Open Science: Not the answer to inequity?

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Open Science has equity as a key aim but might in some circumstances actually endanger it. Less well-resourced researchers, institutions and regions as well as women and young researchers are most at risk.


Open Science needs resources, such as funding, time, knowledge, skills, and the traditionally advantaged people usually have more of them. Thus, their privilege indicates that they are the ones to benefit most.  How can we avoid the dynamic of the rich getting richer, known as the Matthew effect?

The EU-funded project ON-MERRIT aims at contributing to an equitable scientific system that rewards researchers based on merit. For this purpose, it investigates the impact of Open Science practices using scientometric, sociological and other approaches. As part of the project, researchers from Know-Center, Graz University of Technology and The Open University, UK, systematically scoped 105 scientific papers and, for the first time, synthesised knowledge to date on this subject. Key points include:

  • High costs of participation: Open Science is resource-intensive in terms of infrastructure, support, training. Even exploiting resources like Open Data is strongly linked to access to infrastructure and data-literacy. Less well-resourced institutions and regions are hence placed at a disadvantage.
  • Discriminatory business models: The author-pays model of Open Access is exclusionary and risks stratifying authorship patterns.
  • Disciplinary differences: Meanings and limits of openness are not uniform across disciplines. Uncritically extending quantitative standards and methodologies may obscure necessary interpretive work or further devalue qualitative approaches.
  • Lack of reward structures: Open Science infrastructures often rely on short-term project funding or volunteer labour which is not properly rewarded within current incentive structures.
  • Privileging of economic aims: Open Science is accused of enabling commodification and marketisation of research knowledge as an economic resource to be exploited rather than as a common good for the well-being of humanity. Industry is free to take up Open Science or not, privileging economic over epistemic aims.

According to the authors these issues do not diminish the overall importance of Open Science, but they do highlight the need for nuance and care in implementing it. Further results of the project will provide recommendations on what researchers, institutions and research funders can do to mitigate these effects.


Study: Tony Ross-Hellauer, Stefan Reichmann, Nicki Lisa Cole, Angela Fessl, Thomas Klebel, Nancy Pontika (2022). Dynamics of Cumulative Advantage and Threats to Equity in Open Science: A Scoping Review. Royal Society Open Science.


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