A Journey to Open Access (6) : The Open Access Revolution – The Next Steps …

Since the beginning of the year, the momentum for open access to research publications has grown dramatically. On February 13th 2013, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act was introduced in the US Senate by Jon Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and in the House by Mike Doyle (D-PA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Kevin Yoder (R-KS). FASTR would require open access to peer-reviewed research papers arising from federally-funded research and would require the major federal research funding agencies – including DOE, NIH and NSF – to make these papers freely available to the public through a digital archive maintained by the agency. Significantly, the bill not only talks about the requirement of accessibility – with a suggested maximum embargo time of 6 months – but also highlights the need to maximize the utility of the research by enabling re-use:

“The United States has a substantial interest in maximizing the impact of the research it funds by enabling a wide range of reuses of the peer-reviewed literature reporting the results of such research, including by enabling automated analysis by state-of-the-art technologies.”

Such automated analysis would permit a genuine realization of the vision of the Memex put forward by Vannevar Bush in his seminal paper ‘As We May Think’. The FASTR act also includes another far-sighted requirement that federal agencies consider whether or not the terms of use should include “a royalty free copyright license that is available to the public and that permits the reuse of those research papers, on the condition that attribution is given to the author or authors of the research and any others designated by the copyright owner”. As Heather Joseph points out in her SPARC newsletter – http://www.arl.org/sparc/media/blog/with-introduction-of-fastr-congress-picks-up-the-p.shtml – this would effectively require research papers to be published under some form of Creative Commons license.

On February 22nd, just eight days after FASTR was introduced into both houses of Congress, the White House issued a directive requiring the major Federal Funding agencies “to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government.” Significantly, these results include not only peer-reviewed publications but also digital data. The memorandum defines digital data “as the digital recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings including data sets used to support scholarly publications, but does not include laboratory notebooks, preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers, plans for future research, peer review reports, communications with colleagues, or physical objects, such as laboratory specimens.”

The White House memorandum is from John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and underlines the Obama Administration’s belief that federally-supported basic research can catalyze innovative breakthroughs that can help grow the US economy:

“Access to digital data sets resulting from federally funded research allows companies to focus resources and efforts on understanding and exploiting discoveries. For example, open weather data underpins the forecasting industry, and making genome sequences publicly available has spawned many biotechnology innovations. In addition, wider availability of peer-reviewed publications and scientific data in digital formats will create innovative economic markets for services related to curation, preservation, analysis and visualization. Policies that mobilize these publications and data for re-use through preservation and broader public access also maximize the impact and accountability of the Federal research investment. These policies will accelerate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation.”


We now have OA mandates coming from both the Legislative and the Executive branches of the US Government. The White House memorandum covers both research publications and research data and requires the relevant Federal Agencies to deliver a plan within six months from February 2013. It is noteworthy that both the White House memorandum and the bi-partisan FASTR bill require green open access via repositories and say nothing about gold – in contrast to the approach preferred by the Finch Report and by the Research Councils in the UK. For more commentary on both FASTR and the White House memorandum see Peter Suber’s blog:


In the USA, I believe that these developments represent a tipping point for the Open Access movement. But besides the dramatic moves towards Open Access in the US and the UK, there have also been significant developments elsewhere around the world. In Europe, a press release from the European Commission in July 2012 about the new Horizon 2020 Research Framework stated that:

“As a first step, the Commission will make open access to scientific publications a general principle of Horizon 2020 … As of 2014, all articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 will have to be accessible … The goal is for 60% of European publicly-funded research articles to be available under open access by 2016.”

Note that like the USA – and unlike the UK – the European Commission also does not favor gold OA over green. Similarly, in Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) both back green OA via repositories. In July 2012, the NHMRC policy stated:

“NHMRC therefore requires that any publications arising from an NHMRC supported research project must be deposited into an open access institutional repository within a twelve month period from the date of publication.”

