I work for a science research discovery platform that allows users to group and share articles intuitively, then leverages machine learning to provide them with recommendations. At its core, our mission is to make science more accessible by improving the access experience: in other words, to help level the playing field when it comes to public engagement with science, a field which for decades (if not centuries) has been stubbornly tilted in favour of those with significant levels of both education and money. Our problem? Plenty of the articles we index require a fee to be read in full. How can we level anything when the scientific publishing industry insists on stacking up the field against us?Many of our users are PhDs and postdocs; not only highly educated in the subject they’re researching, they’re also almost certainly affiliated with an institution that provides free journal access. Whilst open access is no less important for this group, to ensure that the most fruitful collaborative work can take place, the users who are left behind from the start are those we term ‘citizen scientists’. These are members of the public who are less likely to be familiar with the vocabulary of the subject they have set out to research, who almost certainly do not have paid access to subscription journals, and who may be seeking out research for personal reasons, such as to find out more about a recent diagnosis for themselves or for a loved one, to help them decide on a field of future study, or simply for personal interest. They're stuck at the lowest end of the playing field. The problem with open access, the argument goes, is that it’s useless: citizens who do not hold advanced degrees need scientific training to understand the articles in the first place. Yet fostering an ‘open culture’ will build public scientific literacy from the ground up by encouraging people to inform themselves about science from primary sources. And - to co-opt the slogan that decorates a building not far from our offices in Shoreditch, London - more scientific literacy, more power. The effects of a cultural sea change like this could be dramatic. Nature called the impact of releasing papers to the public “astonishing”, apparently surprised that anybody not holed up in an ivory tower would have any interest in research that is ostensibly done for the good of the public. The shock that public engagement actually works isn’t new: consider the resurgence of citizen science, a flourishing movement borne of scientists’ realisation that patterns or anomalies in data might just as well be spotted by laypeople as by trained scientists, which has produced democratic and cultural movements to the surprise of many of its practitioners. Steven Bishop writes how citizen science not only permits but delights in the participation of those who do not fit inside the narrow categories of "affluent, literate and educated". Perhaps scientific publishing has something to learn from this radical ethos - and its radical success.Concretely, what could an open culture do for us? A lot, is the answer. Pupils at schools too underfunded to afford journal subscriptions could nevertheless be introduced to advanced science and scientific inquiry, helping to shape their powers of critical thought in a critical age - maybe even giving them the tools to begin contributing to science, and by doing so to start fighting the systemic inequality that continues to plague it. Would-be higher education students unable to afford university fees could take their education into their own hands by learning for themselves what was previously hidden behind a paywall too high to scale without institutional help. Any person able to read about science for themselves is far less likely to be duped by ‘fake news’, a tide that threatens, however distantly, to engulf rational inquiry. The spread of open culture - a different kind of tide - would begin to beat at the barriers that have stood for centuries between academia and the public, barriers that have largely served only to increase resentment and distrust of science itself. Open scholarship raises the bar that sets our preconceptions about what science and its practitioners should look like, and invites us to join it. It hints at a world where researchers, far from being forced to chase economic stability or arbitrary impact factors, can pursue research for knowledge’s sake: research from which members of the public can directly, explicitly benefit. Open begins to level out the playing field.