Launched earlier this fall, the Knowledge Equity Lab (KEL) is calling for pluralistic approaches to knowledge production. With next generation leaders at its core, the lab works to cultivate and support an intentionally diverse community of initiatives with a common aim to reduce the vast inequities that exist in science, scholarship, and knowledge production at large.
“This is an opportunity to bring together various projects with common themes of understanding the power dynamics of knowledge making and circulation in different contexts. It allows conversations among the different partners to enrich each other’s ideas going forward,” said Leslie Chan, director of the KEL and associate professor at the Centre for Critical Development Studies, University of Toronto Scarborough, where the lab is based.
KEL serves as an umbrella for Bioline International, a long standing open access platform for journals based in the Global South, and the Open and Collaborative Science for Development Network (OCSDNet), exploring open science as a tool for transformative development. It also houses The Knowledge G.A.P. project, the Open Praxis Forum, Community Knowledge Learning Hub, and the UNESCO Knowledge for Change Toronto Hub, all working towards bridging and weaving knowledge traditions both locally and internationally through intentional collaborations with diverse and often under-represented knowledge holders.
Conversations about Open Access that focus on who pays for journal articles are too narrow, maintains Chan. “It doesn’t take into account the structural barriers faced by the majority of the people involved with research who are outside the mainstream of the Academy,” Chan says. “There are many people making knowledge who are important and whom we should listen to and learn from. We want to draw attention to this issue.”
In addition, the lab’s other mission is to get students thinking about research in new ways.
“Learning often takes place outside of the classroom,” Chan says. “The lab is a chance for students to be engaged in first-hand research, in active knowledge making.”
With a limited number of jobs in academia, Chan wants to expose students to careers using their research skills to help organizations solve societal problems.
Some early career researchers active in SPARC’s OpenCon community are leaders within the lab on initiatives to support a new generation of scholars with a broad view of how science can be communicated. Undergraduate students from across disciplines – development, health studies, biology and linguistics – are paired with community partners, such as local nonprofit organizations on the projects. Chan is developing a fellowship program to add to the crew of around 20 students currently involved.
Helping Chan carry out the work for the new enterprise is Maggie Huang, a graduate of the international development program at the University of Toronto Scarborough and coordinator for the lab. While working with a Toronto-based non-profit on a youth participatory action research project, she took part in the mentorship training program for UNESCO’s Knowledge 4 Change global consortium and was trained a a community-based research mentor with the philosophy that knowledge is most useful when co-created and driven by community members, rather than an academic with a predetermined research question.
“The purpose and process of research and learning shouldn’t be limited to elite academia, whose forms of knowledge transmission are often inaccessible to the general public, whether due to barriers like paywalled research or the use of jargon,” Huang says. “It should be co-created with communities to address real-world problems that people are experiencing.”
Huang says she hopes the lab will be a space for collaboration and experimentation, where people can explore other forms of knowledge sharing – through the arts, storytelling, social media, etc. – that aren’t historically recognized as legitimate. “I’m really inspired by the creativity and activism of the next generation to show us new modes and platforms to share knowledge and advance social change,” she says.
Tasneem Mewa is an undergraduate student studying Critical International Development Studies at the University of Toronto, Scarborough and is a co-creator of the lab’s Open Praxis Forum (OPF). OPF is a website where researchers can submit their work in a variety of mediums (papers, photos, videos, etc.) and contributors are asked to reflect on their research experience.
The project was born during a session at OpenCon 2018, and it aims to highlight the research process, not simply research outputs. Mewa envisions a more equitable system for sharing information that involves consensual knowledge creation, ethics of care for both researchers, and communities impacted by research projects and collaboration.
“It’s important for students to get research experience to unlearn some of the conventions we have been taught, to value a variety of knowledges and epistemologies, to become better listeners, and to learn how to bridge theory and practice,” Mewa says.
Although Alejandro Posada has a full-time public policy consulting job in Bogota, Colombia, he continues to work with the lab’s Knowledge G.A.P. project where he has published about the financial and economic behavior of the publishing industry and its implications to knowledge inequity. A 2016 graduate of the University of Toronto Scarborough, Posada recently completed a master’s program at Oxford University and also assists with the lab’s new research fellowship program.
Although the lab is operating virtually now, it has physical space on the campus provided by the university. Here, Chan hopes students and community partners will gather and the lab can host workshops and community events. “The lab is a place where a lot of projects come together,” Posada says. “The way in which [Chan] has created spaces for students to critically engage in the production of knowledge is quite inspiring.”
