PHIL_OS at EASST/4S (2024)

Paola Castaño and Sabina Leonelli are convening two Sessions on Interrogating Openness and Equity in the Data-Centric Life Sciences in the upcoming joint meeting of the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) and the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) (Amsterdam, 16–19 July 2024).

The panel making up our two sessions (Panel 095) will be aligned and in dialogue with Panel 074: The limits of open Research: Critical Views and New Perspectives, convened by Louise Bezuidenhout and Ismael Ràfols from the University of Leiden.

Please read on to find all the details of both panels.

Panel 095:
Interrogating openness and equity in the data-centric life sciences 

Paola Castaño (University of Exeter)
Sabina Leonelli (University of Exeter/ Technical University Munich)

With a focus on data practices in the life sciences, this panel invites contributions that scrutinize the principles of openness and equity in diverse research settings. We build on three organizing ideas that contributors are invited to discuss and assess conceptually and empirically:

  1. a conceptualization of openness in science not only in terms of sharing data resources, but of communication and connections between systems of practice within and beyond research (Leonelli 2023);
  2. an understanding of data, databases, and data infrastructures not only as “material, numerical or technical” objects, but as “a result of social processes at work before, during, and after the data production” (Louafi et al. 2022, 274);
  3. an acknowledgment that those systems of practice, social processes, and their communities are shaped by resources unequally available to institutions and individuals in different socioeconomic, geographical, and demographic positions (Bezuidenhout et al. 2017, Bezuidenhout and Chakauya 2018, Ross-Hellauer 2022, Goldstein and Nost 2022).

From these organizing ideas, we challenge the notion that making science ‘open’ is sufficient to address those inequalities.

Some questions we will address include: How do different modalities of work with data in the life sciences build particular types of communities of practice? What are possible ways to assess community-building efforts around data sharing in the life sciences considering systemic inequities regarding minoritized groups and funding allocation structures? What are possibilities and limitations in efforts to engage underrepresented communities in these fields in open science? What do representation of underrepresented communities and participatory models mean and imply in these efforts? How are indicators of community-building, openness and equity assembled and turned into metrics in some settings in the life sciences and with which implications? What policy developments in data sharing in these fields may, or may not, help to address issues of inequity?

Session 1 Tuesday 16 July 2024, 10:30-12:00
Location: HG-08A33

Ludovica Paseri (University of Turin): Democracy, institutions, and pluralism: unpacking the concept of openness in science

Currently, we are experiencing a crucial moment in the development of Open Science (OS) policies in the EU: European OS policies are being implemented both at national level (i.e., Member States) and at local level (i.e., universities and research centres) (Paseri 2022). Insofar as OS is emphasized by institutions, the philosophy of law can guide in understanding the new context and provide a blueprint for change. Therefore, this contribution proposes three senses of the concept of openness:

  1. Openness as the democratisation of knowledge fostered by new digital technologies, which emerged between the late 1990s and the beginning of the new Century, resulting in the principles of access and collaboration.
  2. Openness as an institutional response to the demands of the various actors, public and private, which emerged around 2015, conveying the principles of transparency, integrity and sharing.
  3. Finally, openness for pluralism, a fundamental dimension that complements the previous ones, introducing the principle of epistemic equality (Fricker, 2007) and inclusiveness in OS (Leonelli, 2023). If the first two meanings of openness describe the evolution of the phenomenon, the third dimension is prescriptive and is the one we need to focus on in this complex current context.

The contribution argues that in the current phase of development of OS policies, it is essential to consider all three dimensions of openness identified and especially the entire set of principles (i.e., access, collaboration, transparency, integrity, sharing, epistemic equality, inclusiveness) to ensure OS in a deliberative, participatory, pluralist, and inclusive democracy (Landemore, 2020).

Fotis Tsiroukis (University of Exeter): Science on a grid(Lock): What a distinction between vertical vs horizontal modes of research reveals about epistemic injustices in agricultural science

Agricultural science is a highly interdisciplinary endeavour requiring coordination between highly specialized subfields that often don’t share common practices, language or worldview. So how is collaboration possible, and especially the kind needed to flexibly address urgent agroecological issues at a transnational scale?

