Open Science in Europe: A challenge to benefit all

open science in Europe

Frédérique Vidal, Minister of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation in France, weighs up the benefits and challenges of achieving open science in Europe

Open science has always been one of our main priorities since I was appointed minister. The COVID-19 crisis emphasised the need for sharing scientific results. Open science can save lives.

France’s commitment to open science

For several years now, France has been committed to opening up publications and research data. The 2016 law for a Digital Republic was a first and important step forward. It gave publicly funded French researchers the opportunity to freely disseminate their scientific results within a short period of time after their publication. It also established the principle that data coming from the administration, including scientific ones, must be open by default.

To go even further, I announced in 2018 a very ambitious National Plan for Open Science, based on three axes: generalising open access to publications, structuring and opening up research data, and being part of a sustainable, European and international dynamic. The implementation of this plan is based on a broad mobilisation of the scientific community and professionals in the field of scientific and technical information, brought together within a Committee for Open Science.

We have made available the financial resources necessary to support open and plural publishing models that meet the ambitions of the Jussieu call for open science and bibliodiversity. Our ambition is to help the scientific community to regain control of the publishing system. The creation by the European Union of its own publishing platform (Open Research Europe) is an important step in that sense.

At the same time, we are investing in the infrastructures of open science: HAL, the interdisciplinary open archive of French research, and in the future a generic service for the dissemination of research data. We are particularly involved in the ongoing structuring of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), which will play a major role in a research data web. This latter will trigger the convergence of services, platforms, and data on an unprecedented scale. In my opinion, this web will play the role that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) played 20 years ago.

The health crisis calls for accelerating the transition to open science

If the international crisis triggered by the viral COVID-19 pandemic has mandatorily accelerated the transition to open science, why have academic publishers provided free access only to some of their resources, temporarily and on a limited scope, far from covering the needs of the scientific and medical communities? Today, our ambition is that openness should not be the exception, but rather the norm for all publications resulting from publicly funded research activities.

As the general public awaits answers from science on issues that impact their lives, the reliability of scientific results is crucial to avoid a crisis of confidence. Open science contributes to reduce this risk, by facilitating the dissemination of knowledge to the public, but also by ensuring the transparency and reproducibility of the scientific process, whose protocols and results can be discussed, peer-reviewed and re-used.

In the context of health research, open data constitutes a particularly sensitive issue since the right balance must be found between respect for the confidentiality of personal data and the benefits from sharing this data in an anonymised form. At the individual data level, openness is not possible. But we encourage the implementation of data sharing plans and protocols: when data cannot be opened publicly, it can be shared with selected scientists in a controlled and respectful manner.

These recommendations were integrated into the specific COVID-19 “flash” call for projects that the French National Research Agency launched in March 2020.

Addressing the publication bias

The principles of open science applied to medical research make it necessary to face the problem of the well-identified publication bias. The editorial and scientific system tends to favour the publication of research whose results are positive (“this treatment worked”) to the detriment of those whose results are negative (“this treatment did not work”). Consequently, public health decisions are mainly founded on incomplete knowledge of the research that has been conducted.

European and American regulations mandating the systematic public declaration of clinical trials and their results precisely intended to reduce this bias. We wish to reinforce these good practices, which are essential to the quality of global research and the effectiveness of public health policies. With this perspective, we are working on the construction of a national registry of clinical trials, which will respect the requirements of the World Health Organisation and will be closely articulated with existing registries in Europe and the U.S.

In the field of health as in other fields, open science that I wish to build is based on collaboration, scientific debate, and transparency. The current research programming law the French Government is working on includes an ambitious open science strategy, planning to reach 100% open-access publications authored by French researchers.

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Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation
The French Government
Phone: +33(0)142758000
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