When COVID-19 hit Edinburgh, Karin Purshouse didn’t hesitate to put her doctoral studies on hold and join fellow physicians on the front lines.
“People have asked me if I was keen to go back to clinical work. I was desperate to go back,” says Purshouse, a clinical and academic cancer doctor at the University of Edinburgh. “You feel that’s your purpose. That’s what I was trained to do. You don’t want your colleagues to be struggling without you.”
Along with healthcare providers around the world, the Wellcome Trust PhD fellow is seeing the need for fast-tracked guidance on the virus and patient treatment. She is turning to preprints for the information, not having the luxury to wait for an article to appear months later in a traditional journal.
“Preprint articles hosted by the likes of Medrxiv or ResearchGate are being widely used by clinical teams all around the world as their outlet of choice for the latest information,” says Purshouse. “What’s become really apparent during COVID is that, for clinicians, open research is particularly vital and achievable. We’ve seen a complete change in how clinical research has been shared.”
Purshouse maintains that open peer review is the best way for people to judge for themselves what to extract from a piece of work since clinical research involves many variables — depending on different health care systems and demographics. While there has been some concern about quality control with preprints, Purshouse counters that major errors and limitations have been identified in a small number of high-impact, peer reviewed articles and there is an advantage with transparency.
“I think we should look at research differently — as a piece of work that will have caveats, which is true whether the peer review process is at the beginning or the peer review process is ongoing. Pre-prints make that open and clear” says Purshouse.
Within her specialty as an oncologist, Purshouse is participating in another massive collaborative project (the UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project) searching for answers about the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patient care. “That’s another example of this openness that we are seeing and I hope is the future,” says Purshouse, whose husband is an emergency room resident.
About 10 years ago as a medical student, Purshouse became involved with SPARC’s student program and later attended OpenCon to learn more about open access with other early career researchers. The experience inspired her to help develop an open access policy for the British Medical Association. When Purshouse later became a Fulbright Scholar, she proposed the organization explore an open access policy as well.
Now, in a clinical setting, Purshouse says merely discussing preprints during the global pandemic is pushing the open agenda forward. “Our department is regularly summarizing and sharing appraisals of the most up-to-date evidence, and this has highlighted that much of the key research is first being published in pre-print format. The clinical community is having a conversation about how we share clinical research in a way we’ve not seen before – that in itself is advocacy” says Purshouse.
Many of her colleagues were simply not aware of open access prior to the pandemic, but Purshouse says this has been a “watershed moment” to educate and come to realize its value. Some information, for instance, on how hospitals are operating differently to accommodate coronavirus patients may not interest a journal, yet clinicians would benefit from sharing best practices.
Practitioners are so crunched for time to get the latest research, Purshouse says that this crisis has illuminated the utility of preprints and she’d welcome the chance to write about its impact
“I think it’s important that we learn the lessons. I don’t think we will ever go back – or should go back,” she says. “Preprints should be the dream for clinicians. You don’t have to pay to publish it, and you don’t have to wait to read it. That’s pretty powerful. The key now is starting a dialogue about how pre-prints can drive up publishing quality as part of an open peer review process.”
As a postdoctoral fellow at University of Toronto, Rachel Harding spends her days in the lab researching Huntington’s disease. Specifically, the early career scientist is trying to understand the mutated protein structure in individuals with Huntington’s in hopes of discovering new avenues for treatment.
Harding is an advocate of open science, sharing what she learns through her research online in real time.
“One thing I’ve always felt strongly about is equity of information,” says Harding, a native of the United Kingdom. “The work I’m doing is funded by patient-based charities. The money we are spending in the lab is raised through bake sales and running marathons. I feel it’s my inherent duty and responsibility when using research money raised in those ways or through tax dollars to create the maximum impact. No one can argue that locking research behind a pay wall is going to do that.”
Sharing results in real time
Since 2015, Harding has worked at the Structural Genomics Consortium where the philosophy is to accelerate research into understudied aspects of the human genome and make all output freely available to the scientific community. Harding maintains a blog, Lab Scribbles, where she uploads data in its rawest form, providing a taste of the everyday reality of being a postdoctoral scientist.
“It’s helped me be a better scientist. You have to constantly write and reevaluate your work,” says Harding, of operating with an open notebook as part of her routine work flow. “That self-evaluation is really productive for me. Writing up your experiments as you go along has benefitted my research and I hope it encourages other people to do the same.”
