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  • Eleanor Haine Bennett

Open Science for Curiosity?

In STAN's June blog post, Nathaniel Whelan highlighted the 2019 STAN Conference panel “Science as a Human Right”. Whelan pointed towards the panelists’ assertion that if science is a human right, then the right being protected is curiosity, commenting that “In the context of science as a human right, not only does everybody have the right to be curious, but they should have the right to follow it through”.

What conditions does the STEM environment require in order for everyone to have the right to follow through with their curiosity about science? This is a topic that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been working towards ever since it took ownership of Article 27.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

In 2017, UNESCO published its Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers asserting “the significant value of science as a common good” and highlighting that everyone is a potential participant in, and beneficiary of, science. The Recommendation sets out provisions to inform science policy and ethics worldwide. The provisions create the environment that will enable science to flourish and advance, to be practiced ethically and fairly, and to be useful and relevant to society. As a board member for STAN, two key provisions stand out for me as providing the environment for everyone to follow through with their curiosity about science:

First, the Recommendation calls on Member States to promote Open Science: “So as to ensure the human right to share in scientific advancement and its benefits, Member States should establish and facilitate mechanisms for collaborative open science and facilitate sharing of scientific knowledge while ensuring other rights are respected.” (Paragraph 21)

In order to follow through with this, there needs to be a definition of Open Science. Open Science as a term is often used as a synonym for open access (e.g. open access journals) or open data (making scientific data available digitally), however it is much more than that. The European Union project FOSTER defines it as: “Open Science is the practice of science in such a way that others can collaborate and contribute, where research data, lab notes and other research processes are freely available, under terms that enable reuse, redistribution and reproduction of the research and its underlying data and methods.” It includes activities such as citizen science, scientific social networks and open educational resources in the boundaries of Open Science.

Open Science is referred to multiple times in the Recommendation and it seems that UNESCO’s desire to promote Open Science will reach even further as they are now proposing a separate Recommendation on Open Science, a new normative international standard-setting instrument.

Second, and somewhat dependent on the first, the Recommendation calls on Member States to promote STEM education: “So far as is compatible with the necessary and proper independence of educators and educational institutions, Member States should lend their support to all educational initiatives designed to: (a) strengthen all sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics education, in schools and other formal and informal settings” (Paragraph 14). Providing relevant, engaging and up-to-date STEM education requires access to the latest scientific knowledge and innovations, i.e. it requires collaborative open science and sharing of scientific knowledge.

Open Science can fuel people’s passion for science and raise generations of curious and knowledge-seeking individuals. As a community, STAN members are directly implicated in protecting the right to scientific curiosity by:

  • Running citizen science projects and making sure Canadians can be a part of research in other similar ways;

  • Facilitating the transfer of scientific knowledge between researchers and the community at large, through public engagement events, online resources for the general public, and hands-on activities that make scientific research come alive;

  • Creating a culture of sharing and public engagement within the scientific community;

  • Creating opportunities for early career scientists and post-secondary STEM students to practice their science communication skills;

  • Creating a generation of scientists for whom sharing their work and their passion with the public is a fundamental part of their role as scientists; and

  • Putting in place equity, diversity and inclusion policies and strategies to ensure that science is accessible to all.

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