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Open Science: Take a Seat at the Communal Table

Open Science As A Wholly Inclusive Process

Modern science has flourished thanks to an unspoken deal between scientists and society [1,2]. Through the years, this “social contract” has evolved from focusing on disseminating reliable knowledge to one aimed at robustness, transparency, and participation [1]. This movement towards “openness” embodies open science, making scientific data, research and dissemination available to all. The core tenet of open science is that research must be performed in dialogue with society, which reaffirms openness as a guiding principle in scientific work [3].

At its core, open science considers knowledge as a public good, which is non-rivalrous, meaning that consumption of the good by an individual has no bearing on another, and non-excludable, which implies that no one should be excluded [4].  This idea calls to mind Powell, who stated, “The learning of one man does not subtract from the learning of another, as if there were to be a limited quantity to be divided into exclusive holdings. . . . That which one man gains by discovery is a gain to other men. And these multiple gains become invested capital.”[5]

Under openness, everyone can take a seat at the table with practices like open data, open source, open source, open access, open peer review, and open educational resources [1].

Open Science and Communalism to Promote Research

Knowingly or perhaps unknowingly, science has fostered ways of working that most researchers subscribe to, surmised as the Mertonian norms [6], a set of idealistic norms that describe the scientific ethos: communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originality and skepticism. Communalism plays up the cooperative nature of the scientific process and supposes that reliable knowledge production is a collective process [7]. Universalism encourages the entry of all persons regardless of competence. The disinterestedness ethic promotes keeping self-interest at bay, not to impede data availability or reliability. Publication of all data follows this line and encourages skepticism because it presupposes that all knowledge has been verified, which is a nod to peer review and reproducible data [7]. Though Merton’s norms may seem lofty, they can provide the groundwork to create openness initiatives. Indeed, efficient data and information sharing are key to promoting communalism under open science principles because knowledge as a public good can be used and reused and accumulated to promote research growth [7].

Open Science and Barriers for Community Members

For all its idealistic promises, many researchers believe there are equity gaps in the practice of open science because of existing power imbalances [8]. These problems are difficult to address as many biases and inequalities are inherent in our culture [8] and may even be intensified in open science [9]. Several factors impede participation in open science, such as career stage, employment stability, race, gender, identity, ethnicity, country of origin, etc. [3]. Lack of capacities like knowledge, skills, and technological savviness  is also an issue because they are unequally distributed [9]. Recent research has provided insight into how the communal aspect of open science can promote inclusion.

In Murphy et al.[10], the authors conclude that open science has the “seed” of an interconnected and prosocial culture that can attract greater participation from underrepresented scientists’ groups, including women. They say that under existing power dynamics, underrepresented individuals may be less motivated to participate in a less cooperative environment [10]. Communal cultures, however, can foster constructive criticism, advancing science and attracting diverse people [10].  Moreover, the open science culture of transparency, data sharing, and reproducibility can help create an environment of higher value [11] by empowering people to interpret data with more rigor [11]. Burgerlman et al.[12] also suggest changing the reward and incentive system for researchers into one that promotes open science practices that are rewardable and fundable.

Open science also implies the inclusion of lay citizens, and according to Kadakia et al. [13],  data sharing can boost patient-partner initiatives and foster equitable relationships with researchers. Under this frame, researchers can directly address concerns regarding safety and confidentiality, which empowers underrepresented groups and fosters trust [13]. 

Open Science and a Seat for Everyone

Why should we do open science?  The simple answer is because scientific findings affect everyone. But, perhaps more importantly, open science accelerates research. For instance, Covid-19 was the impetus that allowed massive knowledge mobilization and sharing across borders – all in the name of the common good. Overall, open science is a collective process that enables more inclusive, collaborative, and transparent research and aims to give everyone a seat at the proverbial table and a voice.

Author: Sue-Ling Chang, MPH, MSc is a research professional working in the area of breast cancer molecular epidemiology in the Division of Oncology at the CHU de Québec – Université Laval Research Center and Cancer Research Center in Quebec City.

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2. Gibbons M. Science’s new social contract with society. Nature. 1999;402:C81–4.

3. Bahlai C, Bartlett L, Burgio K, Fournier A, Keiser C, Poisot T, et al. Open Science Isn’t Always Open to All Scientists. American Scientist. 2019;107:78.

4. Stiglitz J. Knowledge as a Global Public Good. 1999.

5. Dalrymple D. Scientific knowledge as a public good. Scientist (Philadelphia, Pa). 2005;19:10–10.

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7. David PA. The Historical Origins of “Open Science”: An Essay on Patronage, Reputation and Common Agency Contracting in the Scientific Revolution [Internet]. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network; 2013 Jan. Report No.: ID 2209188. Available from:

8. Addressing equity gaps in open science [Internet]. [cited 2021 Sep 10]. Available from:

9. Open Science – Who is left behind? [Internet]. Impact of Social Sciences. 2020 [cited 2021 Sep 10]. Available from:

10. Murphy MC, Mejia AF, Mejia J, Yan X, Cheryan S, Dasgupta N, et al. Open science, communal culture, and women’s participation in the movement to improve science. PNAS. National Academy of Sciences; 2020;117:24154–64.

11. Lupia A. Practical and Ethical Reasons for Pursuing a More Open Science. PS: Political Science & Politics. 2020/12/22 ed. Cambridge University Press; 2021;54:301–4.

12. Burgelman J-C, Pascu C, Szkuta K, Von Schomberg R, Karalopoulos A, Repanas K, et al. Open Science, Open Data, and Open Scholarship: European Policies to Make Science Fit for the Twenty-First Century. Frontiers in Big Data. 2019;2:43.

13. Kadakia KT, Beckman AL, Ross JS, Krumholz HM. Leveraging Open Science to Accelerate Research. New England Journal of Medicine. Massachusetts Medical Society; 2021;384:e61.

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