An EU report has urged funders to guarantee open access to research, but there's still no RCUK policy in sight
By Stephen Pincock | April 21, 2006
A European Commission report this month urged science funders to guarantee open access to research outputs. Meanwhile, the umbrella group for Britain's research councils is still working on its own policy, 10 months after releasing a draft policy on open access.
The EU report, published at the beginning of April, recommends that European funding agencies promote and support the archiving of publications in open repositories. "This archiving could become a condition for funding," its authors suggest.
The report doesn't directly call for funders to mandate open access, but it is still big news, said Peter Suber from the Open Access Project at Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that focuses on the dissemination of information. In his long-running blog, Suber said: "If the authors are distinguishing a guarantee from a mandate, then I'd like to hear more about it. But 'even' a guarantee would be extremely welcome."
Suber also said he hoped the report would have wide ramifications. "I hope this report strengthens the final draft of the RCUK [Research Councils UK] policy, triggers the adoption of OA policies at the national level across Europe, and increases the odds that the nascent European Research Council will mandate OA to ERC-funded research."
RCUK published a draft policy on open access in June last year. That document would have required scientists funded by the research councils to deposit papers in an online repository, and was warmly greeted by supporters of open access. But it generated a hostile reaction from some journal publishers and learned societies.
Since then, RCUK has been involved in lengthy discussions with publishers, scientists, government departments, and other groups with the aim of refining its position, said Adrian Pugh, policy and support manager for the RCUK secretariat.
The end of that process is not yet in sight. The problem is that RCUK is trying to hit a moving target, Pugh said. "Really what we've found is that it's a very dynamic and moving field." That problem is exacerbated because the policy has got to be practicable for a range of research disciplines, from the arts and humanities, he said. "And that is a very tricky thing."
The EC's report will definitely feed into that ongoing process, Pugh told The Scientist, but won't necessarily be given special emphasis. "We will consider it in the same way that we consider any report that offers a position on the issue," he said. In recent times, the Wellcome Trust, the NIH and others have also weighed in on the subject.
Phil Willis, Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough, and chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, said the length of time being taken by RCUK was "unacceptable."
"I think it's about time they made it clear what their position is, and that their position is in line with the EC report," he told The Scientist. "The principle should be that if the tax payer pays for it, then they decide about access."
In the meantime, the European Commission is calling for reactions to the study, and contributions on other issues linked to scientific publications by June 1, 2006. This feedback will be the focus of a conference on scientific publication to be held in the fall.
Links within this article
"Study on the economic and technical evolution of the scientific publication markets in Europe," European Commission, January 2006.
Open access news
S. Pincock, "RCUK draft mandates open access," The Scientist, June 23, 2005.
S. Pincock, "Wellcome insists on open access," The Scientist, May 19, 2005.
T. Agres, "NIH announces 'open-access' rules," The Scientist, February 4, 2005. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/20050204/02/