June 5, 2017

“Open Science” as a metaphor and desideratum for the state of the science system at large

Inequalities within (social) sciences at large: Has everyone who wants to the chance to become a (social) scientist?

"Let's open up (social) sciences for everyone who wants to become a (social) scientist!" is the claim behind this blog post.
To approach the issue of (social) sciences on a large scale, I decided to use “The World Social Science Report: Challenging Inequalities” (2016) and a second, although somewhat older material: “The World Social Science Report: Knowledge Divides” (2010), both published by UNESCO and ISSC, whereof I picked suitable articles. The connection to “Open Science” lies in an unusual understanding of this term, as a metaphor and desideratum for the state of the science system at large. The logic behind that: Where “science” is not open (enough), it should be “opened up” to enhance individual chances for people who want to become (social) scientists, as well as for the benefit of respective societies all in all (aligned to the sustainable development goal of universal access to education until 2030[1], which indeed rests on the human right for education of the year 1948[2]). Globally, there are very different conditions for the production of social science knowledge[3]. The question of the state of social sciences is not only to be seen as an effect of inequalities; social sciences are also one of the “tools” of choice to analyze and improve local situations. Johann Mouton (2010: 67) therefore asks concerning the themes in social science research: “To what extent does science in the region (including both the social sciences and the humanities) address the most important development goals of the respective countries?” The current state of (social) sciences is not only to be understood out of local developments; international intertwinements have to be considered. Laurent Jeanpierre (2010: 118 pp.) points out the asymmetry respectively the inequalities of the (world) science system on the global scale. He notes two patterns of migrations within a highly asymmetrical global structure: On the one hand, “[social] scientists migrate from the main academic centres to the periphery in order to teach, export their skills, or do research and gather data.” On the other hand, “talented young social scientists tend to leave a peripheral position for academic centres in order to be trained or work with the most eminent scholars.” Jeanpierre (2010: 119) remarks, that “imperial and colonial political structures provided a highly asymmetrical framework for such voluntary migrations, reinforcing the scientific creativity and productivity of the centre at the expense of the periphery (Brisson, 2008). Yet these migrations are not always voluntary. They may also depend on the social and economic conditions of researchers, on the status of academic and research positions, and on political constraints on scientists’ freedom of speech.” To sum it up, till today “transnational disciplinary spaces of exchange show a highly asymmetrical structure, where Western countries, primarily the USA, generally hold a hegemonic position.”

Narrowing the issue of (educational) inequalities to the region of sub-Sahara Africa, especially to Nigeria: Primary and secondary education as prerequisite for personal mobility chances to become a (social) scientist 

I was going to look at social sciences in Nigeria, because it’s known that they are especially worse off. The precarious state of many social science and humanities research centres seems to be indicative of a more general trend in research and scholarship in many African countries – the deinstitutionalization of science (Mouton). Here, however, I'm not talking about (social) sciences in Nigeria yet, but I'll present a couple of numbers regarding primary and secondary education in the chosen location (as a foundation for the understanding of the rate of social mobility to tertiary education). Jimi O. Adesinam (2016: 96 pp.) emphases that the “average Gini index [a common measurement for inequality, H.S.] for sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world’s highest”, although there have been reductions of inequalities since 2000. For Nigeria, there are especially high wealth inequalities with a Gini-Index of 81.4. To be specific in regard to inequalities within a country (i.e. Nigeria), one has to take note that those “indicators also vary widely by gender, by location (urban, rural) and by income group. Disadvantages often accumulate and lead to high levels of inequality". Adesinam (2016: 97) explains the development of inequalities as follows: “The fall in inequalities before 1980 reflect the growth of economic opportunities and social mobility in postcolonial Africa. A higher level of investment and broader participation in education led to a much higher level of social mobility.” He particularly sees economic liberalization and deregulation responsible for increasing inequalities in the post-1980 period. The decline in inequality/inequalities that some countries experienced in the 2000s, is, according to Adesinam, probably related to good economic performance and favorable external conditions (improvements in terms of trade).
Statistically, inequalities concerning the chances to become a (social) scientist – can be tracked and made visible by displaying enrolment in primary schools: Primary school enrolment in Nigeria is very depended by state (regions), as the first figure below shows[4]. In regard to women in education, it is evident that there is a similar geographical bias concerning educational inclusion: The according figure shows the distribution of the literacy rate among women. The North and the North-East is worse off, whereas the more positive numbers belong to the Southern parts of Nigeria.

