Neuro-Gairdner Open Science in Action Symposium

Speaking points

Dr. Mona Nemer
Chief Science Advisor of Canada

Neuro-Gairdner Open Science in Action Symposium

Virtual address

November 11, 2020

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Bonjour tout le monde. Let me start by extending to all of you a virtual welcome to the Neuro-Gairdner Open Science in Action Symposium. I’m happy to be with you today as we all learn to adapt to our new reality.

Before getting into the topic of open science — a topic close to my heart —allow me to congratulate Guy Rouleau on winning this year’s prestigious Gairdner Wightman Award, which recognized his leadership in advancing open science, in addition to his many other contributions to science and institution-building. I have known Guy since my time at McGill, and I can say that he has inspired many of us as a scientist, visionary and institution builder. Under his leadership, the Neuro has thrived as a world-class research facility and a pioneer in the adoption of open science principles.

Since then, the movement has grown. We need look no further than where we are today to understand why open sharing of research is not only beneficial, but vital to progress.

Back in early 2020, we knew close to nothing on the virus and COVID-19. Thanks to the researchers who openly shared the draft genome of the virus, we have been able to make huge advancements in treatments at record speed and will likely have a vaccine soon.

Internationally, we have seen organizations like Johns Hopkins University develop an open access database of countries’ COVID-19 cases, a global pandemic tracker, which has been enormously beneficial to the research community.

Here in Canada, the government has also made Covid datasets freely available online, and both the research community and I have joined international calls for open access to coronavirus research and data. I am very encouraged that the government has embraced my advice and guidance on the issue.

The fact is, we have seen the tremendous contribution open science is making in the fight against the pandemic. Access to up-to-the-minute, reliable information has guided our response — not just in health sciences, but for everything from food systems, to water treatment, to economics. And this is key, because not only does open science promote free access to data, but it also encourages multidisciplinarity.

We know that as our societal challenges become more complex, our responses to them must also be increasingly multi-faceted. This is why sharing of information across disciplines is vital. This has played out extremely well over the course of the past nine months.

Take, for example, the CanCOVID network, which, since March, has grown to over three thousand members, and has been very successful in fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration on Covid research.

Or consider the incredibly diverse community of scientists, researchers and practitioners who stepped up and contributed their time and resources to advise me on a wide range of issues related to Covid-19 these past several months.

Our work is far from over, but I hope that the examples of open science in action will influence people's views on the value and opportunities that open science offers to our communities.

It will be difficult for Canadians to meet the challenge of COVID-19 without adhering to the scientific underpinnings of public health policy. We need to empower citizens to make good decisions about their lives. And we can to that by giving them access to science and reliable data.

But by opening up research to wider evaluation and scrutiny, we have a better chance of responding to these challenges and generating public trust in science. In doing that, we help create a more effective bridge between science and policy. In order for our society to fully embrace open access, we may require a culture shift, but the Covid pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to make that change. And the science community, guided by the example of the Neuro, is already leading the way.

Thank you. I wish you all an inspiring and productive conference.