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Making research freely available: Open access on the fast track

© biblioteekje / Used under CC licence

Open access is happening – and its happening faster than expected, concludes a new study funded by the European Commission. Half of all scholarly publications in 2011 are freely available online and the trend will increase. The study, carried out by Science-Metrix, predicts that open access “is poised to become the dominant form of dissemination of peer-reviewed scholarly articles in the European research area“. A similar picture emerges outside Europe: more than 50 percent of scholarly publications are freely available in the US and even 63 percent in Brazil. However, not all subjects are equally accessible. Biomedical research, biology, mathematics and statistics are leading whilst social sciences and humanities are at the lower end.

From Lisbon to EU 2020

The majority of EU countries have no direct legislation on open access. Yet there are an increasing number of national policies, led by the United Kingdom followed by Ireland and Spain. At EU level, open access is seen as main driver for improved knowledge circulation and innovation. Research and innovation have already been high on the Lisbon agenda and are still top priorities in the EU 2020 strategy. Faster access to research by open access is definitely a push for becoming a knowledge-based economy.

Increased visibility vs. quality concerns

The study also investigates the acceptance of open access among researchers. Whilst the concept is often met with approval, it is not equally often put into practice. Whilst open access is recognised for leading to increased visibility, higher usage and more impact through more citations, there are also common concerns: from the quality of available open access journals to publishing peer-reviewed articles alongside non-peer-reviewed ones and confusion over copyright. A frequent barrier to publishing is author-side fees,  when open access articles are published in subscription-based journals where authors have to pay high publishing fees.

Publicly funded research = open access?

From 2014 onwards, all scientific publications funded by the Horizon 2020 programme shall be made freely available. In 2008, the European Commission ran a pilot project in its Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) where research had to be published in an online repository. In a consultation by the European Commission on scientific information in 2011, 67% of publishers disagreed that publicly funded research should be available open access. A similar debate takes place in the US where research funded by the National Institute of Health needs to be made freely available in the full-text archive PubMed Central within a year. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) calls this an unreasonable burden for the author. On a side note: In 2007, the AAP launched a coalition against mandatory open access publishing by the name of PRISM – a term that today many would rather associate with ‘open access to private data’.

About Verena Kern

Information Specialist for Employment & Social Affairs


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