Harding says there is a “small army” of like-minded scientists and they are getting positive feedback sharing their work as they go rather than waiting to publish in a journal. It’s a bit like “laying your soul to bear” to be realistic and open, but Harding says is important skill for researchers learn. It’s a useful to be reflective, compare findings to the original goal and continually present, she adds.
Working to make a difference
Harding, who has an undergraduate degree in molecular and cellular biochemistry and a doctorate in pathology from Oxford University, always wanted to be a scientist. She says she’s struck by how some older researchers can be jaded, only publishing results that give them prestige and advance their careers.
“Most people get into science because they want to help people. It’s important that we always remember that,” says Harding whose work at the nonprofit SGC is dedicated improving the lives of everyone affected by Huntington’s disease. Harding says she’s motivated to do all she can to help people who die at an early age from this rare disease where the gene has been mapped but the search is on for therapies to help patients deal with a “quality of life that is unimaginable” for most who endure the symptoms.
In her blog, Harding aims to make science accessible. She summarizes each post and explains the reason she undertook an experiment, the methods, its outcomes, and overall relevance in plain language without scientific jargon. “The more people who can understand this work, the better,” says Harding. Her approach with “interactive science’ aims to connect with patients, academics and the general public. Harding is also active on social media sharing her research.
Envisioning a more transparent future
Harding attended her first OpenCon meeting sponsored by SPARC in 2016 and was encouraged by the energy of the early career researchers. She became a committed advocate for the open agenda and joined the SPARC Steering Committee in April.
Although she understands the concerns among some researchers about being scooped working in open science, Harding says she optimistic that transparency will eventually be common practice in labs. She says the landscape is changing as pre-prints become the norm, funders tie grant to open science, and more people question the value of pay walls operated by commercial journals.
“Having innovative solutions to scholarly communication and research open to as many people as possible is really important,” says Harding. “You are marking your place in the environment with your stamp and data as you move along…We are presenting so many other aspects of our lives online in real time, why should science be any different?”
Harding joined the SPARC Steering Committee in 2019.
Reposted from the SPARC blog which is profiling with members of the OpenCon community.
As healthcare providers and researchers increasingly turn to preprints during the COVID-19 outbreak, two early career advocates are doing their part to promote this practice and improve the process.
Monica Granados is on the leadership team of PREreview (Post, Read, and Engage with preprint review), an organization working to bring more diversity to scholarly peer review by supporting and empowering community of researchers, particularly those at early stages of their career (ECRs) to review preprints.
On their platform, people can share their feedback on freely available scientific manuscripts that have not yet undergone editorial peer review.
PREreview uses preprints as a medium to help researchers—particularly, those early in their careers—learn how to do peer review at a stage where the authors are still able to integrate those comments. Since it was established in late 2017, the organization expanded from providing resources to serve as a platform for live, virtual preprint journal clubs. PREreview also trains young scientists on how the process works with a mentorship program.
“We have a suite of different resources to facilitate researchers doing effective peer review using open source and open science,” says Granados, who operates PREreview with co-founders Daniela Saderi and Samantha Hindle. “We started as three women just out of grad school thinking that this was a side project to something, and it has become pretty influential.”
The organization was particularly poised to address some of the problems in the scholarly environment with the onset of the pandemic. Without scientists meeting in their labs in person, PREreview has hosted virtual journal lab clubs on COVID-19, one with the Journal of Medical Internet Research and another with PLOS Pathogens, that brought together people from around with clinical or epidemiology expertise to review timely preprints.
In January, PREreview launched a new rapid review platform that provides a structured review with multiple choice questions assessing the robustness of the manuscript along with a few free response questions.
“The idea is to lower that barrier to allow people with expertise to review as many manuscripts as possible,” says Granados. “It was a great coincidence that this tool was available, specifically designed for outbreak and health-related manuscripts. We didn’t realize just how useful it would be. We have been really busy because we have these resources and platforms that address major problems in the scholarly communication landscape that have arisen because of COVID-19.”
PREreview is a solution for the problem of how to deal with quality control with the volume of preprints being produced, Granados says. “This isn’t just about COVID-19. These practices should continue after we’ve mitigated this pandemic,” says Granados, who attended OpenCon in 2018 and credits the experience with inspiring her passion for this work. “Being part of the open community and doing open science is more than a job for me. It’s a bit of my purpose. I want to leave the world a little more open than when I came.”