Based on insights from my ethnographic observations of local agricultural research practices in Southern Greece, I propose a framework for thinking about interdisciplinarity in its situated and dynamic dimension as an ongoing process of finding complementarity, driven by a mutual understanding of lack of knowledge, skilfulness or resources. In my case study, a foundational scaffold that enables this multifaceted form of complementarity is the institutional lab organisation, which distinguishes between crops-specific and supportive specialties. Each of these functions perpendicular to each other with crop-specific specialties having a ‘vertical’ single focus on specific plant organisms (olive, citrus, subtropical crops) while the supportive functioning ‘horizontally’, cutting through various crops, bioecological systems and research methods.

Understanding this dynamic of cross-complementarity can help illuminate epistemic inequality in data-intensive crop science. ‘Horizontal’ specialties, such as genomics, bioinformatics and remote sensing, tend to be more technologically equipped and attract more funding, while more traditional species-focused ‘vertical’ specialities tend to have a harder time advocating for their legitimacy and their ‘attractiveness’. In my presentation, I wish to explore the idea that there might be organizational/operational reasons why epistemic inequalities arise based on the cross-complementarity dynamic.

Joyce Koranteng-Acquah (University of Exeter): Fostering openness and equity in agricultural knowledge production: Collaborative practices at the Crops Research Institute, Ghana

In the rapidly evolving landscape of data-centric life sciences, ensuring openness and equity in knowledge production is pivotal for sustainable agricultural development. This research investigates these principles within Ghana’s CSIR-Crops Research Institute (CRI). Emphasising collaborative practices, the research delves into the strategies employed by the institute to foster inclusive and participatory approaches in generating agricultural knowledge. The study focuses on the dynamics of collaboration both internally and externally, focusing on interactions between CRI researchers and farmers, and on the pivotal role played by extension officers. By examining the collaborative mechanisms, information-sharing protocols, and engagement strategies, the research seeks to understand how knowledge is co-created and disseminated.

A critical analysis of power dynamics within these collaborative practices forms a central aspect of the study. The research explores how decision-making processes unfold, and the extent to which diverse stakeholders, particularly farmers and extension officers, are empowered in the knowledge production chain. It also seeks to uncover challenges and successes encountered by the Crops Research Institute in Ghana, offering insights for similar institutions striving to enhance openness and equity in their knowledge production endeavours.

By presenting a nuanced examination of collaborative practices in the Crops Research Institute, this study aims to contribute to the broader discourse on fostering openness and equity in knowledge production within the context of agricultural research. Additionally, it seeks to understand how the identified challenges and successes can be leveraged to promote sustainable and inclusive approaches that can benefit both researchers and the communities they serve.

Tatiana Acevedo-Guerrero (Utrecht University): Studying homes in the urban South through auto-ethnographic-exercises and water-quality-work

We know little about the socio-ecological life within low-income homes in the urban South. This, despite the fact that it is in these homes that many of the processes sustaining life in the city take place and Global South cities are home to the majority of residents worldwide. This paper takes water as an entry point of an investigation into the homes of the urban Colombia. It follows water, as it is essential for sustaining everyday life, and goes beyond it into other material/atmospheric components of the home. Stored/stagnant waters are never only water but are also home to large communities of organisms such as bacteria and mosquitoes that eventually continue their lives outside of water.

It combines auto-ethnographic-exercises (AEE) and water-quality-work (WQW). Through AEE, community members acted as community research assistants (CRAs) and wrote/talked about experiences, emphasizing everyday interactions with different types of water, pollution, and mosquitoes. In turn, the microbiological changes in domestic water, as well as the breeding of mosquitoes, were captured by CRAs through basic WQW inside homes, including pupal surveys. The combination of AEE and WQW engages with principles of openness and equity in vulnerable research settings. AEE allows for multiple perspectives and increases the source of data and information contributing to a more in-depth understanding of the home, and, in combination with WQW, enables theory construction on the interconnectedness between politics/power and the material life of water. CRAs were remunerated and had labor contracts for their work as research assistants.

