Last year, my colleagues and I organized a webinar on open science, with a focus on Indonesia. One participating university experienced a blackout due to a faulty power grid. In the second place the generator exploded. On a third, buildings were damaged by political riots.
Perhaps most people reading this article would find such obstacles unbearable, but the responses were inspiring. People regrouped and found ways to participate in the webinar or access it later. We advertised via Twitter and verbally and expected only a few attendees – but over 1,000 academics, government employees, students and journalists attended. The message was loud and clear: Indonesia wants to do good research.
Research is relatively new in many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In these areas, young scientists are working to create practice from the very beginning for open science. The aim is that the scientific community will incorporate these theories as they develop. But the needs of these communities are different from those that are part of mature research systems. Therefore, instead of changing and shaping established systems, scientists are attempting to design new ones.
Researchers in these fields face several challenges: lack of funding, inadequate access to literature, and poor infrastructure. They are deprived of government policies that increase apparent productivity at the cost of quality. The development of strong, open research in Indonesia and beyond can have global benefits.
By my estimation, more than 80% of the world’s population lives in areas where research is developing, suggesting largely untapped scientific potential. This diverse group of people will provide new ways of thinking about old problems. And global collaboration will increase each researcher’s access to resources and samples that may currently be out of bounds.
Last year’s webinar was organized with Open Science Indonesia, a grassroots organization of early- and mid-career researchers, and the Center for Open Science, a non-profit organization in Charlottesville, Virginia. Over the past several years, I have worked in other organizations, such as the South East Asia Network for Open Science, a virtual group advocating for the need for restructuring research bodies and reforming education.
This has led to interactions and relationships with researchers, university leaders, librarians and government officials (many of whom are signatories to this article; see supplementary information). Collectively, these inputs suggest five strategies that are important for building robust research systems in countries where the research culture is young.
Set appropriate national policies
Financial and career incentives to publish (or losses from not publishing) are common government policies in countries such as Indonesia, China and Brazil where the research culture is still taking shape. They seek to increase publication volume in order to ‘catch up’ with other countries, but inadvertently encourage poor research practices.
Scientists in India have resorted to publications in predatory journals to boost publication numbers. Similarly, policies that encourage production volumes have led researchers in China to falsify peer reviews. And these are just a few examples of unfair publication incentives that are considered to be of low quality in countries where research systems are developing. As a result, research in these areas is considered unreliable in some circles.
Low-income countries cannot waste resources on funding unreliable research. Policies should therefore be designed to improve transparency, relevance and scientific rigor rather than simply increase output – especially if governments want to use research to inform decision-making. Governments must also provide people with the necessary training, resources and motivation to take into account these changes.
Both policies and their implementation need to reflect the specific needs of each country. For example, asking researchers to submit raw data to public repositories would promote transparency by allowing others to verify and replicate analyses. An added benefit is that other researchers can make more discoveries using the same information. However, data sharing is poorly received in Indonesia because, in the past, data has been taken and published by both local and international researchers without author’s permission.
To address this problem, the Indonesian Institute of Science has developed a secure national data repository called the National Scientific Repository (RIN). Each submission is tagged with metadata for ownership. The institute has held workshops to train researchers on how to use the repository, and is convening a team of national and international researchers to assess its policies for data access and reuse.