Making research available to all: open access panel discussion at the Cambridge Science Festival

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Recent times have seen important advances in open access publishing. Earlier this month, the Research Councils UK (RCUK) announced their revised open access policy, which comes into effect from April 1st 2013, and states that all RCUK-funded research must be published open access. While the RCUK support both green and gold open access options, they strongly encourage the gold model, as recommended by the Finch Report on expanding access to research findings.

Last week BMC Medicine attended a panel discussion on open access as part of the Cambridge Science Festival, chaired by Prof John Naughton, which discussed this significant development. Cameron Neylon, Advocacy Director at PLOS, kicked off discussions by describing the benefits of open access publishing, arguing that we have a duty of trust to maximize the impact of scholarship by making publicly-funded research accessible to all. The Wellcome Trust’s efforts to make research publicly available were discussed by Policy Advisor David Carr, who agreed with the importance of the RCUK’s policy and described how all research funded by the Wellcome Trust must be made available on PubMed Central. Carr explained that, surprisingly, only 55–60% of research is compliant with their open access publishing policy; a great deal of progress with compliance has been made since 2006 but more work is needed. In June 2012, sanctions were introduced to encourage all researchers to conform with the open access policy; Carr discussed how the Wellcome Trust check compliance with the policy before renewing grant payments as a measure to encourage open access publishing. Both Neylon and Carr emphasized that we need to ensure open access publishing is sustainable in resource-limited settings, highlighting that BMC’s Open Access Africa initiative is a promising step forward.

Neil Hammond, Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press, followed with a caution about how we must provide publishing models to suit the needs of different research communities. Hammond explained how needs differ between the fields of medicine, humanities and social sciences; the latter groups have less funding available for publishing and so the “author pays model” is less viable. Rupert Gatti discussed how Open Book Publishers, of which he is a co-founder, publish monographs in the humanities that are freely available online, but also produce print copies in order to sustain the business model while disseminating research to all.

In the Q&A session following the speakers’ presentations, the panelists discussed open peer review; Neylon and Hammond agreed that it is important to experiment with different types of review and Neylon emphasized that peer reviewers should be recognized for their hard work using the open review system. The speakers agreed that open review works well in the medical sciences, as demonstrated by the BMC medical journals’ system.

The panel discussion demonstrated how great progress has been made in moving towards free dissemination of research to all, but further work is required to emphasize the importance of open access to all researchers and develop feasible models across all disciplines. BioMed Central supports the RCUK’s open access policy and is working hard to achieve sustainable funding models through institutional membership and our open access waiver fund.