We met Dr Anca Hienola, one of the speakers at EaPEC 2022 (28-29 September Baku, Azerbaijan), the latest Eastern Partnership E-Infrastructure conference. Dr Hienola, a climate scientist from the Finnish Meteorological Institute with over 22 years’ experience in atmospheric sciences and climate change research, is now heavily involved in open science, open access and research infrastructure activities.

Her talk on open science in climate research, in the session dedicated to Earth Observation and the societal use of technology, left a lasting impression on the audience not only for the compelling subject matter, but also for Dr Hienola’s charisma and passion.

Anca, in your presentation at EaPEC 2022 you talked about the ‘good’ the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ in the context of open science in climate research, could you give us some examples?

Core Open Science principles are about the open sharing of data, software and scientific publications throughout the research process. In my presentation, these three principles feature in both “the good” and “the bad”, and here is why: there is an increasing number of repositories for climate-related data and software that help to minimise scientific uncertainty while increasing collaboration potential. We also witness the prevalence of open access climate studies published since 2007. These open access studies were cited more than closed studies, indicating that adopting openness leads to increased citations of climate research, thus accelerating scientific evolution by building upon existing science at a faster rate. Furthermore, similar increase of mentions of open access climate publications has been noticed in policy documents, resulting in a more significant uptake of scientific knowledge by policy makers.

However – and now we get to “the bad” part of the story – important research still remains behind journal paywalls, despite the evident benefit of open access. In terms of data, the vast number of data repositories – about 150 climate specific repositories – is a barrier as it actually limits access for the ordinary climate researcher, who faces data fragmentation and inadequate access to quality information.

Another problem is the fact that the climate conversation continues to be dominated by the voices of scientists from the wealthiest countries, mainly from Europe and North America, while the global south is undervalued and underrepresented. Climate change is a threat to the human and ecosystem wellbeing. Therefore, only by supporting inclusion and diversity globally and by ignoring those conversations serving short-term national, political, or commercial interests, we will be better equipped to address the rapidly evolving climate challenges.

When speaking about “the ugly”, I touched upon the dangers of scientific illiteracy, which results in conspiracy theories with dire consequences at a global level, and the idea that access to information does not equate to accessibility.

In the context of the EaPEC 2022 talk you said that ‘open science is a state of mind’, what do you mean by this?

I think better said “open science should be a state of mind”, as researchers, in addition to their scientific work, responsible research, proposal writing etc., need to adopt an open science “mindset” to commit and to learn that open science practices must become a central component of each step of their research projects, from inception, to production and dissemination. Climate scientists are transitioning, as we speak, from their usual routine to a new open science environment. It is a CLIMATE of CHANGE that requires complex systemic cultural-behavioural shifts.

Open science must become a “new norm” where scientists open the door for scrutiny for each stage of their research to ensure credibility and transparency of their work. This is not an easy task.

In your view, how will open science impact climate research?

By adopting open science principles, scientists can advance climate change research and accelerate efforts to mitigate impact. This is especially true for highly vulnerable developing regions of the world, the global south in particular, where research capacity is limited. Open science will increase scientific integrity, avoid reproducibility crisis, and maybe, in time, will reduce the concentration of negative response from the general population towards climate change and its scientists.

You also said that the planet will pay the consequences of the  misunderstanding of science and scientific illiteracy of the people in power. How fundamental is the role that science communication needs to play for the future of our planet and humanity? Why?

In our rush to prioritise Open Science in climate research, we have left the world behind. As I said earlier, access does not equate to accessibility. Despite access, information remains inaccessible in any functional sense — non-academics cannot apply it, understand it competently or put it into context. Information is accessible, but people have no access to its real value. People are afraid of what they don’t understand – the powerful and unintelligible world of science –  and tend to turn towards easier and often wrong explanations. If research data is understood by specialists only and does not reach decision-makers and citizens, we have failed. When positions of power are filled with scientifically illiterate individuals who mistrust and misunderstand science, they (will) make the wrong decisions with irreparable consequences. Think of president Trump who, after taking office in 2017, made a series of decisions that slowed or deprioritised climate action. But scientific illiteracy is also a huge concern when it characterises ordinary people who then persuade the next generations not to trust science: a recipe for disaster.

Therefore we, the scientists, must pursue yet another path: science communication, in a bid not to further alienate an already fearful and suspicious people. We need to invest in translating the climate research results into a language that can be understood by everybody.

In the past few years you have been directly involved in EOSC and in the ENVRI-FAIR project about environmental research infrastructures and their services for research, innovation and society. Could you talk to us about the achievements of this ESFRI cluster and future plans for the ENVRI Community?

The ENVRI community has a long history, as our work together started in 2011, with a project called ENVRI, which was the result of an epiphany: in their implementation, the environmental Research Infrastructures (RI) face similar challenges and the need for a closer collaboration became evident. Today, the community consists of 26 research infrastructures that are studying different aspects of the Earth system and provide research products from all four sub-domains of the Earth system: atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.

ENVRI-FAIR is the cluster project that includes only the most mature RIs, those on the ESFRI roadmap. We can think of the ENVRI cluster as  the core component of the European environmental research infrastructure landscape with the ENVRI community as its common forum for collaboration and co-creation.

The goal of ENVRI-FAIR is the provision of services according to FAIR principles, the highest priority being the provision of high-quality data using open licenses and standard protocols. As such, within the project we developed common (for all RIs involved) standards and policies for data lifecycle with a big emphasis on interoperability, developed tools and methods to improve the skills of RIs’ personnel through extensive training and, most importantly, we will expose our thematic data, services and tools from the RIs’ catalogues to the EOSC catalogue of services, to the general scientific community and general public through EOSC. ENVRI-hub is a federated machine-to-machine interface, a one stop shop for researchers to access data and services. The hub will be in production by the end of the ENVRI-FAIR project – mid 2023 – so stay tuned!

You can watch Dr Hienola’s talk at EaPEC 2022 below and download her presentation from the EaPEC 2022 website (Programme, Day 2, 29 September 2022).