Domain Four: The Evolution of Science and Science Systems

Scientific procedures, scientific organizations and scientists themselves must continually adapt to changes in knowledge, technologies and societal norms. Science systems must be open and agile, and should adjust in ways that safeguard scientific freedom and advance scientific responsibility, rigour and relevance. Traditional systems of scientific discovery and innovation have given the world immensely beneficial and transformative knowledge and innovation. Now they must respond to pressures for greater interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration, to the explosion of digital technologies, as well as the imperative to ensure that science systems represent and promote the intellectual contributions of women and other under-represented groups, and respect and engage with indigenous knowledge. There is increasing recognition of the need for change in scientific systems, including the reform of academic incentives, funding systems, processes of scientific publication, and scientific norms in the private sector.

💾 Download the full working papers for projects in Domain Four

4.1 Gender equality in science: from awareness to transformation

The persistent under-representation and unequal capacity to exercise agency of women in science is the subject of much academic research, of an ever-growing resource of case studies and advisory reports, and of longstanding debate. It has prompted policy intervention at institutional and political levels within national, regional and international scientific communities. Yet generally effective practice to correct this anomaly remains elusive. The current task must be to ensure that scientists and science systems throughout the world adopt working processes and practices that banish inequitable gender roles and norms, address unequal power dynamics, and promote the status of women in science, in ways that go beyond mere gender awareness in favour of effective, transformative action.

Anticipated impact

Increased gender equality in global science, through improved sharing and use of evidence for gender policies and programmes in scientific institutions and organizations at national, regional and international levels.

Next steps

The ISC will convene existing international initiatives on gender equality in science, including those by the Council’s members, as well as those of the Global Research Council, the InterAcademy Partnership and GenderInSITE, to develop plans for an impactful global initiative on gender equality in science, which could take the form of a virtual platform or resource hub. It would collate existing evidence from ISC members and other scientific organizations on effective policies, programmes and practices to advance gender equality in science; assess the efficacy of those interventions against an agreed set of outcomes; share findings in an accessible way; and encourage policy-makers and practitioners to use the findings to inform their decisions and responses. Partners in this initiative would be challenged to consider additional campaigning actions and partnerships, for example with the Global Young Academy, to support transformative action in this area.


4.2 Refugee and displaced scientists

(Project in progress)

The world is currently witnessing the highest numbers of forcibly displaced people on record. Their migrations are driven by conflict, persecution, violence, political uncertainty, climate change and environmental degradation, and are unlikely to diminish in the coming years. Forced migration affects some of the world’s least well-funded science systems, with relatively low levels of scientific capacity, as well as countries such as Iraq and Syria, which have had strong science systems that are now largely destroyed.

Although the precise total is difficult to assess, the number of scientists involuntarily ‘on the move’ is currently estimated at approximately 60,000 worldwide. Although the issue of migration is high on the world agenda, little attention is given to the consequences of tens of thousands of scientists interrupting their work, whether in terms of global scientific progress or of lost capacity, knowledge and investment at the national level. The forced displacement of scientists ultimately affects the capacity of affected societies to carry out post-conflict reconstruction.

Anticipated impact

Increased international awareness of and attention to the issue of refugee and displaced scientists, through the establishment of a global network of institutions supporting them.

Next steps

This project is being led by The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) under the auspices of Science International (a partnership involving the ISC, TWAS and the Inter-Academy Partnership).

Initial outputs will include a draft position paper for Science International partners and other organizations willing to contribute to an international awareness-raising campaign. The intention is to support the establishment of a global network of institutions which support refugee and displaced scientists, and to identify synergies, gaps and best practices in current efforts. Based on an assessment of impact and lessons learned, a subsequent phase of the project would consider how to develop processes to rebuild national science systems in post-conflict settings.


4.3 Open science in the global south

(Project in progress)

National science systems worldwide are struggling to adapt their infrastructures, capacities, policies and practices to the opportunities and challenges posed by the spread of digital technologies, and to the explosion of scientific data that is supercharging a novel model of data-intensive science. This imperative poses a particularly acute dilemma for the many relatively poorly funded science systems of the Global South. Do they attempt to adapt, with their relatively slender resources, or do they stand aside, risking national stagnation of scientific progress and isolation from creative streams of social, cultural and economic opportunity?

A creative response to this dilemma could be provided by regional collaboration to develop ‘platforms’ or ‘commons’ that provide and manage access to data, computational hardware, connectivity and the tools and concepts required for effective practice, in training and capacity development, and in data-intensive application activities directed towards productive scientific, societal and economic outputs and outcomes that are regionally relevant. There are important moves to establish such platforms in the Global South, including in Africa, in Latin America and in the Asia Pacific region. These developments also coincide with emergence of the new ‘open science’ paradigm based on three pillars: open data, open access publishing and open engagement of science with society.

This provides a potentially powerful basis for regional development, calling on scientists to work more interactively through greater sharing of data and ideas, and to engage more effectively with policy-makers, business, communities and citizens as knowledge partners in the co-design and co-production of solutions-oriented knowledge. In an era when solutions to global problems need global engagement, the danger associated with the rapid development of data-intensive, open science is that yet another knowledge divide will be created between the Global North and the Global South, not only to the detriment of the latter, but to the detriment of all.