Following this example, ARC introduced an open access policy for ARC funded research with effect from 1 January 2013. Their policy requires that any publications arising from an ARC supported research project must be deposited into an open access institutional repository within a twelve month period from the date of publication. These are just a few of the many examples of what it is clearly now an inexorable move towards the new norm of open access for research publications.

Back in the UK, some re-thinking of Finch and RCUK’s OA policy is taking place. A recent review by the House of Lords criticized RCUK for failures in communication and for lack of clarity about its policy and guidance. Prior to a more complete review of its policy in 2014, RCUK issued a revision of its Open Access policy on the 6th March 2013. The major change was that there is now an explicit statement that although RCUK prefers gold, either green or gold is acceptable. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has also launched an inquiry into open access which has yet to report. Finally, on February 25th, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is consulting the research community on ‘the role of open-access publishing in the submission of outputs to the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF)’. For non-UK readers, the REF is a research review process conducted by HEFCE, the major UK university funding organization, to determine national university and departmental research rankings. Their intent is ‘to require that outputs meeting the REF open access requirement (whether published by the gold or green route) shall be accessible through a repository of the submitting institution’.

Finally, in May of last year there was the inaugural meeting of a new organization called the Global Research Council (GRC) in Washington DC. The meeting was prompted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy who invited the NSF to host a meeting of the world’s research funding agencies to discuss global standards of peer review for basic research. The GRC is a virtual organization with members of the Governing Board from the US, Germany, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, Europe, Canada, Russia and India. The result of the first summit attended by around 50 research agencies was an agreed statement on ‘Merit Review’.



The second summit meeting of the GRC will take place in Berlin from 27th to 29th May 2013, hosted by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Brazilian CNPq agency. The main goal of this summit will be to agree on an action plan for implementing Open Access to Publications as the main paradigm of scientific communication in the following years’. Such unanimity on Open Access between the major global research funding organizations will surely bring about both a more sustainable model of scholarly communication and a more efficient research process for solving some of the major scientific challenges facing the world.

What scholarly communication structures will emerge in the future? I recommend reading an interesting paper by Paul Ginsparg, playfully titled ‘As We May Read’.


In particular, his conclusions deserve serious consideration:

“On the one-decade time scale, it is likely that more research communities will join some form of global unified archive system without the current partitioning and access restrictions familiar from the paper medium, for the simple reason that it is the best way to communicate knowledge and hence to create new knowledge. Ironically, it is also possible that the technology of the 21st century will allow the traditional players from a century ago, namely the professional societies and institutional libraries, to return to their dominant role in support of the research enterprise.”

This entry concludes this series of articles on my personal journey to Open Access. However, I must thank my colleagues at the University of Southampton in the UK who educated me and collaborated to achieve great things at the University – Wendy Hall, Les Carr, Chris Gutteridge, Steve Hitchcock, Tim Brody and Jessie Hey in the Department of Electronics and Computer Science, Mark Brown, Pauline Simpson and Wendy White in the University Library, and Alma Swan from Key Perspectives. But most of all I should thank the world’s most persistent evangelist for green open access, Stevan Harnad.

In this series I have so far only mentioned two of the three pioneers of Open Access – Paul Ginsparg, who created the physics arXiv, and David Lipman of NCBI and PubMed Central.  But the third pioneer who deserves our thanks and homage is Stevan Harnad whose ‘Subversive Proposal’ paper in 1994 was the opening salvo in what has turned out to be a twenty year battle for Open Access. Stevan has steadfastly evangelized green OA as the best way to make research publications accessible. His advocacy of the Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access model successfully adopted by the University of Liege in Belgium is both rational and compelling. Any given deposit can be made Closed Access instead of OA for the period of any embargo time but the requirement for immediate deposit has enabled Liege to capture over 80% of its annual refereed research output in their repository. So my final words in this series are a ‘thank you’ to Stevan Harnad – and the hope that he can now get some sleep and not feel the need to respond instantly to emails on OA at any time of the day or night!

Tony Hey

April 4th 2013

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