The benefits of Open Access

Astrid Wissenburg, Deputy Chair of RCUK Impact Group and RCUK representative on the Finch Group, and Mark Thorley, Chair of the RCUK Research Outputs Network, explain why open access is so high up the agenda for Research Councils.

Just over a month ago Research Councils UK launched a new Open Access policy. One of the key drivers for making published journal articles freely available through open access mechanisms is the potential it offers to the research community (and beyond) to mash, mine and mix information and knowledge..  This provides real opportunities to substantially further the progress of research and innovation. 

Professor Douglas Kell, RCUK Champion for Research and Information Management and CEO of the BBSRC, is well known for arguing the importance of open access to undertake exiting and ground breaking research through text and data mining. His blog gives many examples such as genome-based metabolic network reconstruction, text mining for systems biology, and pulling together disparate literatures and synthesising inductive knowledge in pharmacokinetics, medicine and toxicology. 

Beyond the Research Councils, Professor Peter Murray Rust, in his manifesto on Open Mining of Scholarship, notes that the lack of support for text mining stifles the imagination of the wider community and can lead to bad policy decisions through the lack of full use of scientific literature. The Value and Benefits of Text Mining report, commissioned by JISC , highlights that one of the barriers to overcome is providing unrestricted access to information sources.

It is this need for unrestricted access, allowing full use and re-use, which is one of the reasons why the Research Councils, along with the Wellcome Trust, are advocating the use of a Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ license (CC-BY). The CC-BY licence allows others to modify, build upon and/or distribute the licensed work, including for commercial purposes, as long as the original author is credited.  Crucially, CC-BY licensed works can be deposited in repositories with no further restrictions on access or re-use. Combine this with requiring immediate access where this is possible, if necessary through paying an open access fee, and we have some of the critical building blocks to fundamentally speed up the scientific and research process.

Murray Rust also notes that text mining is a major tool in data review. and the important role it plays in validating science. A key requirement of the new RCUK policy is that peer reviewed research papers, resulting from Council funded research must include a statement on how the underlying research materials such as data, samples or models can be accessed. This requirement has been included with the specific aim of making the work funded by the Research Councils more open, and so more accountable, both to other scientists and to the wider public.  This supports recommendations made in the recent Royal Society report on Science as an Open Enterprise to improve the conduct of science, respond to changing public expectations and political culture and to enable researchers to maximise the impact of their research. 

Whilst the requirement for a statement does not imply that the supporting data etc must always be Open Access, researchers must be clear about what supporting information can be made available, and how this can be accessed.  Researchers will also need to be equally clear about what it is not possible to make available including the reasons why.  For example, it is often not possible to make data relating to human subjects openly available because of issues relating to consent and confidentiality.

Implementing this requirement will be the responsibility of both researchers and their host institutions.  Researchers will need to think about openness as they plan and undertake research.  Institutions will need to develop an open data culture, and the necessary infrastructure and skills to support this. 

Institutional and subject repositories are expected to form a key element of that infrastructure by providing a secure, and accessible, home for the data, models and other information underlying a research paper.  They will not be suitable for all material, for example physical samples, however, they can provide a primary repository for a lot of the material, and by holding copies of the associated papers, provide the linkages between the paper and the underlying materials. This is also one of the recommendations of the Finch report Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications.  By doing so, institutional and subject repositories, containing ‘green’ and ‘gold’ materials can be an essential facilitator of text and data mining.  By supporting both gold and green open access, the Research Councils ensure further opportunities for repositories to develop this role.

Launching the new policy is not an end to the work that the Research Councils have been engaged in since launching their first joint statement on open access in 2005.  We are, in conversation with researchers and institutions, in the process of developing the operational details of the policy and will share the details as quickly as they become available. This is a fast moving area of research policy which, as major funders of research in the UK, we have a duty to ensure provides the best possible opportunity to the UK research base.

