Open Science: A New Paradigm for Economic Growth
Restricting access to scientific knowledge bottlenecks urgently needed innovation and global economic growth. It’s comparable to throttling internet speed or reducing global penetration.
This year’s G20 summit brought looming low economic growth into sharp focus, while G20 chief scientists reminded us that with collective ingenuity we can tackle existential threats. Powered by new scientific knowledge, we can boost prosperity by building a sustainable global economy that is climate positive and reduce inequality. The commitments they made to open knowledge sharing are a cause for optimism1.
Science has been driving modern society for nearly a century, bringing longer, healthier, and wealthier lives to billions of people. Global spending on research and development has grown sixty-fold to $2.4 trillion over the last half century. Accounting for inflation, this represents three figure percentage annual growth2.
Even though the knowledge economy is the basis of our prosperity and well-being, few know that our science is locked up. Of the four million scientific papers published every year3, only a small fraction of scientists in the world have access to all the knowledge. Compared with internet penetration of around 66%4, the penetration of all scientific knowledge is less than 0.00125% of the world population. It is not globally shared, nor free to read, nor open to all. We are missing out on a vast publicly funded resource at a time when innovation, economic growth, and reducing inequality is more important than ever. It is also bad for business. The knowledge economy is failing to tap into the world’s largest market for ideas.
Science produces the solutions we need for sustainable growth – from the battery technology that will drive the clean energy transition to the gene editing that will extend crop yields for a growing population on less land, and from green concrete and steel manufacturing to the next generation of fertilisers that can restore our soils.
Business can demand that governments open this market. Open science is just a single policy away. It is funded with public money, it belongs to society and it benefits businesses. Publishers can adapt, become more innovative, and deliver better services. Only open science can spur innovation at the scale and speed required, while increasing return on investment, reducing risk, and amplifying social impact.
There are shining examples. The Human Genome Project, from a $5.4 billion federal investment gave rise to a new $1 trillion economy5 within 20 years. In the pandemic, the genome sequence for coronavirus was made publicly available and, in an unprecedented move, all academic publishers made all research on the virus publicly accessible6. The result was vaccines and treatments produced faster than any time in history, saving an estimated 20 million lives7. The U.S. alone saved $1.15 trillion in medical costs8. In both cases, open science taught us that when we make science open globally, we start a chain reaction: driving competition, spurring innovation, mobilizing investments, and improving lives.
In the thirty years since Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Romer advanced his now famous proposition that ideas scale success and drive economic growth9, science has generated stunning breakthroughs – from the World Wide Web to cancer vaccines, and from the rapidly growing market for genomic, personalized medicine to large language models driven by AI.
We are merely scratching the surface. More than half of the research generated in the past 50 years is locked up behind paywalls and inaccessible to other researchers, innovators, policy makers, and the public. Our planet and our economies cannot wait. We need quality research published at scale to give us a fighting chance.
In the analysis of the European Commission, merely sharing the data behind new research openly would save European taxpayers €10 billion a year. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), fully open science reduces duplication, increases productivity, fosters greater innovation, and grows consumer choice10. Imagine the open science benefits for industrial manufacturers, innovators, medical professionals, and burgeoning startups. How many small and medium enterprises failed because they could not afford to access the latest discoveries?
Transparent and open science builds trust in science. A lack of public trust in science can hinder the development of life-saving vaccines, medicines, solutions for a greener world and limit economic growth.
Patent applications have tripled in the last thirty years, but we need a boost to address the global challenges of our time. We must reduce carbon emissions to 45% by 203011, just 7 years from now, or we face driving the planet to a tipping point.
“At Frontiers, we want to see all science opened, so that scientists can collaborate better and innovate faster, for fairer outcomes in all societies and an economy that works for all. That is our social purpose as a business. If we are to steer our planet and our global economy into a sustainable future in time, we cannot leave the world’s largest market of new scientific knowledge untapped.” Dr Kamila Markram, CEO of Frontiers.