Open Science - Joint and Concerted Actions and Monitoring

Bjørn Haugstads tale på Open Science Presidency Conference i Amsterdam 4. april 2016

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Dear Commissioner, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today about how we can take the important issues of openness and transparency forward.

We are confronted with urgent matters on all fronts. We need a green shift. We need to create new jobs. We need to prepare for new demands that lie ahead for our public sector. And we all agree that more effective circulation and access to scientific knowledge is key to our success. The question is how to make practical progress. How do we get from talking the talk to walking the walk.

Let me begin by giving you an example of how we can achieve steadfast results through joint and concerted actions.

Recently, we may have found a way to protect us from the Ebola virus. Though it is still too early to say if it will work exactly as we hope, a vaccine against Ebola has been very successful in a clinical trial conducted during the outbreak in Guinea. If all goes as we hope, we will have global regulatory approval of the vaccine before the end of 2016.

In fact, the vaccine was developed as far back as in the early 2000’s, but the vaccine had not been tested on humans in clinical trials and was therefore not approved by regulators.

Therefore, in the middle of the Ebola outbreak, The Norwegian Institute of Public Health together with WHO, Doctors Without Borders and others started to test the vaccine in an innovative and efficient way. The results have been applauded globally and a new standard was set on how to run a clinical trial in the midst of an ongoing epidemic.

This is of course a great scientific achievement. But it is also a result of research policy emphasizing cooperation across all sorts of borders. The Ebola clinical trial was a result of global organizations, individual countries, scientists, doctors, donors and pharmaceutical companies coming together, and rapidly diverting resources to the clinical testing of the vaccine, getting through the process at ten times the normal speed.

In order to solve major challenges to our society, such as Ebola, it is not enough to publicize a result or filing a patent. Someone must also take responsibility for getting things to work “in real life”. The business sector fills that role where there is a commercial potential, but, naturally, not all the challenges we face have a commercial potential. That is why it must be a public responsibility to be in the driver’s seat, when turning new scientific results into new solutions that affect peoples’ lives. And we believe that more openness and better circulation of knowledge is essential to maximizing research impact.

Various expert groups have pointed to the fact that several of the major barriers we are facing are social rather than technical. As we have heard, within several disciplines researchers lack an open data sharing culture. We have also heard people argue that too much attention is paid to where people publish, and not enough to the actual quality and verifiability of what is published.

When it comes to open science we are facing a collective action problem, or rather a set of collective action problems. To overcome them, politicians and the various stakeholders must work together on all levels, both within Europe and globally. Coordinating activities is a key issue. Only through joint and concerted actions we can hope to counteract the fear of negative first-mover effects and other worries that seem to hamper further progress.

Norway may serve as a an example. We were among the forerunners and adopted a national policy on open access as early as back in 2005. But we have been cautious. Norway is a small country. We have to tread carefully. On the one hand we want to push for progress. But on the other hand we don't want to risk enforcing policies that makes it difficult for our own researchers to do what they perceive will give the highest quality and the best results –and the best chances of landing a job or a grant. 

So, from where I stand, as a politician from a small country, I will point especially to the need for

  • coordination of selective incentives, standards, and common and sustainable funding models
  • And I will underline the need for expedient ways to share information and set common goals. We need to share information and strive towards greater transparency when it comes to deals with the publishers, cost transparency on APCs, on data management, on service level agreements and so on. And we need to discuss common concrete and measurable goals, and aim for reaching them within reasonable dates. We also need to establish reliable, comparable data to monitor progress.

In short: To take open science forward I think we need to discuss incentives, principles for information sharing and goal setting.

When it comes to incentives and funding I would like to highlight some of the recommendations from the ERAC Opinion on Open Research Data. There is a need to establish a reward system for data sharing activities. Data sharing and open research habits should be credited and encouraged. And this is closely linked to open access publishing. The principles for open access to scientific publications should also largely apply to open research data, including standardized reward systems for publishing and citing.

When it comes to mechanisms for sharing information and setting common goals, I think there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Hopefully we can work through already existing groups and organizations. What is important, I think, is that we do our best to join forces and couple action lines on all levels from national funders to research institutions to departments and the researchers themselves. And we need to keep a good dialogue with the publishers.

As for information sharing on the country level I will point to the ERA groups as an important tool, and to the implementation and monitoring of the ERA Roadmap priority no. 5 "Optimal circulation, access to and transfer of scientific knowledge". Hopefully the Member States' and Associated Countries' national ERA action plans and strategies will prove to be fruitful means of alignment.

I also look forward to learning more about the Commission initiative of the Open Science Policy Platform. I trust that policy advice and recommendations from such a high-level advisory group with all stakeholders represented will prove to be very useful.

I think I'll end here, and leave room for the panel discussion.