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World air links. © INRA, created by Michael Markieta [spatialanalysis]

Open access publishing is the future!

Open-access: a public research must in the near future

The current political context is a boon to open access: research funding agencies and governments are recommending and, in some cases, requiring that public research results be accessible free of charge.

By Pascale Mollier, translated by Emma Morton Saliou
Updated on 02/06/2014
Published on 12/16/2013

Open access as a driver of innovation

In a recent press release (1), the European Commission declared that findings from all research financed through its Horizon 2020 programme  should be  published on an open-access basis, a position in keeping with an overarching policy agenda based on one simple principle: making public research findings...public. This EC recommendation echoes those made by major national funding bodies (the ANR in France, Research Councils UK (2), and the NIH in the U.S.). Open access corrects an inconsistency in the traditional system, whereby research institutes, which already fund research, pay a second time to access the outcomes of this research in the form of subscriptions, even though scientists who review research papers do so on a volunteer basis.

Allowing wider access to scientific findings is not only a question of generosity and a commitment to greater transparency for civil society. For the European Commission, it is also a prerequisite for boosting innovation in Europe: studies have shown that without direct and quick access to the latest scientific data, small- and medium-sized businesses fall as much as two years behind in the commercialisation of new products (3).

Open access on the rise

According to a study financed by the European Commission, open access publishing is developing at a rapid rate: 50% of scientific articles published in 2011 are available in this format – twice as many as previous studies predicted. Free-access publications have become a reality in most scientific fields, though to a slightly lesser degree in the human and social sciences, engineering and technology.

Open access has been boosted by the spread of electronic publishing, with its lower costs and speedier processing compared to print editions. Since the beginning of the 2000s, all major scientific publishers (six groups share nearly 100% of the market) have developed this format in parallel with their print collections.

Open access to publications raises a key issue, of course: who bears the financial costs of publishing? In the ‘gold’ open access model, the author pays the publisher to be published. In keeping with its policy goals, the EC has offered to cover all publishing-related costs incurred within the ‘gold’ system (4). Alternatively, the ‘green’ open access model is based on open archives which are managed by institutes, in which researchers can deposit their papers themselves and provide free access to them. For the moment, though, these archives do not ensure a proper editorial process or peer review, making it necessary to use a publisher anyway.

(1) Press release, 21 August 2013

(2) Research Councils UK is the strategic partner of the seven UK Research Councils which finance research in Great Britain.

(3) Press release, 17 July 2012

(4) As part of the  Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) European research project, which follows the 7th Framework Programme for Research.

Open access: the short story

At the government level:

• 2002: Budapest Initiative: established two methods of open-access (OA) scientific publishing.
• 2003: Berlin Declaration: extended OA principles to all cultural documents and all data related to research work.
• Country-level initiatives to promote OA (e.g. Germany, Great Britain, United States, China).
• 2013: Speech by France’s higher education and research minister on OA  

Funding agencies:

• 2008: Public Access Policy applies to papers financed by the NIH (in biomedical sciences, in the U.S.).
2012 and 2013: the EC imposes OA publication of results of research funded by the programme.