By Ntikana Ramohlale
The Rhodes University Library recently held a two-day Open Science Colloquium under the theme “Climate Justice Through Open Knowledge” at the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature. The event was aimed at discussing the climate crisis and the ways in which it continues to impact different groups of people in a variety of ways.
In addition, the event sought to forge new ways through which inequalities that arise from the climate crisis may be addressed insofar as they affect the ability of various communities to produce, disseminate and use knowledge not only in relation to the climate crisis, but also in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at Rhodes University, Professor Joanna Dames, provided the welcome address. Prof Dames began by acknowledging the prevalent impact of climate change and its close link to the scourge of poverty and inequality throughout the world. She stated that these challenges demand global action and cooperation through open access to information to promote our understanding of these issues and how to best address them. “Open access means making knowledge freely available not only to researchers, but to policymakers and the public at large,” said Prof Dames.
The Director of the Rhodes University Library, Nomawethu Danster contextualised the purpose and importance of the Open Science Colloquium. “The theme is underpinned by the open science agenda from the International Open Access week for 2022,” she said. She explained that open access continues to gain momentum within many libraries across the world. Danster further stated that the theme of 2023 is also importantly aligned with the Institutional Development Plan (IDP) for Rhodes University 2023-2028. “The IDP specifically distinguishes knowledge dissemination and knowledge application as the main ideals to position this institution for the public good,” added Danster. She explained that these goals align with the purpose statement of the Rhodes University Library to enhance intellectual creativity as well as the free and open exchange of knowledge and information. Danster concluded her address by encouraging the audience and scholars alike to actively collaborate and share knowledge for the public good.
Director of the Scholarly Publication Unit at the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), Susan Veldsman, delivered the first day’s keynote address. Veldsman began by underscoring an importantly inextricable link between the sciences and society. She mentioned that researchers need to always remember that their work should always be trusted, such that their research projects always seek to benefit society without any doubt. Veldsman stated that open access provides the all-important key to ensuring the trustworthiness of all knowledge systems provided by researchers across the globe. “This ensures that there is a system of checks and balances to ensure that the work that we do, and our databases can be trusted,” she explained.
Veldsman further stated that there still lies a huge demand for technological support to ensure the smooth running of an open-access knowledge system. “I think this is the cornerstone which shall establish the success of open science and open access, as we do not have the technological backbone,” said Veldsman. She explained that the very demand of an efficient technological support base places a duty not just on government, but also on academic institutions to establish and sustain the means to offer this much-needed support to researchers, and communities in search of knowledge and information. Veldsman stated that the lack of technological support continues to forge a gap between Africa and the rest of the world in terms of their abilities to conduct research and share knowledge. “We worked on an African open science project and conducted some surveys, and you would be surprised at how African researchers battle just to work. They don’t have their own computers; they battle with connectivity and when the women are not safe when they go to the labs,” said Veldsman.
Veldsman concluded by highlighting that the successful attainment and implementation of open access and use of information requires a collective effort from various stakeholders such as lawyers, data scientists, researchers, policymakers, and ordinary citizens as well.