For Jessica Polka, attending OpenCon in 2016 and 2017 helped inform her work with ASAPBio, where she is executive director. She is committed to helping science communication be more efficient and posted her first preprint in 2014. “It just struck me as one of the most concrete ways the researchers can affect changes in the culture of publishing,” says Polka.
COVID-19 is driving home the need for open practices, putting increased attention on scientific research and preprints. About 38 percent of literature on COVID-19 being posted every week is in the form of a preprint rather than a journal article, notes Polka. Only about 2 percent of the overall biomedical research was posted as a preprint last year, compared to 7 percent this year.
“There is an urgent need for rapid exchange of information that has increased the use of preprints in the last few months,” says Polka. “It’s exciting and is demonstrating to many people a way of communicating that they may not have used before.” (See new preprint article Polka recently coauthored on the role of preprints in a pandemic.)
With the broad exposure, however, come challenges. Reporting about the use of preprints in the media doesn’t always capture the nuance of the process and preprints have the capability of spread misinformation. Polka says it’s important to consider how servers are conducting their screening policies.
To address that issue, ASAPbio created a directory earlier this year of 44 preprint server policies to help people understand how servers operate. Polka also helped ASAPBio develop a new resource page in early May that tracks preprint trends and policies related to open science. It will be updated with answers to frequently asked questions about preprints and provide links to other resources about what journals are doing in response to the pandemic.
Polka says attending OpenCon gave her the skills she needed to think more deeply about culture change in publishing and connections she’s leveraged. “It provided a model for a community of people working together,” she says. “The environment of OpenCon has been essential in enabling me and my colleagues to proceed in our work.”
Reposted from the SPARC blog which is profiling with members of the OpenCon community.
Working as a journalist in Hong Kong, Linda Lew has drawn on her experience from OpenCon in her coverage of the novel coronavirus.
The early career reporter for the South China Morning Post went to Wuhan, China in early January to cover the outbreak of the then-unknown virus. Lew went in with as much precautions as were suggested at the time – a facemask, gloves, and disinfecting spray. Looking back, she says she’s lucky that she didn’t contract COVID-19. Since then, Lew has sometimes been putting in 10-12 hour days writing articles on everything from policies to politics to the impact of the global pandemic on scholarly communication.
“COVID has shined a large spotlight on the exorbitant cost of academic publishing,” Lew says. “When the virus first spread in February, it felt to me, personally—and to other members of the OpenCon community—that it was unacceptable that so much of COVID research was still behind paywalls. That kind of outdated model just boggles my mind when a pandemic is on.”
Many publishers have granted access to critical research in response to the crisis, but Lew worries that it is temporary. In her reporting, she is trying to explain the need for open science and open access to readers—many of whom are not aware of the issue. Even her editor, Lew says, was baffled when she explained how commercial publishers make high profits from tax-payer funded that is not open to the public.
Lew attended OpenCon in 2016 and 2017 curious to learn more about how to make knowledge available to her readers. She then served on OpenCon’s organizing committee in 2018.
“When I saw this community of people who were fighting to change the status quo and driving more equal access to data, I applied,” Lew says. “As journalists, we are public facing and trying to bring information to the masses. That was the goal in my mind.”
Lew says she left OpenCon eager to find ways to collaborate with other journalists and has since taken advantage of crowd sourcing projects. She plans to participate in an online COVID-19 monitoring project, sponsored by the Correspondent, calling for journalists to help build a database of policies to compare trends in technology surveillance of the virus.
Recently, Lew has written about preprints and the rapid peer review process to help the research community find the best science related to COVID-19. The article has been getting traction from advocates of open and push back from publisher trade industry groups.
“As time goes on, most of the COVID research has been made freely available,” says Lew, who has been at the Post since 2018. “The question remains whether the model will remain the way it is… or only become open when an outbreak happens, which does not seem fair to advocates of Open Access.”
With so much attention on Open Science at the moment, Lew says she is likely going to cover the topic more. She’s been able to leverage connections she made at OpenCon for sources in her reporting. As the concept of open is more broadly understood by the public, Lew says she is optimistic support will grow.
“We really need to think of a more sustainable and equitable model going forward,” Lew says. “I hope maybe through the media coverage and the change that has happened, this can be more on top of people’s mind.”
Reposted from the SPARC blog which is profiling with members of the OpenCon community.
