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 88.

    #87 Do you understand the concept of bio-diesel. If I fed rats GM bio-diesel and they died would you be surprised? Pusztai made a potato express a poison and it turned out to be poisonous. Ricin is a lectin (from castor beans) BTW. If Pusztai had GM modified potatoes to express sucrose and that had killed some rats THAT would have been a story.

    This just shows the hype against GM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    77potato was never intended to be eaten...
    On what basis could the FDA call GM food "substantially equivalent"? The issue is not just its effects on organism digesting it but the environmental consequences, insects, soil etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Public funding pays authors and reviewers (they all are at some university), and so the high-quality peer review process has nothing to do with the publishers. In turn, public money is used to pay the exorbitant subscription fee for the same journals.
    It is possible to maintain the high standards and just publish online for free. As a researcher, I see the counterarguments as mere sophistry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    #84 but those 'Christians' who tend to preach ID seem to favour the old testament eye for an eye being gay is a capital crime sort of God to the forgive and tolerate new testament variety. A bloodthirsty god is their sort of deity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    #51 Drunken Hobo

    '..#47 Peter_Sym
    ...the wholly unscientific "Intelligent Design" idea ..'

    I love intelligent design - mainly because it highlights the stupidity and lack of logic of the people promoting it. Evolution driven by ID implies a totally ruthless God driven by a need for infinite blood and suffering. They fail to notice that evolution works by killing the weak and 'inferior'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    If scientists consider that a piece of work furthers science in their area, surely they'll jump at the chance to use their own funds to study it (which implicitly suggests a formal peer review or corroborative study), won't they? ... even if the original scientist publishes on their personal blog and e-mails potentially interested parties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    #80 I find it terribly sad too. The worst thing is that most of the 'myths' you hear are so easy to disprove starting with the profits the pharma industry makes. The mass plant closures and rock bottom share prices for Astra-Zeneca etc are easily found. I note its usually 'Thalidomide' (a 50 year old drug thats turned out to be rather useful) gets mentioned too. Nothing more recent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    "Research is usually kept secret so no big surprise on this one."
    Not in any academic research team I know - we wouldn't get funding without publications. If the numbers fall, we hear about it.
    There's little point or fun in keeping it secret - one of the best things about research (aside from the research) is discussing it with colleagues, and looking for answers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I find it funny that people believe the same scientific method that has doubled human life expectancy since 1900, reduced infant mortality by 70% since 1950 and eliminated smallpox is also somehow out to get us.
    The current system may not be perfect but it’s near-infinitely better than anything we have ever had before and is constantly improving.

    Actually I don’t find it funny, I find it sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    As a retired academic now working for a small company it is frustrating that publishers are allowed to stand between publicly funded research and the general public. All publicly funded research should be published on the web within the term of the funded period, in the author's own words. No self-appointed priesthood should select which research the public is allowed to see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Most research is funded either by industry or, more commonly, directly or indirectly, by governments. Industrial research, such as in the pharma industry ends up as a vested interest or in the bin. Patents give protection. The companies could profit by free publication of papers. Government funded work should always be in the public domain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    #76 The point with Pusztai's work was that the potato was never intended to be eaten. The potatoes were modified to express lectin from snowdrops. I use lectins as a positive control in my research because they stimulate T-cells. I wouldn't eat the stuff!!!!

    Remember most GM crops are for industrial use (oils for soap) not consumption. Thats rarely reported.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I am not advocating publishing "failure studies" but the data on Vioxx (painkiller) was clearly manipulated. Publishing the real data showing heart failures and stroke risks could have saved hundreds of lives. Similarly, articles about GM food toxicity are scarce. When rats began dying in A Pusztai's lab during GMO experiements his articles were supressed and he was shortly fired.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    If industry wants to use the results of publically funded research for profit, they should have to cough up to a pot that gets distributed across universities and research institutions.

    Open access journals (the free to publish ones) are new and therefore not very respected in my field. But I hope this - and published reviewer comments - is the way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Research is usually kept secret so no big surprise on this one. Researchers/Academics are as cut throat as corporate executives Opening this up to everybody could benefit the greater good but this won't happen

    ...and we have a winnah

    In a world of finite resources, where knowledge generates exclusive power and wealth, a system for the "greater good" is really only for dreamers and the naïve

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    #63 There are several reasons why academic books cost £50-100 each. First is physical. My old university textbooks are extremely well bound and filled with colour illustrations. Second is a low print run. They'll sell thousands of copies not millions. Third is that information changes. I had a genetics book out of date within 6 months of publishing. Harry Potter will still be in print in 50 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    There was a good recent example of open science, but sadly it was in the news for the wrong reasons. All research conducted at the government-funded Rothamstead GM trial is completely open source, and anyone who wishes to view or replicate their findings is free to do so. They also made the seeds fertile to prevent profiteering, ironically if they hadn't done that nobody would have protested!

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    #66 I can give you lab books bursting with stuff that doesn't work! I don't know why you'd want to read it though. Dolly the sheep took 400 attempts before it succeeded. The journal publishing the 399 failures is going to be a dull read. Likewise 99% of drugs the pharma industry trial fail. Its written up but Nature aren't going to publish it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Research funding is squeezed as it is. It should be spent on carrying out studies, not on simply buying pages in journals later one.

    There are so many ways someone can get ahold of a published article that open access is really not the miraculous development the publishers make it sound like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    2a. Following on from 2., the problem then becomes that anyone who does not have a science masters (by research) in the specific field they have decided to peruse will most likely struggle to understand what they are actually reading. Unfortunately, reading intermediate books intended for non-experts will not give you the required understanding.


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