Nigeria Primary School Enrolment by state in 2013. Source: Nigeria National Bureau of Statistics.
   70 % - 80 %
   60 % - 70 %
   50 % - 60 %
   40 % - 50 %
   30 % - 40 %
   20 % - 30 %
   10 % - 20 %

Female literacy rate in Nigeria by state in 2013
  > 90%
  < 35%

Inequality of learning also increases when moving up the educational ladder (ibid.) Coming back to inequalities in Nigeria in concreto, a look at the numbers delivers a very clear picture: “In 2013, a child from the poorest quintile in Nigeria was more than twenty-three times more likely to have never attended school than a child from the richest quintile.” To say it with another scenario: 98 per cent of children from the richest quintile complete primary school, compared with 20 per cent of children from the poorest quintile (UNESCO, 2015). Wealth (resp. income) is the largest distinction mark in this case, nevertheless gender plays a crucial role, too. On the latter front, the Global Gender Gap Report (World Economic Form, 2014) elucidates, that gender inequality is found in the fields of economic participation and opportunity, the – on hand relevant – field of educational achievement, health and survival, and political empowerment (Adesinam 2016: 99). Better education is, on the one hand, prerequisite for many goals (e.g. the enrollment rate of girls in primary schools correlates positive with life expectancy and socioeconomic development of a nation.), but, on the other hand, it’s effects have to be actively promoted / translated to the life world: “The difference in the gender gap scores shows that gender equality in education does not automatically translate into gender equality in other domains.” Manos Antoninis, Marcos Delprato and Aaron Benavot (2016: 63pp.) also outline that education is a means in itself, and is additionally a means for other goals. It’s essential to economic growth, poverty reduction, gender equality, public health, conflict resolution, and the transformation to sustainable production and consumption. Therefore, education ranges as a key mediator in the reproduction of social inequalities resp. in the promotion of equality. For the reason that education as social institution reflects and reproduces socio-economic and cultural disadvantages, “students from economically poor families are more likely to attend schools characterized by worse infrastructure, fewer qualified teachers, less ambitious peers and outmoded pedagogical practices compared with those in more affluent areas. Hence they are more likely to end up with lower learning outcomes.” Characteristics of the individual which make differences in regard to educational chances are also tracked back to gender, location, income / wealth, ethnicity, and disability (Antoninis et al 2016: 64). The World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE), developed by the Global Education Monitoring Report, exactly works with these indicators. Its differentiated view allows to state that in Nigeria, just 3 per cent of the poorest rural girls completed lower secondary school in 2013 - in comparison to 17 per cent of the poorest boys and to 95% of the richest urban boys.

A comparison for the whole region of sub-Saharan Africa shows that the above cited numbers fit into the overall picture: The poorest young people are profoundly underrepresented beyond the completers of lower secondary education. While middle classes benefited within the period 2000-2010, the poorest have done worse[5]. Adesinam (2016: 97) reports, that sub-Saharan Africa showed improvements in several education indicators within the period 1999-2010. Reasons for lasting inequalities, however, are “direct and indirect costs of education [that] often discourage or prevent poor households from investing in the education of their children” (ibid. 98). Therefore, improvements can (and were) achieved by a reduction of financial burdens, like abolishing fees, the introduction of school feeding programs, and cash transfers.

[1] There is a global target of achieving equal access to all education levels by 2030 (Antoninis et al 2016: 66).

[2] Education has been recognized as a basic human right since the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[3] The summary of the UNESCO report of 2010 informs, that the “differences in conditions for social science knowledge production between different countries and regions of the world are astounding and could hardly be greater. (…) There are huge discrepancies around the world in the size, financing level, institutional structure, infrastructure and condition of social science research systems, and in their production of graduates and publications” (UNESCO/ISSC 2010b: 5).

[5] That’s why measures need to be sensitive to the educational progress of all groups.


  1. [1st half]

    Hello Harald,

    I will begin my review with some general observations regarding your text. After that, I will go into more specific comments on various sections. I will conclude with a few recommendations for revising your post. You have not made things easy on yourself with a choice of topic that is so broad and emotionally charged. Such a topic requires a bit more work to establish an interesting argument—going beyond a mere description of differences between ‘hegemonic Western countries’ and particular countries in Sub-Sahara Africa that are ‘especially worse off’. Along with this analytical focus, your conceptualization of open science as a ‘metaphor and desideratum for the state of the science system at large’, is getting lost. In this sense, I have strong difficulties to grasp the central point of your blog post. Is it about openness, about global inequalities, or about ‘(social) science’?

