Report calls on government to back open access science

Test Tubes Currently the results of publicly funded research are restricted and have to be paid for

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A group of experts has urged funders of UK research to encourage scientists to publish their results in journals that offer free public access to findings.

A report by Dame Janet Finch argues that there is a powerful "moral" case for publicly funded research to be freely available.

Dame Janet also states that there could be considerable economic benefits if industry has free access to research.

Currently, most results have to be paid for by subscription.

But supporters of commercial publishing say that they have contributed greatly to the development of the peer review system and the resulting high standard of scientific research.

According to Dame Janet, "everyone agrees that greater open access would bring huge economic and public benefits. The challenge though is how we move to this model without damaging UK research, peer review or scientific publishers?"

Historically, scientists have sent their research results to scientific journals for consideration for publication.

Specialist editors working for the journals sift through the material submitted to them and select those they feel have made a significant contribution to the field.

Start Quote

The long term future lies with open access”

End Quote Dame Janet Finch Report Author

The editors then send these scientific papers to experts in the field for assessment, a process known as peer review. It is at this stage that one or more of the experts can reject the research because they believe it is flawed or that it has not made a significant contribution to the field.

It is more often the case though that the expert reviewers, known as referees, ask for clarification or more experiments to be carried out.

Once all or most of the referees are satisfied, the journal publishes the research and it is at this stage that the work is formally considered to be new science.

This process is in the main carried out by commercially-owned academic publishers who charge a subscription for access to the research. Two of the world's leading journals, Nature and Science, require subscriptions.

Test TUbes Critics allege that commercial publishers have made excessive profits from publicly funded research

Critics have argued that commercial publishers have made excessive profits from scientific research that has been paid for from public money. Critics also say that denying access to publicly-funded research is immoral.

This sort of criticism has seen the emergence of a new model of scientific publishing called open access. In this model, the author - or more likely their institution or funding body - pays for the administrative costs of peer review and the published research is made freely available to all.

The issue has become more acute in recent years with all research papers now potentially available online. Most commercial publishers have a "pay-wall" requiring a fee before allowing access to the research material.

Last year the Science Minister David Willetts set up an independent working group led by Dame Janet Finch of Manchester University to examine how to expand access to the peer-reviewed publications that arise from research undertaken both in the UK and in the rest of the world.

Bob Campbell, a senior publisher at Wiley-Blackwell, said that he saw a cointinued role for commercial publishers, but that there would be a move towards some form of open access in their models.

Measured way

The report's conclusion is that the government should encourage research funders, scientists and journal publishers to back the open access model playing an increasingly important role in scientific publishing.

Although open access journals currently account for just 10% of published research it is an area that Dame Finch wants to see expanding rapidly.

Start Quote

Open access is is in our marrow. Greater access is for the greater good”

End Quote Professor Adam Tickel Birmingham University

"The long term future lies with open access," she said at a news conference to launch her report.

"It will continue to grow fast. We need to embrace this change and do so in a measured way.

One of Dame Janet's recommendations is to require the funders of research to set aside £60 million each year to pay the administrative fees for publication in open access publications.

Mr Willetts said he would give a formal government response after he had a chance to properly consider the report.

But after an initial reading he said it seemed to have struck a "sensible balance in safeguarding the very important role of academic publishers while finding a way to manage the change to an environment that is more dominated by open access".

Many scientists are strong supporters of open access publishing. Among them is Prof Elizabeth Fisher, a world class neuroscientist at University College London.

"At my institution we are lucky enough to have access to many journals. But inevitably myself or one of my colleagues occasionally needs to see something that we haven't subscribed to and so we have to pay a fee to see research that has been publicly funded.

"So it would be tremendously useful for our research if we didn't have to think twice about this sort of thing".

Professor Adam Tickell, pro-vice-chancellor for research and knowledge transfer at the University of Birmingham said that universities were hugely supportive of the move toward the new model of scientific publishing.

"Open access is is in our marrow," he said, "greater access is for the greater good".