Session 2 Tuesday 16 July 2024, 13:30-15:00
Location: HG-08A33

Sarah Davies (University of Vienna): Equity in and for data work in the biosciences: curation, global research infrastructures, and epistemic justice

This paper discusses equity within data practices in the life sciences by exploring the ways in which biocuration — the extraction of “knowledge from biological data and [its conversion] into a structured, computable form” (Quaglia et al 2022) — is developing as a professional and scholarly community. Based on interviews with biocurators around the world and on ongoing ethnographic with the field, the paper makes three moves. First, I outline how biocurators are seeking to organise as a community, and why they see it as urgent to do so: their work is framed as being central to the contemporary biosciences, but simultaneously precarious, and often entirely invisible to its users. Second, I use the notion of epistemic (in)justice (cf. Milan & Treré 2019) to reflect on how and why curation may be devalued in science, arguing that recognising the epistemic value of the practices involved in curation could help build more equitable research systems. Finally, I reflect on the geographies of biocuration, its place in global research infrastructures, and uneven locations of agency within these. The paper thus seeks to contribute to discussions of open data by outlining some of the diverse forms of work that lie behind data sharing in the life sciences, and by highlighting inequity in how different aspects of this work may be (de)valued.

Kathryne Metcalf (University of California, San Diego): Never blindly trust a pipeline: Coordinating communities and their tools in data processing pipelines

Critical research on scientific data processing has often focused on the human discernment involved in cleaning, labeling, and otherwise caring for data. For open datasets, data processing is understood to include the data transformations that ‘everyone’ —all imagined research users— would agree are necessary. However, the epistemic values involved in processing decisions are often rooted in a community of practice which shares a specific understanding of their object of study — an understanding which may be distinct from that of other research communities. Here, I examine the role of data processing in human microbiome research through a recent replication debate over a high-profile study.

While numerous groups have claimed fault with its findings, the argument hinges not on issues with the data or analytic method, but the data processing pipeline: The open dataset used in the paper was processed with a different set of assumptions than those of the researchers, whose own processing tools are alleged to have introduced (rather than identified) their key finding. Drawing on this debate, as well as interviews with bioinformatics software developers, I show that open source data processing tools can both enforce and invisibilize critical decisions, demonstrating the limits of openness without an awareness of tacit epistemic norms. I also reflect on what this means for diverse research communities who share large data resources, typically produced by investigators in the Global North.

Mariana Pitta Lima (The Centre for Data and Knowledge Integration for Health (CIDACS-Fiocruz) and Bethania Almeida (FIOCRUZ): Situating data sharing in public health emergencies of international concern using Zika virus epidemic in Brazil as a case study

The purpose of this communication is to present the results of a scoping review within the project: Long-term consequences of Zika virus infections during pregnancy for school-aged children and their families in Brazil (LIFE Zika). Since a cluster of newborn microcephaly cases was noticed and related to vertical transmission of Zika virus infections during pregnancy, Brazil has experienced a range of repercussions of the Zika virus epidemic (ZIKV) particularly devastating consequences of Congenital Zika Syndrome for children (CZS) and their families. Zika virus was considered a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) from February to November 2016 by WHO, and CZS is a new disease with many knowledge gaps to inform clinical decision-making and public policies (e.g., prenatal screening, educational adaptations, and social protection), requiring data sharing for both scientists and health authorities. In this sense, our study aims to map and analyse how data sharing in the ZIKV epidemic, and Congenital Zika Syndrome have been approached in the scientific literature from 2015 to 2023. We consider international perspectives on data sharing in PHEIC and distinctive elements from low- and middle-income countries using the Zika epidemic in Brazil as a case study. Our categories of analysis were delineated considering scientific, technical and social issues concerning data sharing and stakeholders’ roles (academia, funders, multilateral organisations, governmental authorities, affected subjects, communities and countries).

