Sharing Knowledge for Our Global Common Good

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to this workshop on the important issue of global commons and global public goods.

You have already had half a day of talks and conversation. But allow me to welcome you to Norway once more. And since I am a lawyer, let me welcome you through the words of our medieval king, Magnus Lagabøte, Magnus the Law-mender. In 1274 he announced a new, unified code of laws to apply to the whole country. Here it says, I quote:

"All commons shall remain as they have been from ancient times, both in the mountains and at sea. But if people disagree, and one man calls his what another man calls common land … they shall assemble at the Thing and appoint twelve of the best men … and they shall deliberate and bear testimony to whether the land is farmer land or a commons."

You are more than twelve – and fortunately you are not all men. But you are assembled here today to deliberate on questions that have been with us for a long time, but where the need for new answers is urgent in an unprecedented way.

Loss of biodiversity and plastic pollution are threatening the oceans – the largest ecosystem on earth. Climate change is threatening crops, wildlife and freshwater supplies. Some bacteria have become resistant to almost all of the easily available antibiotics. Around 264 million of the world's children and youth are not going to school. High unemployment rates are a ticking bomb in many countries around the globe. The gap between haves and have-nots is widening.

These are collective challenges, demanding collective action.

And as the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has pointed out: From the perspective of the sustainable development framework, we are all developing countries. The UN goals make it clear that all countries of the world, north and south alike, have work to do. We must all contribute in the global common effort to move the world in the necessary direction. 

And this leads me to today's question: How can we work together in new ways so that science, technology and innovation can help sustain our global commons in the best possible way?   

Right now, I think one of the really important things we can do, is to stand together in the fight for the right to enhance research impact through global sharing of knowledge. We must join forces to accelerate the transition to universal open access by transforming today’s scholarly journals, currently locked behind paywalls, to open access.

To echo the words of Magnus Lagabøte: We should no longer allow the big academic publishers to claim as theirs what should rightfully be a global public good – namely scientific information.

Openness about the results of research is a core academic value. Open access enhances the development and application of knowledge as users in the wider research community, the private sector and the

general public share in the results of research.

Better access to research data promotes scientific advancement in that it equips individual researchers with a larger pool of data. It facilitates replication and quality assurance of previous research findings. It prevents re-funding of the same type of data gathering multiple times. A stronger culture of sharing also enables students to work with interesting, relevant data and to contribute to research as well.

A culture of sharing can boost innovation and value creation by enabling actors outside the research community to find new areas of application for the findings of researchers. It can contribute to smarter service development in the public sector, new opportunities for business activity and expanded job creation.

I think you will agree that most of us in this room will need to learn new skills in the years to come. Current changes are taking place at a pace and with an unpredictability we have not seen before. The more adaptable and flexible we are in learning new things, the more likely it is that we will be able to deal successfully with the challenges life throws in our way.

Open access is crucial also to fulfill our ambitions for lifelong learning. Our students scrutinize research articles and ponder over the results during their education. And we want them to continue to have access and to do so also after they have left the university. We want our workforce to be able to continue to utilize new knowledge within their fields of expertise throughout their whole working life.     

So, what can we do to foster more openness in research?

There is no simple recipe for developing an open science culture. Obviously, it cannot come about through resolutions passed by Parliament or the Government only.

But what politicians can do, is to try and strike the right balance between the stick and the carrot – between making stricter demands and at the same time implementing policies that make it easier for researchers to share their data and results.      

In order to make research data more available and increase reuse, researchers need the competence and tools to manage data in a sound, secure manner throughout all steps of the research process. They must be able to find – and obtain access to – relevant data among the existing sources. They must have the infrastructure needed for collecting, analysing, archiving and sharing data, as well as access to clear information about this infrastructure. And last, but not least, the infrastructure in place must lay a foundation for cooperation and knowledge-sharing that extends across countries and sectors.

To achieve full open access to research publications we must work together and align our demands in order to get the publishers to change their business model. We no longer want to pay for subscriptions with restricted access. We want to pay for quality assurance and editorial work. And fact-based analysis shows that there is more than enough money in the subscription system worldwide to make a complete transition to open access.

Norway works for open access through Open Access 2020 – the global initiative endorsed by a growing number of researchers, libraries, institutions and organizations. And we work through cOAlition S and the principles embodied in Plan S.

I urge all research institutions and research funding organizations to join the international movement to ensure that authors or their institutions retain copyright to their publications, and to ensure that all research articles are published under an open license. This is the only way in which research can truly fulfill its role as a global public good.

The research community in particular has a vital role to play in promoting open access through national and

international networks, and to convert important journals within their subject areas from closed, subscription-based journals to open-access titles.


Let me end by emphasizing another benefit that is important in its own right. That is that greater transparency and insight into research can help to increase confidence in researchers and research findings.

People question the safety of GMOs. Many question the safety of vaccines or they mistrust the ones distributing them – in Congo with devastating results, with the Ebola epidemic now in its tenth month. 

Even so, I am optimistic. Lots of questions are solved by technocrats and politicians relying on science, even if some issues are contested and heavily politicized. I think that most people care about evidence. We do not live in a post-truth society.

Still it would be wise for both researchers and politicians to take caution and work carefully to preserve people's trust in science.

A good many researchers are arrogant, or at least they are perceived to be. Researchers need to be able to listen carefully to people's concerns. They may have to give up some of their exclusiveness if they are to succeed in getting people engaged. Perhaps we should encourage new forms of outreach and public involvement in a more systematic way.

More disclosure may bring more vulnerability in the short run. But in the long run, I think it will strengthen science, and the uptake of science in society.

Thank you for listening, and let me wish you a very fruitful workshop.