16 Responses to The benefits of Open Access

  1. Peter Groen August 10, 2012 at 13:02 #

    The global ‘Open Movement’ continues to gather strength and spread across industries and around the world. It now encompasses Open Standards, Open Source Software, Open Access, Open Data, Open Communities, and more. Check out links to many of the high quality, free and open solutions in Healthcare, Education, Government, … identified and posted by the non-profit COSI Open Solutions web site at http://www.cositech.net In the healthcare sector, there are some amazing advances taking place and numerous companies collaborating on open solutions. Check out Open Health News (OHN) at http://www.openhealthnews.com

  2. Stephen Curry August 23, 2012 at 09:11 #

    “We are, in conversation with researchers and institutions, in the process of developing the operational details of the policy and will share the details as quickly as they become available.”

    Can you say more about who you are talking to in developing operational details? Is it possible for any interested party to contribute? As you will no doubt be aware from online discussions, fundamental components of the policy are also the subject of debate. I appreciate the need for RCUK to define a working position but wonder, given the admittedly ‘fast moving’ nature of this topic, whether the organisation might seek to create for itself some room for manoeuvre so it could respond constructively to the still accruing responses to Finch and so allow modifications to the new RCUK policy?

    • astridwissenburg August 23, 2012 at 13:47 #

      RCUK have engaged with the wider community including learned societies, universities and publishers through the Finch Group discussions as well as through other existing networks, e.g. the Open Access Implementation Group, and our normal engagement with our communities. As part of this a draft of our OA policy was circulated earlier this year.

      Going forward we will continue to discuss the implementation of our policy with relevant groups. So for example, we are working with publishers to ensure they are aware of our requirement for papers to be licensed CC-BY where we fund the APCs, and to understand how they will deliver compliance with the policy (through Gold or Green). In early Autumn we will engage with the universities on our proposed mechanism for funding for APCs.

      We will continue to use this blog to share developments and implementation details, and welcome any comments and feedback.

  3. Stevan Harnad August 23, 2012 at 10:16 #

    The new RCUK Open Access Policy has some very serious but easily corrected defects.

    It is profoundly to be hoped that RCUK will be responsive to constructive recommendations:

    Urgent Need to Revise the New RCUK Open Access Policy
    http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/927-.html

    How and Why the RCUK Open Access Policy Needs to Be Revised
    (Digital Research 2012 Keynote, Oxford, September 11)
    http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/926-.html

    How to Repair the New RCUK OA Policy
    http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/923-.html

    • markthorley August 23, 2012 at 11:05 #

      I am very aware of the criticisms of the policy made by Steven Harnard and others. However, the ‘corrections’ he proposes would dilute our policy so that it was no longer able to deliver the level of open access which the Research Councils require. We not only want research papers to be ‘free to read’ but also to be ‘free to exploit’ – not only for text and data mining to advance scholarship as we detail in this blog-post, but also to drive innovation in the scholarly communications market itself. And, we are very clear that those who read research papers come from a much wider base than the research community that Harnard considers will be satisfied through the use of repositories and green OA. Therefore, there are no plans to revise the RCUK policy, just to satisfy the interests of one particular sector of the OA community.

      • Stevan Harnad August 23, 2012 at 14:48 #

        PRIORITIES: LOCAL AND GLOBAL

        Mark Thornley’s response is very disappointing:

        — MT: “the ‘corrections’ [Harnad] proposes would dilute our policy so that it was no longer able to deliver the level of open access which the Research Councils require.”

        The proposed corrections very explicitly *include* a correction to “the level of open access the Research Councils require.”

        To reply that this “level” is incorrigible and nonnegotiable is tantamount to saying our minds are made up, don’t trouble us with further information.

        The points requiring correction are very specifically those concerning the “level of open access” (Gratis or Libre; immediate or embargoed) that is actually needed by UK researchers today, and at what price, both in terms of price paid, out of scarce research funds, and, far more important, in terms of Green OA lost, in the UK as well as in the rest of the world (to whose research, RCUK needs to remind itself, UK researchers require open access too).