Nicole Foti (Johns Hopkins University): The open pharma movement: social action to ‘open’ drug research and its implications for health

Research institutions and funding agencies have increasingly embraced open science as a means to propel biomedical advancement. Meanwhile, the rising complexity and costs of drug development have led some to wonder whether open practices should be extended to pharmaceuticals, a space known for entrenched intellectual property regimes. In this paper, I trace the emergence of collective action to apply open science to the research and making of drugs, an area I call ‘open pharma’. Drawing on in-depth interviews with open pharma leaders and document analysis of journal articles and organizational policies and websites, I demonstrate how open pharma resembles other scientific/intellectual movements by formulating and advancing a new program of thought.

At the same time, the sociotechnical space of pharmaceuticals is deeply entwined in capitalist political economic structures (legal, regulatory, and financial markets) that shape how actors frame and organize their work. Findings identify major narratives discursively employed by actors to frame the movement and mobilize others, often drawing on market logics; illustrate the active building and institutionalizing of open pharma infrastructure through the establishment of organizations and open science policies; and reveal structural barriers to open pharma in universities with publishing and commercialization imperatives — which often translate to patent imperatives. I demonstrate that ‘open’ is being defined and operationalized in particular ways, prioritizing public data sharing of early research (which may later be privatized) over other interventions such as public clinical trials and commercialization, begging the question of where, when, and for whom open pharma is beneficial.

Benneth McIntosh (University of Wisconsin Madison): Data sharing in social genomics as infrastructure for managing controversy

‘Social genomics’ research attempts to correlate human genetics with social phenomena such as educational attainment and wealth. Its growth in recent decades, from sample sizes of hundreds to millions, relies on mobilizing genetic and phenotypic data from government, academic, and corporate platforms; these data were usually originally collected for other purposes, including biomedicine and genealogy. Openness is thus a desideratum in social genomics, as in other data-centric sciences, but it has a complex relationship with other principles, including individual privacy, intellectual property, and equity.

This paper examines how social genomic researchers have sought or refused openness, and how this has structured the community’s norms, epistemology, and even membership. A young research program on the interstices of the life and social sciences, social genomics lacks many disciplinary structures that, in other sciences, would determine which research is encouraged or discouraged. The stances data-sharing platforms take towards openness have thus taken an outsize role in shaping this community. For instance, they request data from others in the name of understanding and reducing inequality, but use technical, legal, and rhetorical means to discourage data sharing for undesirable research, for instance, labeling certain inter-group comparisons as discriminatory and unscientific. To constrain downstream uses, data may be shared or not shared, abstracted or synthesized, or accompanied by binding or non-binding instructions proscribing immoral or unscientific uses. By focusing on openness as merely a matter of sharing (or not) scientific objects, social genomics has managed, but failed to resolve, controversies about its epistemological and moral principles.

Panel 074
The limits of Open Research: critical views and new perspectives
Louise Bezuidenhout (University of Leiden)
Ismael Ràfols (University of Leiden)

The Open Science (OS) movement places values such as collective benefit, equity and fairness, and diversity and inclusiveness at its centre. These values are expected to inform decisions on how OS research resources are invested, structured and utilised, placing an emphasis on digitisation and interconnectedness.

As the OS infrastructural landscape evolves, there is an underlying assumption that these values will support the evolution of an equitable digital commons and, in consequence, equitable science. Nonetheless, simply assuming that these values are embedded in infrastructural design can be viewed as problematic. Moreover, assuming that these infrastructures can support a future digital commons fosters a form of techno-solutionism. As a socio-technical imaginary, the OS infrastructural landscape thus often escapes critical reflection on its current development and evolution.

