Session 7 Reflections: Open Access Journals

We were lucky to be joined by Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at the Wellcome Trust this week to talk about the current challenges and changes that are happening at with regards to the publication of Open Access Journals.

To conduct research, as Robert pointed, required the following elements

  1. Access to research
  2. The right to re-use the content and
  3. The right to create derivative work from the content

At the moment, most researchers gained access to journals via personal subscriptions or via their university library subscriptions. It is a system that works rather well for most of us who conduct our research in Higher Education institutions. But what about those who do not? Robert illustrates the problem with a personal story. In 2003, the Wellcome Trust’s new director Mark Walport, who had joined the Trust from Imperial College attempted to view an article that was co-funded by the Wellcome Trust only for his computer screen to show that as the Wellcome Trust was not a subscriber of said journal, he was denied access to the article. This incident raised the following issues at the trust.

Firstly, this article was only possible due to money from the Trust, why was it not possible for the Trust to obtain a copy of the article? Secondly, what is the point of funding research if no one can read the results and lastly, wouldn’t it be easier to track outputs and impacts if articles were made available to everyone?

It was this incident that instigated the Wellcome Trust to include dissemination costs as part of their research funding costs. This is interesting to consider as a researcher as often dissemination costs are considered separate from the amount of money requested for doing research. This has resulted in the policy that all papers funded or co-funded by the Wellcome Trust is now freely available (within 6 months) at PubMed or the UKPMC repositories.

 Here we can see how technology is having an impact not only on the way we do our research but on the way in which our research can now be disseminated. The implications of this are manifold

 On a personal level, as Robert points out, if more articles from peer-reviewed medical research journals were made available, patients suffering from various illnesses would be able to access proper research rather than rely on wacky ‘cures’ found via search engines. On a macro level, the growth of online open access journals from respected publishers such as Sage (with SageOpen), Springer (SpringerOpen) and Wiley (Wiley Open Access) shows that there is an increasing recognition of the importance of open access journals. There are obviously issues about payment and copyright but there are issues which the Wellcome Trust has been in negotiation with various journals with the result that in 2009, 98% of articles attributed to the Wellcome Trust were published in journals that were ‘Wellcome Compliant’ with regards to copyright.

 What does this mean for researchers? Kiley points out that the Study of Open Access Publishing funded by the European Commission found that almost 90% of researchers felt that open access journals would benefit either their research or their research field.

At the crux of this issue about Open Access is perhaps the question: Why do we do research? Very often, and I’m guilty of this too, I have mostly done research to examine an issue that I find interesting. I do consider who might read this research, what I rarely do however, is consider how interested researchers might be able to access this work that I do? Seeing that I work in a field where my research might be of interest to not only academics based in Higher education institutions but government bodies and policy institutes, the issues of Open Access that I need to consider in future!

By Lorraine Lim

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