Richard Poynder
Richard Poynder - Freelance Journalist
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The State of Open Access

Making Open Access (OA) a reality has proved considerably more difficult and time consuming than OA advocates expected when they started out. It is nearly 20 years since cognitive scientist Stevan Harnad posted his Subversive Proposal calling on researchers to make their papers freely available on the Web; and it is 12 years since those who took part in the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) adopted the term Open Access, and agreed on a definition.   

So what exactly is the current state of Open Access? With the aim of finding out I decided to publish a series of Q&A interviews with relevant stakeholders. Below is a list of the Q&As conducted so far.

FURTHER BACKGROUND:

Few now doubt that OA is inevitable, and a number of developments in 2013 have served to confirm this. In February, for instance, the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) published a memorandum on public access in which it directed federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication.

Then in June agreement was finally reached in Europe on the details of the next EU research programme. Amongst other things, this will require that papers arising from research the EU funds will have to be made OA.

The same month G8 science ministers issued a joint endorsement of the need to increase access to publicly-funded research.

In the meantime, OA mandates continue to be introduced by research funders around the world, including in Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, and Australia.

Most significantly, in August came news that the faculty of the University of California — the world's pre-eminent public research university system — had adopted an open-access policy. This will require future research published by faculty at all 10 campuses of UC to be made available to the public at no charge. The policy will affect more than 8,000 UC faculty, and as many as 40,000 publications a year.

But the path to OA is still not entirely clear, or universally agreed upon. As of this writing more than 175 universities have adopted so called “green” open access policies similar to that being introduced by the University of California, as have many funders.

By contrast, the UK has expressed a preference for “gold” open access, and on April 1st Research Councils UK (RCUK) introduced its highly controversial new OA policy to that effect.

Unlike a green policy, the UK approach expects researchers to favour gold, which will generally mean paying to publish. The decision generated a great deal of bad-tempered wrangling, two parliamentary inquires (here and here), and the publication of a number of clarifications by RCUK. Today many still remain antagonistic to the UK approach, and there are serious doubts about its likely consequences.

In the meantime, those in the developing world are adopting their own distinctive approach to OA, an approach that some in the developed world are eyeing with interest.

In short, opinions on the best way forward for OA remain generally divided.

So what still needs to be done to achieve OA, and what should be the priorities going forward? What is the State of Open Access? For insight into these questions I recommend you read the Q&As listed above.

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