        These matters are not resolved by asserting that Finch/RCUK has already made up its mind a-priori about the level of OA required.

        — MT: “We not only want research papers to be ‘free to read’ but also to be ‘free to exploit’ – not only for text and data mining to advance scholarship… but also to drive innovation in the scholarly communications market itself.”

        All OA advocates are in favour of text-minability, innovation potential, and as much CC-BY as each author needs and wants for their research output, over and above free online access to all research output — but certainly not just for *some* research output, and certainly not at the expense (in both senses) of free online access to *all* research output (of which the UK only produces 6%). Yet it is precisely for the latter that Finch/RCUK are insisting upon restrictions and pre-emptive payment — for UK research output, both at the local UK tax-payer’s expense, and at the expense of global Green OA.

        The RCUK/Finch policy provides a huge incentive to subscription publishers to offer paid hybrid Gold while at the same time increasing their Green embargoes to make cost-free Green an impermissible option for UK authors. This not only deprives UK authors of the cost-free Green option, but it deprives the rest of the world as well.

        (I don’t doubt that some of the members of the Finch committee may even have thought of this as a good thing: a way to induce the rest of the world to follow the UK model, whether or not they can afford it, or wish to. But is this not something that may require some further thought?)

        — MT: “And, we are very clear that those who read research papers come from a much wider base than the research community that Harnad considers will be satisfied through the use of repositories and green OA. Therefore, there are no plans to revise the RCUK policy, just to satisfy the interests of one particular sector of the OA community.”

        It seems to me Mark has it exactly backwards. The “wider base,” in all scientific and scholarly research fields, worldwide, wants and needs free online access, now, and urgently, to all research, in all fields (not just UK research output). It is only in a few particular subfields that there is an immediate and urgent need for further re-use rights (and even there, not just for UK’s 6%).

        How urgent is text-mining of the UK’s 6% of world research output and CC-BY, compared to free online access to all of the world’s research output?

        And what are these urgent text-mining and other Libre OA functions? All authors need and want their work to be accessible to all its intended users, but how many authors need, want or even know about Libre OA, or CC-BY?

        And, Mark, can you elaborate rather specifically on the urgent “innovation market potential” that will resonate with all or most researchers as a rationale for constraining their journal choice, diminishing their research funds, and possibly having to find other funds in order to publish at all, today, when they do not even have free online access to the research output of the 94% of the world not bound by the RCUK policy?

  4. Stevan Harnad August 25, 2012 at 12:26 #

    PETER SUBER: ENSURING OPEN ACCESS FOR PUBLICLY FUNDED RESEARCH
    British Medical Journals 2012 http://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e5184

    “What matters first is to use the tools we have to drive open access for the benefit of researchers and taxpayers…. To do that on a global scale, every research funding agency, public or private, and every university, should require green open access for new peer reviewed research articles by their grantees and faculty. Institutions should take that step before adding new incentives or new funding for gold. Because green and gold have complementary advantages, we eventually want both. But that means using the strengths of green, not just the strengths of gold, and the major strengths of green lie in providing a fast and inexpensive transition to free online access. To fund the transition to gold without first harnessing the power of green incurs premature expense, leaves the transition incomplete, and puts the interests of publishers ahead of the interests of research….”

  5. Stevan Harnad August 25, 2012 at 13:34 #

    ALMA SWAN & JOHN HOUGHTON: Going for Gold?
    The costs and benefits of Gold Open Access for UK research institutions
    Report to the UK Open Access Implementation Group
    http://ie-repository.jisc.ac.uk/610/2/Modelling_Gold_Open_Access_for_institutions_-_final_draft3.pdf

    “[For UK universities] during a transition period when subscriptions are maintained, the cost of adopting Green OA is much lower than the cost of Gold OA – with Green OA self-archiving costing institutions around one-fifth the amount that Gold OA might cost, and as little as one-tenth as much for the most research intensive university sampled. In a transition period, providing OA through the Green route would have substantial economic benefits for universities, unless additional funds were released for Gold OA, beyond those already available through the Research Councils and the Wellcome Trust…”

