UNESCO, WHO and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights call for “open science”

Scientific discoveries and advances must be shared, according to the Declaration in favour of “open science”, science that is unhindered by barriers and frontiers, which was made jointly on 27 October by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The COVID-19 epidemic demonstrates the urgent need to strengthen scientific cooperation and to guarantee the fundamental right of universal access to scientific progress and its applications. The open science movement aims to make science more accessible, more transparent and ultimately more effective.

“Open science” describes the free access to scientific publications, data and infrastructure, as well as to open source software, educational resources and other products such as tests or vaccines. Open science also promotes confidence in science at a time when rumours and misinformation are proliferating to the point of becoming an “infodemic.”

“Before COVID-19, only one in four scientific publications were openly accessible, meaning millions of researchers were denied the possibility of reading their colleagues’ work,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey.

“Today,” Ms Azoulay added, “closed science models are at an impasse, because they amplify inequalities between countries and researchers, and because they only make scientific progress available to a minority. The health crisis has shown the incredible potential of scientific collaboration, which allowed us to sequence the virus’s genome so quickly. The solidarity shown by the scientific community is a model for the future: in the face of global challenges, we need collective intelligence, today more than ever. As countries call for international scientific collaboration, as the scientific community, civil society, innovators and the private sector mobilize in these unprecedented times, the urgency of the transition to Open Science has never been more clear.”

“The suppression or denial of scientific evidence in some circles – and reluctance to adopt evidence-based policies – have magnified the devastating harms the pandemic is generating,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. “A basic principle of public health is the need for full and honest engagement with the public. Use of force will not mitigate or end the pandemic – but the use of science, and fully informed public consent and compliance, will.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organziation, spoke of the global actions launched by WHO to boost access to the benefits of science in the context of COVID-19. He notably highlighted the Solidarity Call to Action jointly launched by the President of Costa Rica and WHO and the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP).

In their Joint Declaration, Ms Azoulay, Mr Tedros and Ms Bachelet “recognize the power of scientific cooperation and diplomacy to unite nations, civil society, the private sector and the world, while stressing the importance of evidence-based decision-making.” The three notably go on to recall that “effective and sustainable public policies should rely on verified information, facts and scientific knowledge for the benefit of all.”

At the request of its Member States, UNESCO undertook to prepare such a draft recommendation, in a process that has included broad consultations, notably with scientists, governments and institutions such as WHO and CERN. The first draft text of the UNECSO Open Science Recommendation is currently open for comments. The revised text will be negotiated by Member States, who are scheduled to adopt the final version at the next General Conference in November 2021.