Who are the role models in 21st century research?

Toward the end of 2018, I attended two meetings that broadened my view of what Open Science means and what we might expect from 21st Century Scholarship. The first was a workshop entitled ‘Research culture: Changing Expectations’ hosted by prestigious scientists at the Royal Society in London. The Society kindly invited me to write a reflection about it which has just been made available on their blog ‘In Verba‘.

An interaction during the workshop has stayed with me since, which I didn’t include in that reflection. In the course of one of the panel discussions, a very senior researcher, when asked how long it would take for the research culture to change, proposed that it would take generations or decades. This caused ripples of frustration in the audience, including from myself. A member of the same panel, responded that it would only take that long if we went about it softly. Susan Wessler, from the audience, was more direct, however: “Saying that cultural change will take generations is completely unacceptable”.

Robert Jan Smits, then European Commission’s Open Access Envoy, summed up the conundrum succinctly: “Everyone sees the problems, but when it comes down to actually doing something, it’s not happening. How is it possible for intelligent people to be like this?”

Yet speaker after speaker at the Royal Society also spoke to the potential solutions. Empathy, collaboration, respect, inclusiveness, openness, and transparency – it is these attributes, they concluded, that are the basis of scientific creativity, innovation, and success. And it is these attributes that we do not reward and foster.

So by the end of the workshop, I was left wondering where the role models we need in academia and scholarly communication will come from. Where are those who not only acknowledge the problems and lobby for change, but who actively embody that change – and are they being rewarded?

I was thinking of this as I flew to Canada the same week to attend the other meeting – OpenCon – and of the many committed senior people who have made incredible contributions to science and who recognise that the culture in which they made their careers has to change if science is to progress at the rate that society so desperately needs.

I think I found those role models in Canada – but you’ll need to read the full post on In Verba to find out who they are.


Catriona MacCallum is Director of Open Science at Hindawi. This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.