Research Data Alliance / 16th Plenary Meeting / Knowledge Ecology

Speaking points

Dr. Mona Nemer
Chief Science Advisor of Canada

Research Data Alliance
16th Plenary Meeting
Knowledge Ecology

Virtual address

November 9, 2020

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Hello everyone, and thank you for inviting me to participate in this important conference. I share your vision to have the world’s knowledge accessible by all. I also want to thank the Data Research Alliance for all the work you do to advance the principles open access to information.

Good public policy, especially in a global emergency like the current pandemic, requires the best and up-to-the-minute science advice. That advice, in turn, relies on high-quality research. And we know that the best way to generate that high-quality research is to openly share our research findings.

When we get this right, we have a better chance of maintaining and generating public trust in science. Increasingly, the public is interested in science and demands access to the information guiding government decisions. We see it clearly in the current health crisis.

Back in early 2020, we knew close to nothing about the SARS-CoV-2. 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. As a result, the publishing community responded swiftly and effectively. And I am very encouraged that the Canadian government has embraced my advice and guidance on the issue of open science.

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 multidisciplinary collaboration. As our societal challenges become more complex, our responses to them must also be increasingly multifaceted. This is why sharing of information across disciplines is vital.

This has played out extremely well over the course of the past nine months. For example, here in Canada, we established the CanCOVID network -- a grassroots effort to connect researchers across the country to help in the Covid response. Thanks to modern information technology, it was easily set up, and since March has grown to over 3000 members. It as been very successful in fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Moreover, I received overwhelmingly positive response from Canada’s science community when I sought the expertise scientists, researchers and practitioners from a variety of fields to advise me on a wide range of issues related to Covid-19 these past several months.

It is no exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world. Among these changes, one positive thing has emerged: open science has proven to be an important asset in the search for solutions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the community of researchers, librarians, publishers, and funders around the world have been making this happen. We need to communicate the results to policy makers and to the public.

And by this I mean not just the facts, but the values of open access – the values of progress, interconnectedness and a better quality of life for all.

As this conference theme underscores, we are working within an ecosystem where all actors, including knowledge producers, holders and users, rely on each other. Achieving and maintaining a balanced “knowledge ecology” requires the input of professionals like you who make vital information accessible to all. Your work is more important and valuable today than ever before.

Making open science work requires buy-in from everybody. That's why we must work together to make it happen. The time has never been better to effect that culture change.