Stimulation by funding-agencies to open access to literature and to make outcomes of research more transparent should be embraced by scientists

04 June 2013

Open access to published papers in research has become a main goal of the world’s research-funding agencies, as the Global Research Council indicated last week. The voluntary discussion forum has been used to set up an action plan to achieve this aim. It is considered to be a necessary “top-down-push” for researchers who used to be quite reluctant about free availability of papers. Of course, individual agencies have distinctive policies on this issue. Open-access campaigners have had some success, but not on a big scale yet.  One of the big biomedical research charities have promoted open access for 8 years, granting financial support for openness. Nevertheless only a bit more than half of the published studies are open access and  they are mostly uploaded by publishers, instead of the researchers themselves.

In the UK funding councils support the researchers’ actions to guarantee “gold” open access. Yet, they are exceptions, for agencies avoid funding the author’s decision to make access free after publication. In the U.S. they are short in financial resources and therefore leave it to the authors or publishers to make papers available to the wider public 6 months after publication – this is called “green” open access. In Germany both scientists and universities can receive funding for immediate free access after publication, which makes it a dual system. Application for respective financial support is required though. Brazilian authors and the government instead negotiate about accessibility on a national level, which is a rather time-consuming activity.

Besides, there is no agreement on internationally encouraging open accessibility of scientific papers. Monitoring this process and possibilities of sanctioning reluctant researchers e.g. by “refusing future grants”, are contested issues as well. So far enforcement has been avoided to gradually convince and motivate scientists. But this way agencies leave it to researchers to decide what to do with their papers, which does not really stimulate them to take the opportunity to open access. To evaluate effectiveness of open access policies, agencies would have to study the impacts of the funding they provide.

For the latter there is consensus: Monitoring effectiveness and sharing information about the results has to be improved. So far the number or funders capable of presenting data on the results of funding open access is low.  A larger proportion of these is to be found in the medical sector, e.g. the Wellcome Trust and the US National Institutes of Health.

New ways to make sources of funding scientific publications transparent are desired by publishers and agencies alike.  The Global Research Council thus has published the action plan and the CrossRef (a non-profit publisher alliance) has developed the FundRef (www.crossref.org/fundref) service: This promotes standardization of reporting funding sources through additional metadata describing papers published online.

Agencies in the United Kingdom require detailed information on results achieved with the help of their financial support. This is done by a service called ‘research outcome system’. Minor funders join the infrastructure of the Medical Research Council, called Researchfish, to compensate the lack of means of tracking sources themselves. On international scale various attempts are made to find solutions to this tracking problem. Also ways of connecting outputs and comparing different data through registry mechanisms are explored. The ORCID system works with unique identifiers (numbers), to follow the researchers’ work. Systems such as Figshare enable to recognize and cite from diverse outputs.

To sum up, there is a new movement among funding agencies to stimulate open access so that ever more detailed information on results will be demanded from scientists for publication. This should be regarded as an opportunity to present their work and express their appreciation of support networks funding their publications.

 

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