innovation. “Scientific” communication via social media such as YouTube, supported by “civil society” petitions, aimed at bypassing the usual validation process based on peer review and reproducibility. No G7 or G20 countries have endorsed the WHO call. Moreover, the Trump administration decided to cut off the US funding of the WHO, considering that the organization was covering the Chinese responsibility for the virus spread. At the same time, the US tried to obtain exclusive rights on the upcoming vaccine, pre-empting the patents so as to prevent others from accessing the related research.
As scientists and citizens committed to peace and cooperation, we strongly denounce the aforementioned attempts to undermine scientific reasoning, jeopardize knowledge, and create monopolies in order to maximize profits. Open science is the only way to rebuild confidence between science and society: it is of the utmost importance to promote scientific literacy for all, and thus silence obscurantism, anti-science, as well as control on knowledge and scientific results on behalf of capitalistic interests in the globalized market.
Supporting Open science in theory does not guarantee commitment to its implementation in practice. We urge governments to: endorse the WHO call, increase public permanent funding of scientific research, promote fairness, reliability, scientific integrity and ethical standards. It is high time to engage with UNESCO in order to gain momentum and accelerate the preparation of the Open science recommendation, whose implementation should be mandatory. This is the only way for science, society and democracy to thrive in the post-pandemic vulnerable world.
September 14, 2020