Open access: truly bridging the knowledge gap? (panel 5)
Distributed, collective intelligence is more than the sum of its parts, and it will only be possible through optimal communication. “The more you share it, the more it is worth, and particularly in the field of science”, says expert
The morning session started with the presentation Shared knowledge is multiplied knowledge by Jan Velterop, Consultant at Velterop von Leyden Open Access Consultancy, UK. As opposed to material commodities, shared information does not run out. “The more you share it, the more it is worth, and particularly in the field of science”, Jan Velterop stressed.
Distributed, collective intelligence is more than the sum of its parts, and it will only be possible through optimal communication. What’s holding it back then? One of the main obstacles is cost. Copyright laws, for instance, act as a barrier to sharing knowledge. But this is not the only one. There is an intrinsic human resistance to change. Innovation poses a threat to the status quo. As Bertrand Russell put it, “Conventional people feel criticized by any departure from convention”. New instruments take time before the scientific community comes to accept them.
However, according to Abel Packer, Director of BIREME, open access to information and knowledge is gaining momentum in Latin America and the Caribbean. BIREME is an initiative for technological cooperation between LA&C institutions. So far it has created three main networks for shared knowledge: SciELO, a collection of scientific journalsin full text and open access; ScienTI, which provides support to scientific curriculum management; and the Virtual Health Library (VHL).
The main challenge for these networks is creating the scientific structure needed to integrate the national and international flows of information.
A concern was also expressed that open access could lead to a weak and peculiar relationship to science in developing countries. According to Jean Claude Guedon, Professor of Comparative Literature at the Université de Montréal, there is a tendency to look at science as something homogeneous in its views and methodology. This, however, hides great differences. Some much repeated figures (24,000 journals in the world, 2.5 million articles a year) have almost become mantras, but in reality far more is being produced. There is a real danger of widening the gap between global and local science.
Equity in production is as urgently needed as equity in access. Cesar G. Victoria, Professor of Epidemiology at the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil, highlighted the vast inequalities in child health around the world. Around 11 million children died in 2003, most of them due to avoidable causes, such as diarrhea, malnutrition, TB, pneumonia, malaria, maternal and neonatal complications, and other tropical diseases. 99% of these deaths took place in poor countries.
These figures could be drastically reduced if only the existing technology was being applied. It would only require the use of low-cost interventions, such as promoting breast-feeding, using mosquito nets, or combating diarrhea. The challenge is how to reach the children and mothers, but the resources are now less than 10 or 20 years ago. The gap is widening between rich and poor countries. Only 10% of research is devoted to diseases that account for 90% of total world mortality. Local researchers must be included in the global flows, as these do not take their realities into account. They need to become more visible so that they can be evaluated and validated. This is the only way they can find their place in a truly globalized science.