Anticipated impact

Positioning scientists and science systems in the Global South at the cutting edge of dataintensive open science, through the development of efficiencies of scale, the creation of critical mass through shared capacities, and amplifying impact through a commonality of purpose and voice at regional levels.

Next steps

In collaboration with CODATA, the Council has been working with its Regional Offices and other partner organizations to create regional Open Science Platforms that will convene and coordinate regional interests, ideas, people, institutions and resources needed to advance data-intensive, solutions-oriented research in the Global South. They are intended to create critical mass through shared capacity, and to amplify impact through their shared purpose and voice. The Platforms will function as federated systems, providing connective tissue between dispersed infrastructures and actors, bringing them together in advancing datadriven science in the Global South for social and economic benefit.

A pilot study for a Pan-African Open Science Platform (AOSP) was launched in December 2016 with the support of the South African Department of Science and Innovation and in collaboration with the Academy of Science of South Africa and the South African National Research Foundation. Planning is under way for the launch in 2020 of the AOSP operational phase. Inspired by the African example, there are now parallel initiatives in the process of development in Asia and the Pacific and in Latin America and the Caribbean. The potential for a successful South-South network of regional platforms, closely connected to analogous developments in the Global North, augurs well for healthy global collaboration as equals rather than as in the donor-recipient model of the recent past. The ISC will seek support for such a network. A Global Open Science Commons may be a practicable and desirable longer-term outcome.


4.4 The future of scientific publishing

(Project for development)

Accessible publication of the results and ideas arising from research is a fundamental part of the scientific enterprise. Yet technological change, an explosion in demand for journal outlets, monopolistic behaviour on the part of publishers, and the use of journal impact factors and cited publications as primary indicators of scientific merit, have created systemic instability in scientific publishing. With many institutions and researchers excluded from accessing articles that are hidden behind paywalls, there are increasing calls for the reform of scientific publishing in order to further the global progress of science. It is clear that the system is no longer fulfilling the needs of its main audience: scholarly researchers and the institutions in which they work. At the same time, open access is lauded as a means of increasing the use of scientific evidence in decision-making, and overcoming inequities in access to knowledge, particularly in poorer countries and institutions. However, routes to open access are far from resolved, as debates around the European Commission’s ‘Plan S’ initiative have demonstrated. The scientific publishing model is ripe for renewal. The Council will undertake a major review, involving key stakeholders, of the role of publishing in the scientific enterprise, as a basis for identifying pathways for change that maximize the potential for rigour, creativity and impact.

Anticipated impact

Agreement on a set of principles for scientific publishing to maximize benefit to global science and wider audiences for scientific research; and their advocacy among the wider community of science producers, users, funders and publishers.

Next steps

Rather than starting from the present business model, the project will begin by defining what the contemporary scientific enterprise needs from scientific publishing. The ISC will initiate further conversations with experts in scientific publishing, and review existing initiatives towards the development of operational principles for scientific publishing in the 21st century. These principles will be refined jointly with members and partners before publication and the launch of an advocacy campaign to promote change. The ISC recently published a series of interviews on Plan S and Open Access and will continue to explore current issues and possible responses.


4.5 Knowledge production and diffusion as global public goods

(Project for development)

When freely released into the public domain, scientific knowledge is by economic definition a public good. It is most efficient in realizing benefit when it is made rapidly accessible and usable to the largest number in the public domain. Its effectiveness in serving the public good depends both upon the efficiency with which new knowledge is created and the speed with which it diffuses through the public space. This efficiency is, or should be, of concern to the tax-paying public and to governments which fund science from the public purse.

It is critical however that new knowledge be comprehensible to those who may be able to use it in innovative ways through all sectors of society. There are three principle modern pathways through which new scientific knowledge finds its way into society: through education, through the mass media, including the web, and through the publication of scientific results. Universities are particularly important in these processes, having the advantage of combining knowledge creation through research and education. Academics, who individually embody these two roles, therefore have a crucial role to play. But their behaviour, and that of the institutions that employ them, has been increasingly driven by proxy measures of the short-term impact of scientific research. The extent to which these indicators measure impact on the public good is questionable. These indicators do however focus overwhelmingly on research production, in particular on numbers of published research articles and citations, which has increased the pressure on academics to devote themselves to publication, compounding the trend towards a research-dominated model for universities, potentially to the detriment of their educational role. Moreover, such proxies can be gamed in ways that satisfy the targets but have little relation to the fundamental purpose of a university. The present system of metrics poses pressing questions for individual scientists and for the global scientific enterprise.

Anticipated impact

To identify and promote systems of metrics, and rules for their use that could be adopted at national level and which would enhance the value of research in serving the public good.

Next steps

This project would explore appropriate ways of evaluating scientific work, the effects of metrics on scientific careers and on the balance between research and education, and the potential for universal metrics. The ISC will consult members and partner organizations, undertake a summary mapping of “alt metrics” projects, and convene a small international group of experts representing disciplinary, sectoral and diverse national interests to determine a potential project focus and a longerterm work plan.