Low compliance with open-access rule criticised

Too few research papers are making it into the public domain, study finds. Zoe Corbyn reports.

February 21, 2008

Concerns that policies to ensure "open access" to academic research are stalling were raised this week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

A study presented at the conference in Boston found that less than a third of the papers generated with Wellcome Trust funding are making it into the public domain - in direct contravention of the trust's open-access policies.

Under the Wellcome Trust's policy, which came into effect in full in October 2006, grant holders are required to make their papers freely accessible in PubMed Central and UK PubMed Central, the free digital repositories of biomedical and life science papers. They should be deposited as soon as possible after final publication and no later than six months.

Authors can do this either by choosing a publisher who automatically deposits the documents (with the trust paying the publisher a fee) or, if the publisher does not use an open-access model, uploading the peer-reviewed version of their paper themselves.

A survey undertaken last month by the trust reveals that compliance with the mandatory policy is low. Of trust-funded papers published in May 2007, only per cent were freely available within six months.

"We want the figure to be much higher, but it should be remembered that this compliance has been achieved within eight months of the policy going live," Robert Kiley, head of e-strategy at the trust, told Times Higher Education in advance of his AAAS presentation.

The Wellcome Trust study also shows that publishers with open-access policies are failing to deposit papers. Of the Wellcome Trust-funded papers published during the month, 91 per cent appeared in a journal that was fully compliant with the trust's open-access policy, and therefore could have been made publicly available.

Elsevier, the biggest single publisher used by Wellcome researchers, published 29 per cent of the papers but subsequently deposited only 14 per cent.

"The low submission rate is, to a large part, a lack of awareness on the part of the publisher as to who has funded the research they are publishing," said Mr Kiley, stressing that Elsevier had recently modified procedures to improve authors' disclosure of funding sources.

Open-access advocate Stevan Harnad, professor of electronics and computer science at the University of Southampton, said that authors should be required to deposit papers in repositories set up by their own institutions rather than to use central repositories.


The way forward? Repository at Harvard

Harvard University has become the first US higher education institution to introduce a mandatory open-access repository for its scholars' work, joining an estimated 15 other universities and departments worldwide.

Harvard's faculty of arts and sciences voted last week in favour of academics depositing their work in a free open-access repository maintained by the university library. Every article by any faculty member will be deposited unless he or she requests to opt out.

"This is a very important step for scholars," said Stuart Shieber, a professor in the faculty. "It should be a powerful message ... that we want and should have more control over how our work is used and disseminated."

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