By Chukwuma Ogbonnaya
I am happy to be attending the 2nd UN Open Science Conference through the invitation of SPARC.
I am an Open Access Advocate after attending Opencon2018 at Toronto, Canada. I was enthused to participate and I learned many things as you can see in my reflections ( A new world of possibilities- a reflection on OpenCon2018). Since then, I have tried to promote #Openscience. This is the reason why I am uploading my studies on Questelligence framework, which may probably be the most important work in my life, on my blog for anyone interested to read. Freely I received, freely I must give!
Science is very important to the society. Without Science, the civilisations built by humans would not be possible. Nonetheless, as I reflect on SDGs and the #openscience movement, I still feel that there is inequity between the developed and developing countries regarding open access academic publishing and scholarly communications. The greatest inequity was succinctly highlighted today during the panel discussions.
After today’s conference, I decided to check how much I would have paid if I published my PhD work in open access option. So far in my PhD at The University of Manchester, UK, I have published 6 articles in Elsevier and 2 articles in MDPI. I went through each of them and summed the APCs. This is what I found: The 6 articles in Elsevier would cost $16,240 (i.e NGN6,674,178.44) and the 2 MDPI articles would have cost CHF3600 ( i.e NGN1,608,387.48). Total is N8,282,565.92 (or £11,832 at £1/NGN700). Meanwhile, I have two articles under review in Elsevier. Do not pity me for now! I published all of them free of charge ( see my Google Scolar Page ).
How did I escape paying this huge amount of money? Some were published in subscription journal while the APCs for the rest were waived under different circumstances. While I advocate for Open Access publishing, I am concerned that it will further alienate scientists from poorer countries. For instance, I would have dumped all my manuscripts if I was asked to pay for APC. So, may I use this opportunity to thank Elsevier and MDPI for the opportunity to be read by other scientists. My PhD outputs have been cited over 90 times even before I complete my studies and I am confident that I would produce them as evidence for many things I would seek to do after my PhD.
The #Openscience movement is now supported by global organisations such as UNESCO and UN and influential Universities and Libraries. I think that now is the best time to address the inequity that has continously shut out poorer nations from doing science and contributing to the evolution of science. I left Toronto in 2018 with a strong believe that Openscience and renewable energy are the best opportunities for Africa to develop. I still believe so because Renewable energy will give Africans the power sources to use IT and telecommunications and the Internet. This means that researchers, students, entrepreneurs and businesses can access open contents free of charge.
On the other hand, I have thought that Publishing is a business and revenues to pay staff, investors, develop systems, adverts, etc must come from somewhere. Truly, what has happened by moving science communication from subscription-based business model to open access-based business model is that the cost has been transferred from institutions to individual researchers. This is unfair to researchers who work hard to conduct research and write it up. Nonetheless, organisations like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Welcome Trust have taken this burden away from researchers by paying for the APC for accepted articles. Other research funding agencies across the globe should pay for APC as a sign of commitment to Openscience.
I think that funding agencies and governments in developing countries should urgently take interest in Openscience. More importantly, researchers in developing countries should push through their Academic unions to get research funding agencies to pay for the APC. By so doing, Scientists will focus on research, and not worry about where to get money for APC or simply not publishing because they cannot afford it. Truth be said, Publishers cannot waive APC for everyone from poor countries; it is not sustainable, and can never happen. We should seek a balance and seek other sources of funding Science since the COVID-19 experience has proven that Science is there to serve the society.
Take for instance, a case of Nigeria. Nigeria invests heavily in research through Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) and other grant/scholarship awarding institutions. This is why Nigeria needs to create a sustainable framework for #Openscience to benefit from the emerging new order. Assuming that 200 PhD students sponsored by PTDF and 200 students sponsored by TETFUND in 2018 published an average of 1 research article in Subscription journals. Did you know that 98% of Nigerians, be it students, academics or R&D department of companies in Nigeria do not have access to these findings which, most times, used data from Nigeria. How then can Science benefit Nigeria where findings on Nigeria are locked behind subscription paywalls? Do not forget that the PhDs were funded by the Nigerian government. So, what is the wisdom in funding students without paying for their findings to be made open by paying for their APC? PTDF has shown interest to pay for APC and expect that they negotiate with Publishers like Elsevier and MDPI to get bulk discounts. Probably, on a national scale, there has not been a comprehensive case analysis of the Strategic importance of #Openscience in Nigeria in establishing National Science Systems and Research Infrastructures.
Do not get me wrong, PTDF and TETFUND have laid foundations for Nigeria’s imminent industrialisation by sponsoring students in diverse fields in world-class institutions. However, there should be a connection between research and exploitation of research to drive innovations and commercialisation of innovations. I have advocated for Nigerian Access Management Systems (NAMS) so that students and academics in Universities, Polytechnics and research organisations in Nigeria can have access to knowledge databases of the world. This is the first and urgent thing that should happen in developing countries. This is critical and I am ready to volunteer or collaborate to work on this project for any country with hope that lessons learned would be made open for other countries to learn from. Developing countries like Nigeria must contribute to the global science infrastructures in order to benefit from the science ecosystems. There is no free meal even in Freetown. It is not sufficient to ask for waiver for APC. Developing countries should develop government-led #Openscience policies, frameworks and protocols and see how they can empower their citizens by giving them voice among their global peers.
#Openscience is a topic I am passionate about and I hope that Africa would seize the moment that it offers alongside renewable energy technologies to drive the achievements of SDGs by 2030.
I will reflect again after the conference.