  6. Peter Murray-Rust August 29, 2012 at 14:33 #

    I would like to support the coherence of the case that RCUK have put forward. I appreciate this is a difficult and complex area and that there are many vested interests so that it will not please everyone. It is extremely difficult to create a transition given that any moderate change will cost money and cause inconvenience. Nonetheless it is important to aim for the desirable situation where anyone in the world (*not* just academics) has access to the full results of scholarship. I therefore fully support the immediate drive for “CC-BY” or CC0 or equivalent.

    My primary motivation is that billions (sic) of research is wasted every year by not being accessible to machines. I wrote to the UK Hargreaves committee and opined that in chemistry alone we were losing “low billions per year” worldwide in opportunity cost, the lack of new generation information products, bad decision making, etc. Taken over all science and medicine this loss is far larger than the cost of CC-BY publishing. The problem, of course , is that it is difficult to quantify this and difficult to argue that the fruits come to those who invest – a prisoner’s dilemma. Nonetheless the communities who are able to use the full fruits of science will benefit enormously.

    The current situation is a mess. This is because academia has repeatedly failed to address the lost value and lost rights, simply nibbling occasionally at the costs of journals. There is no natural market pressure and the “Open Access community” has failed to address quality, compliance, incompetence and often greed among many publishers. The RCUK, along with Wellcome, Max Planck and NIH (where it can escape publisher lobbying) are the first signs of a coherent determined strategy, with organizations who are concerned to get it right and who are not distracted by academic glory. Not everything will be “got right” initially but this is our best chance for a concerted though-out approach that aims to benefit science and the world.

    • Stevan Harnad August 29, 2012 at 20:38 #

      HOW TO MAKE THE RCUK OPEN ACCESS POLICY WORK

      PMR: “the coherence of the case that RCUK have put forward”

      RCUK have a coherent case for OA, but to make RCUK *policy* coherent and effective it has to drop the clause requiring UK authors to pay publishers extra for CC-BY OA over providing free online (Green OA self-archiving) access without paying publishers anything extra.

      As it stands, RCUK’s proposed policy would have the perverse effect of encouraging subscription publishers to offer (hybrid) Gold OA (whether CC-BY or Gratis) for an extra fee, and to increase their Green OA embargo periods to make sure UK authors have to pay.

      The simple fix is to drop the drop the requirement for authors to pick paid Gold OA and to strengthen the compliance-monitoring carrot/stick mechanism for ensuring that authors provide Green OA.

      PMR: “any moderate change will cost money and cause inconvenience”

      The cost of monitoring compliance with Green is incomparably less than paying extra for Gold.

      PMR: “important [for] anyone in the world (*not* just academics) [to have] access to the full results of scholarship”

      Green Gratis OA (free online access) provides most of the world with all the access they need and want. The marginal benefits of CC-BY Gold are neither worth the extra cost for the UK, nor the loss in Green that the perverse effects of RCUK’s Gold carrot would have on publishers’ Green embargo lengths.

      PMR: “billions [sic] of research is wasted every year by not being accessible to machines… difficult to quantify this”

      It’s difficult indeed to quantify, but if access-denial to machines wastes “billions of research” then access-denial to human users lacking subscription access wastes trillions, and that’s what mandating Green Gratis (effectively) remedies.

      PMR: “this loss is far larger than the cost of CC-BY publishing”

      …but the loss from the marginal benefits of paid CC-BY Gold OA over cost-free Green OA certainly is not.

      PMR: “the “Open Access community” has failed to address quality, compliance, incompetence and often greed among many publishers”

      True. But universal Gratis Green OA mandates would provide universal Gratis OA — and would eventually lead the way to global Gold OA and as much CC-BY as authors want and need.

