Literary Award

Bernard Rentier, winner of the 2019 Political Book Prize

Photo : ©Victoria Solovieva

Professor Bernard Rentier, Prorector of the University of Liège, was awarded the 2019 Political Book Prize at the Political Book Fair for his book "Science ouverte, le défi de la transparence" (Open Science, the Challenge of Transparency)(1) in which he describes the origins, perspectives and objectives of the Open Science concept. Interview with the person who has made Open Access one of the spearheads of the University of Liège, now recognized as one of the pioneering institutions of the movement, and who continues to work so that knowledge can be opened up and shared.

How would you define Open Science?

BR: This is a new approach to the way research is conducted, based on transparency of procedures, freedom of communication between researchers, and unimpeded access to the general public. It is also the recognition, in the careers of researchers, of their qualities of sharing and exchange, and no longer of competition and self-closure.

The principles of Open Science are in line with society's growing demand for more transparency and communication, but it is also in line with the most ancestral principles of Science which have gradually drifted towards an excessive race towards greater productivity and competitiveness. All this leads to a deadlock where the role of research is erased behind other counterproductive motivations for the community.

When did you first hear about Open access or open access to science and what was your reaction to this emerging movement?

BR: This dates back to the time when I was vice-rector of our University (1997-2005), in charge of international relations, research and scientific documentation. My objective was to modernize the operation of libraries, to rationalize them and to computerize them. At that time, we were experiencing the rise of the Internet and the multiplication of its resources and we were discovering the use that researchers around the world were beginning to make of it. The Open Access movement (we were not yet talking about Open Science, far from it!) had just been born (officially in 1994) but was still confined to very small circles of specialists, generally librarians, confronted with the financial difficulties of their institutions and the abnormal increase in the budgets necessary to acquire the necessary documentation.

You have become a strong advocate of free access to knowledge and have made it one of the spearheads of the University of Liège, placing our institution among the pioneers of the movement. Thanks to tools such as ORBi (Open Repository and Bibliogrpahy), you have somehow "forced the researchers' hand", forcing them to reference their publications in an institutional directory.

BR: Indeed, one way to effectively participate in the opening of access was what has been called the "green path of Open Access", i.e. the deposit of publication manuscripts in an open electronic archive that can be consulted free of charge by everyone on the Internet. In addition, this procedure offered the University a complete repository of the scientific production of its members and an extraordinary tool for them to see the results of their work. As rector in 2005, I understood that the institutional archive would only be truly operational and complete if its use were made mandatory. The whole thing was to combine this firm obligation with the highlighting of the tremendous benefits that the ORBi tool would offer to researchers. A process known internationally since then as the "carrot and stick" or, more elegantly, as the Liège Model.

Do you think that attitudes have changed since then and that young researchers are now more aware of the need to open up and share their research results?

BR: Yes, there is a growing awareness of the importance of generosity and disinterest among young people, as long as they are not diverted from these strong principles by the demands of their evaluators. They are generally more advanced in age and experience and believe it is necessary to impose on young people the standards that have been imposed on them.

How can young researchers today engage in "open science" practices without having to fear for their careers?

BR: It's not easy. Unfortunately. It is really essential that more experienced researchers become aware of the universal value of transparency and sharing. That what must be measured in an evaluation is these qualities and not so-called productivity indicators that are, for the most part, adulterated. Unfortunately, it will take some time before this change of mentality takes hold and that is where the fight of Open Science lies today.

How do you see the role of social networks like Research Gate and Academia, specifically addressed to researchers in the diffusion of knowledge in a "free" way?

BR : Scalded cat is afraid of cold water. I am suspicious of attractive initiatives when I am not sure about their sustainability. ResearchGate offers a lot of services, certainly not essential, but useful. Let us cross our fingers so that a great shark publisher does not buy it back for an astronomical amount when the "system" has made it essential. As for Academia, you have to pay to access its services, so the colour is announced right away. Use it whoever you want. But please do not let anyone make these tools essential for the evaluation of researchers. This would only amplify the perverse effects that I denounce in my book and in all my interventions. And that none of these services suggest to university managers that they can replace institutional archives.

What advice would you give to researchers who also wish to engage in this process of opening up knowledge?

BR: "Hang in there, you're on the way to history. The dominant system is doomed to failure because knowledge is the only value that multiplies when shared. "I made people smile when I said that about Open Access fifteen years ago and yet history has shown that I was right.

(1) RENTIER, Bernard, Science Ouverte, le défi de la transparence, L'Académie en Poche, December 2018, 152 pages.

About Bernard Rentier

Born in 1947 and graduated in Zoology from ULiège, Professor Bernard Rentier is a biologist and virologist. He was the 60th Rector of the University of Liège (2005-2014). Under his leadership, ULiège became a pioneer in the field of Open Access by setting up an institutional repository system for scientific publications - ORBi - which became a model for open access. Bernard Rentier is currently dedicated to promoting open science in all its implications for research and researchers.

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