While quantum mechanics might be Ana María Cetto’s big passion, the Mexican physicist has devoted much of her time and energy to promoting a broader scientific endeavor – open science.
This commitment paid dividends in January 2023 when Cetto, a research professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, 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 more reliably used by – and for the good of – society. However, putting it into practice is more complicated than it sounds.
Like many others, Cetto has experienced the consequences of so-called “privatised science”, such as when publishing companies charge for publication of and then for access to content, perpetuating a business in which only people who pay can access knowledge.
Cetto says that the Latin American region can – and should – rise up against this business and support initiatives that make science and its results accessible to the general public. She promotes and chairs Latindex, a platform that makes more than 26,000 scientific journals from Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal available free of charge.
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 witnessed with concern that science has experienced a process of privatisation of knowledge, and I have realised that we must defend ourselves against this process. We must seek to ensure that scientific knowledge remains as a public good, accessible to all.
What does society gain from open science?
It gains from having access to knowledge that is not normally accessible to the public. Of course, this does not happen automatically – there must be several conditions. There must be the infrastructure to make validated scientific knowledge open access, and the population must also have the tools … to not only 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 “privatised” science?
The traditionally most powerful countries, both in terms of economy and science — because these things are related — are the ones that have benefited from the business of privatising science. The fact that you have to pay to access knowledge or pay to publish, which is the new trend, has widened the gap between those few powerful countries and the rest of the world. We cannot simply be spectators, because we also produce science, we produce knowledge, we do not generate business with it. Why should we pay for others to continue doing business?
As a 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 also for other Southern regions: investment in infrastructure, for example, and that our governments [often need to] move on from statements to actions. Although they signed UNESCO’s recommendation on Open Science and actively participated in its discussion, it does not mean that the conditions are in place for its implementation.
Another challenge in our region is that unfortunately the evaluation and incentive systems for research are still very closely linked to 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 rich countries in order to obtain a certain prestige in the community.
Fortunately, there is already an awareness that it is necessary to review the assessment systems and criteria.
What initiatives already exist in the region to work against this business of publishing companies and its impact on scientific communities?
Perhaps the most relevant initiative, focused on evaluation systems, is the one led by the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), a forum for discussion and analysis that has organised several regional meetings to address this issue. There are other regional initiatives that have to do with the creation of open access information systems.
Latindex’s pioneering work started in 1996, offering a space for scientific publications and promoting open access, multilingualism, [and] the defence of Spanish and Portuguese. It was soon followed by [research indexing services such as] Redalyc, Scielo and others, and this has allowed not only the dissemination 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 does not only mean opening more access to what has already been published by scientists; it also means opening more to other knowledge systems, to other sectors of society. There are also many challenges there. In our countries there are several 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 attend to.
By Aleida Rueda
SciDev.net first published this interview.