These open panels will critically engage with the dissonance between OS expectations and current enactment, raising questions relating to:

  • The current limits of openness within the OS landscape and the (un)intentional lack of attention to issues of marginalisation
  • The under-explored distinction between the “digital divide” and “meaningful connectivity”, or between openness as digital access versus openness as inclusive processes of knowledge exchange.
  • The gap between promises of digital democratisation vs. participation and engagement in science
  • The influence of geo-political pressures on openness

The first panel will consist of academic contributions that outline critiques of the current framings of OS. Papers may include empirical studies on the limits of openness, the engagement of researchers from low/middle-income countries into the global OS movement, the need to reform research assessment and monitoring, and the funding for OS tools and infrastructures. The second panel will take the format of a dialogue session.

Session 1 Tuesday 16 July 2024, 15:30-17:00
Location: NU-4B05

Ismael Ràfols (Leiden University), Jordi Molas-Gallart (INGENIO (CSIC-UPV)) and Ingeborg Meijer (University of Leiden): Monitoring open science taking equity and inclusion into account

Following a flurry of policies for Open Science (OS), there is now a wave of initiatives to monitor its adoption, including a recent UNESCO report. However, there is a danger that by focusing on what can be readily observed (e.g. publications and datasets) many other OS activities are overlooked (e.g. participation), with a potential narrowing of OS scope, ‘street-light’ effects, and deviation from values of OS such as. In this presentation, we will argue that a monitoring OS requires a profound change in assessment framework. The scope should broaden from the current focus on outputs (such as publications) towards the processes of connection that make science ‘open’ (usage, co-creation and dialogue), as well as towards outcomes (changes in practices) and the longer-term impacts that reflect the values and normative commitments of OS. In particular, we will highlight the importance of considering ‘directionality’, i.e. mapping the different trajectories within each OS dimension (e.g. different colours of the routes to OS), as well as their potential effects in terms of relevant values such as equity and inclusion. In summary, we propose that we shouldn’t monitor whether there is more or less OS, but what types of OS are developed and adopted, by whom, and with what consequences, in particular in terms of distribution of benefits.

Gustaf Nelhans (University of Borås): The right to publish vs. exclusive quality standards and the role of publishing platforms in open science

This paper discusses the suggestion that open science, grounded in Merton’s CUDOS norms and promoting common ownership and universalism, can be realized through publishing platforms. By investigating the notion of transparency and removing barriers and post-publication peer review, the idea that such platforms are crucial to openness is examined.

This perspective is contextualized by Sabina Leonelli’s (2023) argument that openness alone fails to address inequalities and barriers effectively. Moreover, Philip Mirowski’s (2018) concern regarding the potential commercialization of research and platform capitalism and Jan Nolin’s (2018) argument on the unintended consequences of ‘radical transparency’ in open movements, particularly concerning privacy, are underscored.

In contrast to traditional gatekeeping mechanisms based on journal impact factors and editorial decisions, research funders like the Wellcome Trust, Gates Foundation, and Open Research Europe decide who can publish on their platform. However, the emergence of streamlined and mechanized publishing processes in mega-publishers and platforms like F1000 risks shifting towards a culture of publishing more aligned with the right to publish than the exclusive rigour of quality standards, potentially compromising the dissemination of impactful research.

A process-oriented approach emphasizing the contextual and tentative nature of research findings, aligned with Leonelli’s perspective, is advocated to promote scholarly publishing in line with contemporary scientific understanding. This underscores the need to balance openness with a selection process which upholds quality standards.

Lotte Asveld (Delft University of Technology) and Bob Kreiken (Delft University of Technology): An equitable digitalization of the biogenome: a twin commons approach

Biodiversity is under threat globally. As a way to map, monitor and preserve the vast reservoir of biological information contained in species, large genomic databases are being built to conserve species and to support biotechnological innovation. However, these openly accessible genomic databases raise questions about whose norms and knowledge practices are reproduced in data governance and whose are marginalized. Indigenous communities who preserve biodiversity and researchers from the biodiversity-rich global South may not see equal value in contributing to genomic databases as researchers from the global North because they do not have the necessary resources to generate, access and utilize the data, or because the data is not managed in accordance with norms that suit their particular interests.

