Sharing the results of publicly funded research

Point of No-Return for Open Access

April 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Open Access movement is gaining momentum by the day. Just a short while ago you could still hear voices telling us that this was all  just a hype and would go away  Recent events however, have proved them to be wrong.

The call for action by Tim Gowers may have marked a point of no return for the open access movement. It almost seemed as if scientists suddenly and collectively came to realize the absurdness of a situation that they had taken for granted for all too long. Looking back it really seems absurd that scientists have provided publishers with their work for free, have reviewed these works for free, and that publishers in return have charged the scientists and others to be be able to access the information.

There has been a lot of media attention recently for open access.  The Guardian has put open access on its front page in an article on the Wellcome Trust’s move in favor of open access. Sir Mark  Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust said that his organisation “would soon adopt a more robust approach with the scientists it funds, to ensure that results are freely available to the public within six months of first publication”.

Another major event has been the announcementby the World Bank to “become the first major international organization to require open access under copyright licensing from Creative Commons—a non-profit organization whose copyright licenses are designed to accommodate the expanded access to information afforded by the Internet”. Starting april 10, 2012 the World Bank has launched a  repository as a one-stop-shop for most of the Bank’s research outputs and knowledge products, providing free and unrestricted access to students, libraries, government officials and anyone interested in the Bank’s knowledge. Additional material, including foreign language editions and links to datasets, will be added in the coming year. This move is especially significant since the bank is not just making their work free of charge, but also free for use and reuse.”

But with the increased media attention comes the danger that we may loose sight of what is meant by the term ‘open access’. With everyone starting talking about ‘open access’ as if this were one clearly defined term, it has become more urgent than ever to have clarity on this issue. It was one of the reasons for the start of the @ccess Initiative where this blog is posted.  Because open access can range from somewhat restricted (only free reading) to completely unrestricted (completely free for use and reuse) we have proposed to coin the term @ccess for free and unrestricted access to information in accordance with the BBB definition.

Another reason for the @ccess Initiative, and a matter of increasing importance, is the EASE of access to information. When more and more information will become available through open access, the difficulty of finding the right information will also increase. The use of a great number of institutional repositories can only work when all these repositories are adequately cross-linked and working together, a sheer impossible task to accomplish. A better option would be to reduce the number of repositories by limiting these to big (inter)national organisations like WHO, World Bank, FAO and others.

Another option still, and one I personally favor, can run in parallel with the last option above. This option is the storage and management of information with specialized scientific communities as I have described in another blog and on the @ccess communities page of this website. To give an example, and the one that we are actually working on: together with MalariaWorld we are developing a comprehensive database of malaria related publications. At the same time we will ask researchers to deposit their manuscripts and data in an open access repository that is linked to the database. This database will also link to open access articles. For restricted access publications we will seek to get as many manuscripts as possible deposited in the database as well. The community will eventually provide open access to all information, provide a platform for collaboration and information exchange and serve as a communication platform for everyone seeking information on, or working on malaria.  Other communities can be formed using this model. In this way we would move towards a system of interlinked scientific communities and easy access to pertinent information through these communities. This model would also maximize the chances for scientific collaboration and innovation. The combination of open access and the participation of scientists and citizens in the scientific enterprise will change the way that science is done. Networked scientific communities will have far better chances to tackle the world’s toughest problems, not in the least because open access would give equal opportunities to people in developing countries to profit from,and contribute to science. To quote Peter Suber: ““What you want is for everybody to have access to everything, and not just the north making its research available to the south or vice versa. Open access should be a two-way street.” The  proposed structure for scientific @ccess communities would be perfectly suited for this task.

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