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 108.

    One further point - the peer reviewers all do it voluntarily on their own time and do not get paid by the publisher, so the publisher can't really claim to 'provide' that service. It is also up to the author to correctly format the manuscript, or it will be rejected. Even the editors often make decisions about topics they do not know much about. As an author, having to pay to publish seems unfair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    104 beebalert - I don't think anybody is saying wider access is a bad thing, rather that if it resulted in less rigorous peer reviewing and thus the inclusion of junk science alongside real discoveries, it could effectively destroy the scientific method.
    But as others have pointed out access is fairly open already if you take the time to look. If you're that interested, it's not much of a hassle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I am a strong supporter of open access for science publications, however one main issue for me as a graduate student is that most of the open access journals have a low impact factor, and if I want any hope of securing a position after my current tenure is finished I will need to publish elsewhere in more established journals, and it is these journals that need to become more open access.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    #95 my understanding is that the publishers will get a block payment from the research councils to cover the costs of open access. Individual institutions or researchers won't need to pay at point of use.

    It would make sense if charities were included.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I see many people object to wider access on the basis that it'd be open to abuse and that people are too stupid to read them.

    If you want people to get less ignorant you have to give them access to information. On the other point I hold up wikipedia as an example of what an all access solution can accomplish with a few basic rules and systems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Roosta (100) said: Yes, that's it, precisely. No public funding without free public access. No patent / copyright on any product paid for or partially paid for with taxpayers money.

    Without patents, there's no particular incentive for companies to invest in research: public funding would be required for 100% of research.

    Are you being serious, Roosta, or is this sarcasm?

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Journals that are years old need subscription costs to read from many Journal Websites. Money for old rope, and they make science expensive!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    This is dancing around the main issue, intellectual property rights are actually damaging scientific progress. How much grey matter are we wasting by keeping science secret by way of capitalist controls? There are a great many fields I'd like to stay more current on but cannot afford to. Am I alone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    #97: Yes, that's it, precisely. No public funding without free public access. No patent / copyright on any product paid for or partially paid for with taxpayers money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    A lot of journals also have articles of interest, news-and-views, etc. The cost of creating these has to be met with advertising and author-payments from research articles. There is no perfect system, and an upfront payment-per-article wont work for print journals due to additional costs required per e.g. colour figure used (colour ink has to come from somewhere). Costs $$$$ extra.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Great idea. I would love to be able to check the writings of people who know what their talking about instead of having to go by what the media say. However, this will probably lead to more mis-reporting of science by the media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Open access to science the only way forward.

    It's crazy that at the moment I must pay (via government grants) to get my research published in peer-reviewed journals and other scientists have to pay again (again via grants) to read the paper.

    The peer-review that journals claim they provide is done for free by (government funded) researchers.

    We're paying three-times over for the work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Oops! #94 should refer to #91, not #90!
    Mea culpa!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I am a research scientist and I work for a charity. We simply don't have the resources to pay to publish in open access journals. Does that mean our work shouldn't be published or isn't good quality science? Moving to open access publishing will simply mean that rich and powerful research groups become even more rich and powerful and bias against good science produced by those with lower budgets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    #90. How is it "inaccessible to most" if published in a scientific journal? You can buy a copy of the paper or, as I pointed out in an earlier message, ask the author to send you a copy. Very often, if you go to the relevant journal's page you can get the abstract (which gives the key points) free - this will include contact info for the corresponding author.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    #71 negative results are extremely important. Especially when trying to predict outcomes of a certain phenomenon. If all you have positive outcomes, you've no chance of working out the chance of negative results.

    You say Dolly was successfully cloned on the 400th attempt, but the volume of literature doesn't reflect the true difficulty as you only see the successes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    #90 did it? You're claiming a toxic product (lectin) WASN'T toxic in this case? Doesn't sound so if you're claiming 'possibly insertional mutagenisis' rather than 'because of.... '

    Sorry if that was what Pusztai intended to show then his experimental design was grossly flawed. He should have inserted a gene for something non-toxic (like sucrose) and shown toxicity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Publicly-funded research (not just in science) is paid for by the govt. using taxpayers' money. Publishing it "properly" costs money which commercial publishers recoup by charging for access thus making the research inaccessible to most. Perhaps we should have a publicly-funded, state-owned publisher who can also do a "proper" job, employ skilled editors and even pay referees for their input?

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The damage did not originate not from the transgene and its expressed product but from the damage caused by the insertion of the transgene,possibly due to insertional mutagenesis. That's a difference!

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Magnus (75) and others... I see the motivation for your comments that industry should pay to use publicly funded research.

    But are you saying journal subscription costs should be the vehicles for that charge? Surely they pay in the publicly levied taxes, licenses for patents, and other mechanisms?

    I ask for information...


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