A way to approach this potential genomic data injustice is by conceptualizing both biodiversity and genomic data as a twin commons that are governed according to shared norms. Access to either of these commons implies adherence to these shared norms. The norms may stipulate who can profit from the resources within the commons and under what conditions. This can increase mutual trust and break the cycle of exploitative practices derived from historical inequalities. Indigenous communities, for instance, could be more willing to share relevant knowledge if they would have a say in how their knowledge is applied. This paper aims to formulate such possible norms for biogenome projects, taking into account both open science norms, access and benefit-sharing policies, and the CARE principles for Indigenous data.

Louise Bezuidenhout (University of Leiden): Meaningful openness and the limits of Open Science

The 2021 UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science underscored the global commitment to OS. The declaration defines Open Science through the values of inclusivity and equity and the principle of sustainability. This commitment to equity hinges on a key implicit assumption, namely that diverse stakeholders around the world will be able to add value to their lives by accessing and applying the resources made available through Open Science infrastructures and practices. Nonetheless, current digital inequities mean that this value may differ significantly not only in terms of who is interacting with the resources, but also how and for what purpose.

In order to better understand the ‘how’ of these interactions it is important to recognize that Open Science, as a largely digital endeavor, relies heavily on the connectivity of potential users. It is also important to recognize that earlier framings of connectivity as online/offline, or the ‘digital divide” do not adequately capture the ability to interact with open resources. To enrich our understanding of these challenges it is helpful to turn to a related discipline, namely ICT4D, that has developed the concept of ‘meaningful connectivity’ as an alternative to these binary framings.

Combining the concept of ‘meaningful connectivity’ with the Capabilities Approach, a normative approach to human welfare, this talk develops the concept of ‘meaningful openness’ through which to problematize current inequities within the Open Science landscape. The talk outlines how meaningful openness can capture the constraints that an individual experiences when engaging with engagement with open resources.

Session 2 Wednesday 17 July 2024, 8:30-10:00
Location: NU-4B05

Chair: Louise Bezuidenhout (University of Leiden)
Speakers: Ismael Ràfols (University of Leiden), Paola Castaño (University of Exeter), Mariana Pitta Lima (CIDACS, Center  for Data and Knowledge  Integration  for Health – Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Fiocruz) and Gustaf Nelhans (University of Borås)

This session will take the format of a dialogue that brings together insights from the first session of this panel “The limits of open Research: Critical Views and New Perspectives” (Panel 074) and “Interrogating Openness and Equity in the Data-Centric Life Sciences” (Panel 095). The focus of the dialogue will be on monitoring equitable open science practices. 

In the various recent efforts to monitor open science practices globally and ensure comparability across contexts (OSMI 2024, Hrynaszkiewicz and Heid, 2024), equity and inclusion are mentioned but in a peripheral or circumscribed manner.  However, as contributors to the panels have pointed out regarding the conceptualization of open science (Leonelli, 2023) and its monitoring (Ràfols and Bezuidenhout, 2024), these issues are at the core of the challenges of implementing open science. In consequence, it is  insufficient to rely only on bibliometric outputs, data and code sharing as criteria of evaluation. Thus, if principles and practices of equity and inclusion are at the core of critical understandings of open science, how to monitor their enactment? 

In conversation with the audience, the four panellists will address the following specific questions:

  • What constitutes  criteria of success for the implementation of open science in the settings in which you conduct research? Which dimensions or properties of research can be monitored to describe these criteria of success?
  • What are the roles of the various key stakeholder communities (researchers, infrastructure providers, funders, governmental agencies and non-profit organisations) in processes of monitoring different dimensions of open science?  
  • What are the epistemic, policy and social roles of monitoring practices? To which extent they are mechanisms of control or foster learning? How to address specific concerns in low-resourced research environments such as unequal access, data extractivism, and disparate resources in monitoring efforts? 
  • Beyond the presentation of demographic categories as static data points, what could be process-oriented ways of monitoring equitable practices in open science that could account for connections between researchers and systems of practice?