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Exciting times for open access

Research papers (credit: flickr/quinn.anya)

Research papers (Credit: flickr/quinn.anya)

Open access publishing has barely left the headlines in the past few months. Today our umbrella body, Research Councils UK, announces its new policy on open access. MRC Knowledge and Information Manager Geraldine Clement-Stoneham explains the policy and why it matters.

Research Councils UK has today announced its new Policy on Access to Research Outputs. Open access to scientific research results is widely perceived as an essential part of a modern society, in which the internet facilitates rapid exchange of ideas. Open access publishing can help accelerate the process of scientific discovery, inform citizens and create economic growth.

The research councils have supported the wide diffusion of research results for many years, so why does this latest announcement matter?

The new policy was informed by the recent publication of the Finch Report on how best to enable more people to read and use research publications. It makes a clear statement that free access at the point of use is now the only acceptable way for researchers to publish the results of their research.

Not only does the policy request that readers should no longer pay to read research papers, but it also acknowledges that it’s essential that researchers are able to reuse information contained in papers for purposes such as text mining. Increasing numbers of research papers are being published each year, making it harder for researchers to extract valuable information from the growing volume of literature. So we need papers formatted in such a way to enable them to be read by machines, as well as people. As highlighted in a recent JISC/Wellcome Trust report, emerging text mining technologies offer exciting new opportunities for scientific discoveries.

The other main change introduced by the policy is in how we’ll fund publication costs. Research councils have recognised that to encourage the shift from subscription-based journals to open access publication, there is a need for a simpler model to cover the payment made by researchers to process open access articles. From 1 April 2013, this will be done through a direct payment in the form of a block grant to institutions, rather than researchers applying individually as part of their award, as they do presently. The details are yet to be worked through.

The RCUK announcement comes just days after another exciting development for the MRC. We’ve been funding the development of UK PubMed Central (UKPMC) as the open access repository of choice for MRC-funded research since 2006. On Friday 13 July, the European Research Council (ERC) announced that it will be joining UKPMC and that it will request that all ERC-funded biomedical research is archived within six months of publication. Given this addition of a major European funder to the UKPMC family, the UKPMC funders have decided to rebrand as EuropePMC. A full re-launch of the Europe PMC website is planned for the end of the year.

In the meantime, you can still access the latest results from MRC-funded research on UKPMC, and find further information on the current MRC open access policy on our website.

Geraldine Clement-Stoneham

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