Barriers to Seeing Research Results Erode

Open access to research articles promises a fundamental change in publishing

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

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This has been a noteworthy summer for the United Kingdom. The London Olympics drew rapt attention from millions of people around the world, as did the festivities surrounding the Queen's golden jubilee. However, perhaps the most-enduring legacy from the U.K. this summer will come from moves made to open up access to scientific information.

The U.K. government is playing a leading role in challenging the current approach to publishing research results — via articles in journals with limited circulations and high subscription and "pay per view" fees. A report, "Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth," presented to the U.K. Parliament last December, advocated free widespread access to the results of publicly funded research (see: "Research Papers Draw Government Gaze").

Before then, in September, the U.K. Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, had created a "Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings," led by Janet Finch. The so-called Finch Group issued a 140-page report in June (available via www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf) that addresses a broad variety of issues. Most importantly, it recommends the government promote open access or hybrid journals funded by article processing or publishing charges (APCs) paid by authors as the main vehicle for the publication of research, especially when publicly funded. The report further suggests that public sector bodies funding research should develop better ways to meet the costs of publishing in open access and hybrid journals, and that policies should minimize restrictions on rights to use and re-use information, especially for noncommercial purposes.

In mid-July, Minister Willetts went on record supporting these proposals. Indeed, he's aiming to make all U.K.-government-funded research immediately available for all to read by 2014.

The Finch Group looked at the wider aspects of access to technical information. For instance, it recommends developing an infrastructure of online repositories to complement formal publishing. These repositories would provide access to research data, such as support material for published articles, as well as grey literature (papers, reports, etc., that aren't widely distributed).

Willetts notes that the U.K.'s Research Councils already have invested in several such repositories and the government has committed £75 million (around $115 million) for a repository on bioinformatics.

The Finch Group also urges the government to vigorously pursue current discussions on an initiative to enable public libraries throughout the U.K. to offer walk-in access to most journals.

Willetts says the government is encouraging the working group handling this to implement a proposed two-year pilot scheme at the earliest opportunity.

Also in mid-July, Research Councils UK, which comprise seven groups — including the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council — that annually provide about £3 billion ($4.5 billion) in funding, issued a new open access policy. Peer-reviewed research papers they wholly or partially fund that are submitted for publication from April 1, 2013, must appear in journals that comply with an open access policy — e.g., via APCs or depositing the article in a repository after no more than a limited embargo period. The papers also must state how to access underlying research materials such as data and models.

Later that month, the U.K.'s Department for International Development, which provides aid to developing countries, published its own open access policy, which adds another wrinkle. "To assist those with limited Internet connectivity, the policy says researchers and institutions should design research outputs that require minimal data download to see and use, or make alternative versions available," the department notes.


The push extends beyond the U.K. For instance, also in mid-July, the European Commission (EC), Brussels, announced that open access to scientific publications will be a general principle of its €80-billion ($98-billion) Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. As of 2014, all articles produced with funding from the program will have to be accessible. The EC also is recommending that member states adopt a similar approach for the results of research they fund individually. The goal is for 60% of articles based on European publicly funded research to be available through open access by 2016.

Some groups within the U.S. government, notably the National Institutes of Health, have an open access policy. A petition on the White House website seeking to require free access over the Internet to taxpayer-funded research (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/require-free-access-over-internet-scientific-journal-articles-arising-taxpayer-funded-research/wDX82FLQ) now has amassed more than 29,000 signatures.

We should applaud these moves toward greater open access.

 


MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can e-mail him at mrosenzweig@putman.net

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