    To begin with your metaphorical use of open science. Even though I believe that this metaphor is sensible in some cases, I am confused by the way you use it in your blog post. Neither the documents you choose nor your arguments deal with issues of openness as discussed in our course. To me it seems, as if you try to turn the two ‘World Social Science Reports’ into a metaphor for ‘the science system at large’ – but where is the openness? Besides that, I do not fully understand the metaphorical translation you seek to perform. How exactly can I conceive of these two reports as a metaphor for science as a whole? With regard to my methodological concern, you do not reflect on the aspect that the documents on their own are to be seen as performative entities. In this sense, they do not only represent a particular reality, they equally work upon and enact realities that might stand in contrast to the documents’ official purposes. At this point John Laws book ‘After Method’ might be of interest – as it problematizes the performativity of social science methods. Conceptually, it remains unclear to me what you mean by ‘social science as large’. Or in other words, you have to provide me with more information to follow your metaphorical narration between ‘social science as large’ and ‘poor people’ in Sub-Sahara Africa. As you talk about education you might be able to relate your interests to issues of open educational resources, or issues of open governmental data that are specific to the countries you are interested in.

  2. Your research question, “Has everyone who wants to the chance to become a (social)scientist?” seems pretty rhetoric. In this sense, it does not seem like a solid basis to establish a clear argument. Along with that, the way you establish your argument is not really comprehensive. You sum up your first paragraph with a quote on the ‘hegemonic position’ of ‘Western countries’ when it comes to academic migration and use this as a transition to talk about Nigeria. According to you, ‘they are especially worse off’. Especially, as a researcher from Europe, these kinds of decisions should be reflected in-depth. Using Nigeria as a catchy example—because ‘especially worse off’—to talk about the ‘science system at large’ is at least problematic. As long as you only mention inequalities such as ‘women education’, ‘primary school enrolment’, ‘female literacy rate’, or ‘students from economically poor families’ without establishing a relation to your argument regarding social science as a whole, this argumentation does not work.

    Your literature is mainly unrelated to the seminar literature, which is understandable with regard to your choice of topic. I like that you make the material your blog post is based on available. Some of the sources you refer to I cannot access. Maybe you find some links to online articles of the related scholars. As I am not familiar with the field of political sciences (?) or development studies (?), it is difficult for me to assess the completeness of the publication you provide. Given the broadness of your research project, I assume that there is a lot more literature to make your case.

    The language you use is pretty clear and understandable. Nevertheless, you use a lot of statistical terms to establish your argument, which might be misleading for a ‘broad’ audience and a matter of critique for a rather ‘qualitative’ audience. Besides that, your headline seems a bit messed up. Similarly, there is a big space above the figures you show. Lastly, I do not really understand the way you use the footnotes in your text. Below the text you provide explanations to each footnote but when I click on them they lead me to a website from the open science blog.

    Most important in revising your proposal, I think, is to find a more delimited argument, that relates to both the countries you are interested in and open science. You should do this through a significant revision of your research question, and a close look at your material. What is it that these documents enact regarding the state of openness in the (social) science? Relate to that, you need to develop your openness metaphor more clearly, both conceptually and empirically. How do you trace the ‘state of social science at large’ within/through matters of openness?

    Let me know if anything is unclear. Please find below, my ranking of your post:

    Level of importance: 4.0
    Level of validity: 1.5
    Level of completeness: 3.5
    Level of comprehensibility: 4.0

    Best wishes,

  3. Hallo Cornelius,
    thank you for your detailed feedback, which I am going to consider.
    All in all, I intended to plea for equality in education; openness in "open science" then stands for the chance of an individual to get into sciences and "at large" means "globally". This, of course, can be seen as an over-stretching of the term "open science" regarding it's usual use. Asking if everyone has the chance to get enough education to get into sciences then is a reminder to what should be the case. Applied social sciences, again, could further the betterment of the current situation, as long as power relations would allow it.
    In the blog post, I depicted the distribution of educational chances in Nigeria with the use of open available UNESCO-reports, and with figures from Wikipedia. There I found a set of statistical indicators, which were lined out to allow comparisons. Studying how these indicators "make" reality, as you point it out, would be an interesting topic for in-depth research. At least they indirectly made me choose Nigeria, as the mentioned UN-reports focus on Nigeria as a country with low scores.


  4. Hi Harald! I am agreeing with your reviewer in most of his points.
    The question "open for whom" is a very important one, that is often taken without saying. I think starting from another angle would have been beneficial for your text: you could have elaborated on exactly what you mean by openness, and that you would like to look whether access to the science system (at large) requires particular systemic settings, such as "literacy", social stratification, diversity in higher education institutions, ... Since this is such a broad question, your text should have done it more on an abstract level, not only reproducing figures and insights from the reports. Academic science as an exclusive club, even more with the perspective on open science and the Global South, is still to be broadly discussed, see f.e. https://ocsdnet.org/