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Is open research driving inequity in science?


  • ON-MERRIT, a European Commission-funded project, has identified 4 areas of risk where the move towards open research may worsen existing inequalities.
  • The project’s coordinator, Dr Tony Ross-Hellauer, provides recommendations on how stakeholders may mitigate these risks.

Among other goals, the move towards open research aims to make science more accessible, inclusive, and equitable for the benefit of all. However, as highlighted by  Dr Tony Ross-Hellauer in a recent Nature article, existing infrastructural inequalities mean that methods that support this move, including increased open access and data sharing, may exacerbate inequity, benefiting those who are already in position of power and privilege. This accumulated advantage is an example of the Matthew effect.

“Open science could become just the extension of privilege.”

Dr Ross-Hellauer is project coordinator of ON-MERRITT (Observing and Negating Matthew Effects in Responsible Research & Innovation Transition), a European Commission-funded initiative that has investigated how cumulative advantage and disadvantage may impact equity in the transition to open research. The project has identified 4 key areas of risk:

  • Resource intensity of open research: well-resourced institutions, regions, and nations are in a better position to engage in open research than those that are less resourced.
  • Article processing charges (APC): APCs discriminate against those with limited resources, resulting in stratification in terms of who publishes where.
  • Societal inclusion in research and policy-making: existing inequalities in broader social systems mean open and responsible research processes privilege some and disadvantage others, such that the most marginalised, vulnerable, and poor in society remain excluded.
  • Reward and recognition: current systems for reward and recognition often act as a barrier to the uptake of open and responsible research, disincentivising or disadvantaging those who wish to take up these practices.

ON-MERRITT has developed recommendations for how funders, institutions, and researchers could mitigate the above threats, highlighting the need for greater shared understanding and global dialogue around open research, and reform of the research system as a whole. Dr Ross-Hellauer suggests that allowing open access without publishing fees and making open practices easier, cheaper, and more valued by promotion and grant evaluators could potentially prevent an increase in inequity.


What do you think – will open research drive further inequity in science?

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