Free science the key to research translation, says Chief Scientist

October 27, 2021

Chief Scientist Cathy Foley called for open access to science and a push for the end to paid access to peer reviewed journals.

Speaking at the national conference of the Cooperative Research Centres Association, recently renamed Cooperative Research Australia, Chief Scientist Cathy Foley called for open access to science and a push for the end to paid access to peer reviewed journals.

“Researchers must come out from behind paywalls of scientific papers.

“Open access of research from all publishers and open access to all journals would allow everyone in Australia to access academic information: industry, government and researchers could access all Australian research,” she said.

Dr Foley said while $12B had been poured into public research, people were paying $400-$600M to access the research through journals.

“We need an ongoing model with ongoing funding to support this, and I have been in discussion working towards this,” she added, saying she has already put forward a proposal to the National Science and Technology Council, who were “very positive and are supporting it”. 

“We need to rethink the whole way we communicate research. Peer review is critical to build trust. Open access is important because everyone needs to access the information and understand it. Many journals require scientists to have 9-10 points that summarise the point of the paper,” for example, she said. 

“We need to connect science to engineering, to social access, to government regulation, and marketing – all of these components need to come together for successful science translation. Open access is part of that toolbox.”

R&D needs innovation districts and set priorities

Dr Foley also highlighted the need to set priorities in science R&D and spoke of the revolutionising impact of quantum technologies and AI.

“The next revolution is coming and Australia is globally competitive in this. Quantum technologies will create a new, high-tech industry for Australia that will be worth billions of dollars.”

SA Chief Scientist Caroline McMillen also spoke on the value of international collaboration in science and technology and the need for innovation districts to promote collaboration in research. 

“We need to set priorities including: investment in R&D as a proportion of GDP, convergence of fields – as in AI plus health, and quantum technologies plus space.  We also need to create and foster innovation districts and create places of convergence to hear about and curate these emerging technologies. These must include industry PhDs,” she said.

Science much more than lab work

Foley said there was a need to broaden the concept of science beyond academic pathways.

“We need to broaden the idea of what the STEM pathway looks like. Research is a small subsection of the workforce and yet is the main concept people have of a STEM career. 

“Diversity and gender, digital technologies and a quantitative approach is essential – we need more statisticians and mathematicians and we need to broaden our idea of what a career in STEM looks like. A research pathway is important but it is only a small part of what is possible. 

“The career opportunities in STEM beyond the university sector are huge and we need to open up those doorways.”

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