[MEXICO CITY] While quantum mechanics may be Ana María Cetto’s great passion, the Mexican physicist has devoted much of her time and energy to promoting a broader scientific endeavor—open science.
That commitment paid dividends last month when Cetto, a research professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, was named president of UNESCO’s Open Science Steering Committee.
For UNESCO, the idea of open science is to make information, data and scientific results more accessible and reliable by – and for the benefit of – society. However, its implementation in practice is more complicated than it sounds.
Like many others, Cetto has experienced the consequences of so-called “privatized science”, such as when publishing companies pay for publication and then for access to content, perpetuating a business in which only people who pay can access knowledge.
Cetto says the Latin American region can – and should – stand up against this business and support initiatives that make science and its results accessible to the general public. It promotes and runs Latindex, a platform that makes available free of charge more than 26,000 scientific journals from Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal.
You have been promoting open science in Latin America for many years. Where did this interest come from and why is it important to you as a scientist?
I have seen with concern that science has experienced a process of privatization of knowledge and I have realized that we must protect ourselves from this process.
We must demand that scientific knowledge remains a public good, accessible to all.
What does open science benefit society?
It benefits from access to knowledge that is not normally accessible to the public. Of course, this does not happen automatically – there must be certain conditions. The infrastructure must be in place to make proven scientific knowledge open access, and the population must also have the means … not only to access this knowledge, but to understand it and use it in the best possible way .
You have repeatedly said that open science benefits everyone. Who benefits from “closed” or “privatized” science?
The traditionally most powerful countries, both economically and scientifically—because these things are connected—are the ones that have benefited from the business of privatizing science. The fact that you have to pay to have knowledge or pay to publish, which is the new trend, has widened the gap between the few powerful countries and the rest of the world.
We cannot be mere spectators, because we also produce science, we produce knowledge, we do not generate business with it. Why should we pay others to keep doing business?
As the representative of Latin America and president of UNESCO’s Open Science Steering Committee, do you see particular challenges in the region when it comes to making science truly accessible to all?
There are specific challenges for Latin America, and perhaps for other southern regions as well: investment in infrastructure, for example, and that our governments [often need to] move from statements to actions. Although they signed the UNESCO recommendation on Open Science and actively participated in its discussion, this does not mean that the conditions for its implementation have been created.
Another challenge in our region is that unfortunately the evaluation and incentive systems for research are still very much tied to the publication of our work. There is a lot of pressure on our researchers to publish in certain journals, even if they have to pay for it. [So] again, resources go to wealthy countries to gain a certain prestige in the community.
Fortunately, there is already an awareness that it is necessary to revise the evaluation systems and criteria.
What initiatives already exist in the region to work against this business of publishing companies and its influence on scientific communities?
Perhaps the most important initiative, focused on evaluation systems, is the one led by the Social Sciences Council of Latin America (CLACSO), a discussion and analysis forum that has organized several regional meetings to address this issue. There are other regional initiatives dealing with the creation of open access information systems.
The pioneering work of Latindex began in 1996, providing a space for scientific publications and promoting open access, multilingualism, [and] the defense of the Spanish and the Portuguese.
It was soon followed by [research indexing services such as] Redalyc, Scielo and others, and this has allowed not only the spread of the concept of open access, but also the basis for including everything that open science means.
What is the region lacking to effectively implement the broader concept of open science?
Open science is not just about opening up more access to what has already been published by scientists; it also means more openness to other knowledge systems, to other sectors of society.
There are also many challenges. In our countries there are some sectors of society that are holders of knowledge, but have not become part of science, but this is not a reason for them to disappear. So establishing an effective and organic dialogue is not simple, it is not a trivial task, but it is also something that we must pay attention to.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Latin America and Caribbean desk.
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