      PMR: “RCUK, along with Wellcome, Max Planck and NIH…are the first signs of a coherent determined strategy, with organizations who are concerned to get it right”

      But to get it right, they need to make sure to adopt coherent, effective OA mandates, not ineffective ones with perverse consequences.

      All that is needed to make RCUK’s cost-free Green Gratis mandate work is:

      A. Drop the requirement to pick paid hybrid Gold over cost-free Green OA. 
      Whether to pay for Gold or to provide cost-free Green should remain the author’s choice.

      That’s the minimal change needed. The mandate could be fully optimized as follows:

      B1: adopt ID/OA (immediate deposit required, no exceptions: OA can be embargoed, but immediate-deposit cannot)

      B2: mandate institutional deposit, not institution-external deposit, in order to recruit UK universities to monitor and ensure compliance 

      B3: so that  UK universities adopt complementary university Green OA mandates of their own, for the rest of their research output;

      B4: stipulate that repository deposit is the sole mechanism for submitting publications for REF, for competitive funding, for grant fulfillment and for institutional performance assessment.

      B5: Drop the restriction that RCUK authors may not publish in a journal if it’s Green OA embargo exceeds 6-12 (ID/OA moots this)
      Which journal to publish in would remain the author’s choice.

  7. Stevan Harnad September 15, 2012 at 01:25 #

    RCUK POLICY IS IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION WITH BOAI-10 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INSTITUTIOMS

    Unless *9 words* are removed from the new RCUK OA policy, it is in direct contradiction with the very first item of the new BOAI-10-Recommendations for institutions.

    RCUK DRAFT OPEN ACCESS POLICY
    http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/documents/RCUK%20_Policy_on_Access_to_Research_Outputs.pdf

    …3. Research Council Expectations of Researchers

    …Peer reviewed research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils:

    1. must be published in journals which are compliant with Research Council policy on Open Access (see section 4)….

    4. Compliance of Journals

    The Research Councils will continue to support a mixed approach to Open Access. The Research Councils will recognise a journal as being compliant with their policy on Open Access if:

    1. The journal provides via its own website immediate and unrestricted access to the publisher’s final version of the paper (the Version of Record), and allows immediate deposit of the Version of Record in other repositories without restriction on re-use. This may involve payment of an ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) to the publisher. The CC-BY license should be used in this case.

    Or

    2. *Where a publisher does not offer option 1 above,* the journal must allow deposit of Accepted Manuscripts that include all changes resulting from peer review (but not necessarily incorporating the publisher’s formatting) in other repositories, without restrictions on non-commercial re-use and within a defined period. In this option no ‘Article Processing Charge’ will be payable to the publisher. Research Councils will accept a delay of no more than six months between on-line publication and a research paper becoming Open Access, except in the case of research papers arising from research funded by the AHRC and the ESRC where the maximum embargo period is 12 months.

    BOAI-10 OPEN ACCESS POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INSTITUTIONS AND FUNDERS
    http://www.soros.org/openaccess/boai-10-recommendations

    1. On policy

    1.1. Every institution of higher education should have a policy assuring that peer-reviewed versions of all future scholarly articles by faculty members are deposited in the institution’s designated repository. (See recommendation 3.1 on institutional repositories.)

    Deposits should be made as early as possible, ideally at the time of acceptance, and no later than the date of formal publication.

    University policies should respect faculty freedom to submit new work to the journals of their choice. [italics added]

    University policies should encourage but not require publication in OA journals…[italics added]

    1.3. Every research funding agency, public or private, should have a policy assuring that peer-reviewed versions of all future scholarly articles reporting funded research are deposited in a suitable repository and made OA as soon as practicable.

    Deposits should be made as early as possible, ideally at the time of acceptance, and no later than the date of formal publication…

  8. Derek Law September 21, 2012 at 14:14 #

    If publicly funded research is to be publicly available we need to press ahead with enhancing the huge success that “Green” has already proved to be. That’s not to say gold isn’t valuable but green has most visibility.

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