Skip to main content

Observing and Negating Matthew Effects in Responsible Research and Innovation Transition

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ON-MERRIT (Observing and Negating Matthew Effects in Responsible Research and Innovation Transition)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2022-03-31

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), and especially Open Science (including Open Access to publications and research data), promise to make science more inclusive, participatory, accessible and re-usable for large audiences within and outside of academia. The question remains, however, whether this promise can be fulfilled.

Success in research and innovation should primarily build and depend on merit; on clarity of thought, innovation of ideas, and integrity of processes. However, external factors like personal characteristics, prior reputation or available resources continue to have a strong impact on researchers’ careers. Making processes open does not in itself drive wide re-use or participation absent the capacity to do so. Those in possession of such resources and capacities benefit from an advantage over those without them. This reality puts at risk RRI’s agenda of inclusivity and highlights the role of “cumulative advantage” (the so-called “Matthew Effect”) in creating an unequal playing field.

ON-MERRIT (Observing and Negating Matthew Effects in Responsible Research & Innovation Transition) was a 30-month project to investigate how and if open and responsible research practices could, despite their good intentions, perpetuate existing inequalities. Our multidisciplinary team used qualitative and computational methods in order to examine advantages and disadvantages in Open Science and Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI), and then co-creative methods to synthesise this knowledge to make innovative recommendations to avoid these pitfalls.
The research we conducted, which is available in a range of public deliverables, extends the state of the art in multiple ways:

- Our investigation of changing practices in the dissemination of scientific findings found that it is the higher ranked, more prosperous and more prestigious institutions that appear best able to adopt, adapt to, and benefit from, the evolving landscape of Open Access publishing. These trends hold true over time, on the global level, and when broken down to individual continents and subject areas (Sustainable Development Goals). Persistent structural inequalities in contemporary academic publishing are not necessarily remedied by the Open Science movement, with specific trends such as APC-driven OA publishing potentially worsening dynamics of cumulative advantage. If research on key global issues is only driven by well-resourced actors, it risks being oblivious to challenges faced by societies and communities less embedded into the global production of knowledge.
- Our analysis of documents on promotion, review and tenure within academic institutions shows that criteria for Open Science/RRI remain rare and measures associated with quantification largely dominate (albeit with some important differences between countries). Our international survey of researchers confirmed these findings. Looking ahead to how the academic reward system might be improved, we must be careful not merely to propagate the “tyranny of metrics” responsible for many of the ills within the current system. Simply uncritically introducing further indicators accounting for Open Science/RRI practices may do more harm than good.
- Investigating how science is taken up by policy-makers, we found many factors that are more important than Open Science. Additionally, Open Science and RRI, as they are currently practised within the contexts of academic and scientific institutions, are not doing enough and are not yet widely enough adopted to have a significant impact on expanding equitable participation in scientific knowledge production and policy-making. Further, we found that the Matthew effect and other forms of cumulative advantage and disadvantage are present within both processes, and are interacting with historical systems of inequality, including racism, sexism, ageism, classism and the lingering effects of colonialism.

Our final recommendations for funders, research institutions and researchers (https://zenodo.org/record/6276753) developed together with a community of stakeholders spotlight dynamics of equity, especially as they relate to the need for truly open and shared infrastructures, services, and training, as well as the centrality of aligning rewards and recognitions to foster open and responsible practices. They also underline the need for global thinking in two senses of that term: greater shared understanding and dialogue amongst stakeholders from across the world and joined-up approaches which target reform of the research ecosystem as a whole. In highlighting these issues, we do not aim to imply that Open Research is anything other than the right direction of travel. However, given its commonly held aim of increasing equity, any potential for Open Research to actually drive inequalities must be taken seriously by the academic community in order to realise the aim of making science truly open and collaborative, and ensuring success in research is based, in the end, on merit.
The research we conducted, which is available in a range of public deliverables, extends the state of the art in multiple ways. Firstly, our interdisciplinary combination of sociological, bibliometric and computational methods to study a phenomenon (equity in Open Science/RRI) in a holistic systems approach (addressing all elements of the quadruple helix) have shown tremendous potential which will be leveraged in future studies. Our research has also found many areas of concern, from which we identified four key areas of risk:

- Resource-intensity of Open Research: Putting open and responsible research into practice requires considerable resources (including infrastructures, services, and training), which is not distributed equally.
- Article-processing charges and the stratification of Open Access publishing: The article processing charge (APC) model within Open Access publishing seems to discriminate against those with limited resources (especially those from less-resourced regions and institutions). These facts seem to be having effects of stratification in terms of who publishes where.
- Societal inclusion in research and policy-making: Open and responsible research processes take place within broader social systems where inequalities continue to influence access and privilege certain actors while others are disadvantaged.
- Reform of reward and recognition: Institutional processes for reward and recognition not only do not sufficiently support the uptake of open and responsible research, but often get in the way of them. This disadvantages those who wish to take up these practices (putting early-career researchers especially at risk).

In particular, the evidence created focuses attention on potential unintended consequences of policy-interventions and has helped spur a new, critical phase, of Open Science policy. We have shown that although equity is commonly-stated as a goal of Open Science, some current means of implementation may be working against this goal.
ON-MERRIT Logo