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  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The more who read science, the more who will understand science. A good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    13. countrobert
    Are scientific journals no longer freely available in public libraries?
    Quite a lot of scientific journals are no longer freely available in UNIVERSITY libraries! The one I used to work for cancelled a load of journal subscriptions due to cost (and thats a Russell Group university usually rated in the UK top 10)

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Can you really make me belive that publishers refund $1000 per rejected article? So, these open access sources are no more than paid publicity by authors, perhaps not in all cases, but I have serious doubts. Why would a well published authors pay money when they can do it for free in other publications? Those who have no track record would surely pay any money to add that to their resume.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Publication can have consequences, and researchers who are rewarded proportionately to readership more than merit will not always be the right people to decide what goes out. Anyone who has thought about probable consequences of publishing tables of physical properties of Plutonium at high temperatures and pressures would understand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    18 penguin337
    "A place where the reader has sole responsibility for assessing the worth, or lack of worth, of the submission"

    A very dangerous preposition. We've already had Andrew Wakefield's completely falsified paper on autism/MMR slip through the net of peer review; I wouldn't want one of those every week. Especially given the disgusting irresponsibility the media displayed with that paper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I've just checked. I can get a copy of an interesting-looking article in a journal we're not subscribed to for 20 quid (or free if I send a request to the author). Publication in an open-access journal, as offered in this morning's email, would cost around 1000 euros.
    Someone needs to prove there's a real and significant demand before I'll waste limited fundng on what looks like a gimmick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Researchers should not pay to have their studies published. It makes it biased and compromises quality. The problem is where do publishers get the money to do dilligence, a proper peer-review? Edit 1000's of articles and then give them away for free? You can still read articles in the Library for free, but having it delivered to your desktop is a service people must be willing to pay for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    It's hard enough getting funding anyhow. Making the research companies pay for this process will only make it harder. Some journals already charge if you want to put in colour diagrams or artwork. We are expected not only to do research on a shoestring but be graphic designers too. I cannot see high impact journals that we need to aim for, like Science, ever being open access. More industry funds!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    A lot of the magazines are freely available or at low cost.
    For example, the MIT Technology Review is online and gives a good outines of various items.
    As Parish Spinster said, anyobe can request a copy of a paper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Let us go further. All documents used to design government projects are crown property. All calculations etc. should be freely available to all. That would save enormous resources when anyone produces a similar projects in the furture. It would save reinventing the wheel and allow improvements to be made on the original. Students would have practical examples to aid learning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Yet another level of official control and oversight is not going to move things forwards

    Einsteins teachers thought he was rubbish at maths and Babbage got along with almost no-one

    There needs to be a single repository where only the most basic oversight of scientific work is exercised

    A place where the reader has sole responsibility for assessing the worth, or lack of worth, of the submission

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    There's conflicting uses of the word "free" here. Anyone can get copies of papers by visiting a library or asking the authors, or even buying the journal. They may have to pay something, however.
    How high is the real demand? Why cut available research funds by forced payment to profit-making journals to get work published?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The easiest solution is to have an internet repository where a researcher can upload an unedited pdf

    Any reference to any published, and possibly restricted work can also be added to the document folder

    This would eliminate the semantics,costs,politics of publishing at a stroke

    The submissions would be solely for scientific purposes, errors and ommisions excepted etc (there are usually plenty)

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    But a big problem will be that researchers have to pay to publish. Not all researchers can do this,making these decisions based - not on merit - but price.

    A major part of the cost of publishing is editing the paper so that it reflects an approved format and standard

    Many papers are a publishing disaster zone when submitted and non English speaking papers have to been seen to be believed

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    So, we do the research, we do the typesetting and proof reading,and now we are expected to pay to publish as well? Rich research groups will be publishing far more frequently than those with small budgets - available money will define what is published rather than quality of science. Is there's a big demand or is this just another gimmick? Anyone can get a copy of a paper by asking the authors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Are scientific journals no longer freely available in public libraries?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Open access and open source should always come together. Knowledge could be improved with more participation of ideas and discussion. But sadly, everything that is new today has to go down the patent route: Money matters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    What percentage of the public:
    A) WANT to read scientific papers.
    B) Have even the vaguest understanding what they're reading?

    The average science based HYS has very few people interested in science and far too many nuts spouting their conspiracy theories and outright libel online. Frannkly giving free Nature subscription to people who think swine flu vaccine spreads swine flu seems a waste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    What academic institutions care about is just what impact factor (IF) are your publications and how many grants you got (which in turn are given based on the IF of your publications). And usually, the higher the IF the more likely the journal will not be an open access one. Only funding agencies can break this vicious cycle by forcing journals to become open access or changing assessment criteria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Major discoveries have often been made by an individual working alone

    Frank Whittle and his Jet Engine, patented in the 1930s

    An individual is not subject to the restrictions, politics, prejudices and interference of "organised science"

    These reasons, which give so much power to an individual are the very reasons why this proposal will probably fail, lol

    A camel is a horse made by a committee


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