Ismail Serageldin


Open Science in an Open World

 04/05/2016 | STOA-STS Forum “Adapting to the changing world through Science, Technology and Innovation”, 4 May 2016 Brussels



Open Science in an Open World


Ismail Serageldin


Delivered at the


“Adapting to the changing world through Science, Technology and Innovation”

4 May 2016



Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen


We are gathered here today to address the issue of how the rapidly increasing pace of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) is both changing the world we live in and allowing us to adapt to that rapidly changing world. The pace of innovation is matched by an ever faster rate of adoption of new technologies.  Witness the mobile phone where penetration is so stunning that there are actually more mobile lines than there are humans on the planet.  Witness the internet. Who a generation ago would have imagined the transformations that it has wreaked?  From international transactions where billions of dollars are transferred around the world with the click of a mouse and the flight of an electron, to where we have literally digitized almost all the available information in the world and put it at our fingertips. And in addition, we have witnessed the rise of the social media to where Facebook connects more than a billion people every day.   Within that context, the issue before us is how to promote “Open science in an open world”.


The need for openness in the practice of science is fundamental.  You cannot make claims that are not backed up by replicable results.  The material must be available to others who will undertake the replication of claimed successes, the falsification of results, and because of the transparency scientists build on the work of other scientists.  In addition, there is a clear argument for transparency: the people are entitled to know.


But more importantly the enormous amount of new information that we are putting ourselves on the internet is changing the whole notion of open data and open science as we put more than an Exabyte of new data on the Internet every day.  An Exabyte is about 100,000 times the data you would get if you digitized the whole amount of text in the Library of Congress.  Part of that is the new output of scientific experiments like the Kilometer Square Array of radio-astronomy. But a more important driver of open science is the belief of many, if not most scientists, that science should be open and the results available to all.  They publish in open journals such as PLOS.  So much for the “open Science”… it is increasing every day.  What about the “open world”?


Today, the new technology is enabling us to collect enormous amounts of data on a scale that was totally unimaginable a mere decade ago.  We have ushered in what has been rightly referred to as the era of “Big Data”.  Driven by ever more powerful computers and also by the public’s eagerness to put out information about themselves via Facebook, Twitter or other social media, making possible detailed analysis by those who have access to the data, to the point where the question of privacy has acquired totally new dimensions.


However, since the private sector now funds over two-thirds of global research, and is driven by a desire for proprietary ownership of data, the era of open science for all will also have to find a new balance between the public and private interests.  But, through STI, we have succeeded in finding the right balance in the past, and I do not doubt that we will succeed again.


Thank you.



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