Over the next month, we’ll be reposting interviews from the SPARC blog with members of the OpenCon community who have been on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19.
Roshan Kumar Karn puts in 16 to 18 hours, seven day a week, working at two hospitals in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu caring for the influx of patients with COVID-19.
“It’s a really difficult time. It’s physically and mentally exhausting,” says the 27-year-old medical doctor, who works in the cumbersome, but necessary, personal protective equipment. “But this is my job and I’m passionate about medicine.”
As a student and participant in SPARC’s OpenCon program for early career open advocates, Karn recognized the value of the open sharing of research. In 2013, he established Open Access Nepal and has hosted regional meetings to garnersupport. Through hardships of earthquakes, political instability, and now the novel coronavirus, Karn has been a leader working with policy makers and campus administrators to advance Open.
With the country straining to manage the pandemic and provide information to healthcare workers on the frontlines, Karn is pushing for innovative approaches to sharing data and expanding access to educational materials.
“With the emerging crisis of COVID-19, we believe that openness is more necessary than ever,” says Karn. “We are not sure when we are going back to normalcy, and we need to have access to information with the click of a button from anywhere.”
Working to contain this new disease, physicians are eager for the latest information on new protocols for COVID patients – as well as people battling other conditions. Karn is laying the foundation for a freely available app he hopes to launch called Open Medicine, which will provide doctors in Nepal with instant access to treatment options based on diagnoses.
The aim is to reduce the referral rates and need to travel from elsewhere in the country to hospitals in Kathmandu. Nepal has difficult terrain – in some places the only means of transportation is walking – and air travel to the capital is expensive. Once in the city, many discover government hospitals are at capacity because of the influx of COVID-19 patients. For most, private hospitals are not affordable and without insurance people have to pay out of pocket for treatment. Also, families who bring loved ones to Kathmandu encounter expenses while awaiting access to healthcare.
Yet, small villages in the country have Primary Health Care centers with physicians and healthcare assistants. “With Open Medicine, our aim is to equip these people with the resources – diagnosis, treatment protocols, medicine for specific diagnoses – so that they don’t have to refer these low income group people to tertiary centers,” Karn says. “This will eliminate the need for referral, aid in timely treatment, reduce significant costs for the patients, provide access to treatment to those people who would otherwise be unable to visit the capital city for treatment and in the long run will reduce the mortality and morbidity amongst these patients.”
Karn adds that the concept of Open Medicine aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to reduce mortality of patients by giving adequate resources for diagnosis and treatment.
The app would be similar to UptoDate, which is used by clinicians around the world to quickly distill the latest medical research and aid in treatment decision making. Karn is working with other physicians involved with OA Nepal to do a feasibility study for the project and customize the app for Nepal. The team is talking with deans of medical school and the Ministry of Education (MOE) to raise funds for the project.
“Access to research should come free or with a minimal cost. It’s about equality – the basic human right to have access to quality publications, research and education,” Karn says.
Karn is also collaborating with the MOE to establish a digital library to give children in Nepal access to learning materials. With schools closed for months and no plans to reopen, the project has a new urgency.
“The COVID pandemic has emphasized the importance of Open Access and Open Education more than ever,” Karn says. “I intend to explore all avenues which will further our agenda of openness.”
At OpenCon in 2015, Karn was recognized with the Right to Research Coalition Next Generation Leadership Award.
Of the Open effort in Nepal, Karn says: “It’s a huge struggle, but I’m really optimistic. I never thought we’d get this far in a country that faces so much poverty. We will make our dreams come true.”
Over the past 6 years, the OpenCon community has hosted many, many virtual discussions, and while it’s impossible to replicate the dynamics of being together in person, we’ve learned some important lessons for helping to make online meetings more inviting, participatory, and people-focused. As COVID pushes so many discussions online (from regular team meetings to entire conferences), we wanted to share some of those lessons in case they’re helpful in adapting to this shift in hosting conversations online.
We’ve been refining an OpenCon Community Call Facilitation Guide, which we’ve shared directly with those hosting community calls, and we’re now sharing it with the wider community. The guide is written in the context of OpenCon community calls specifically; however, many of the suggestions are broadly applicable.
We’ve learned that even seemingly small tweaks can make a big difference, and we hope our experience can provide one more piece of backup to the community as so many make this shift so quickly. Thanks to all of the OpenCon community call hosts who put incredible effort into leading these discussions and to Joe McArthur who led the creation of this guide.