Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, February 23, 2007

More on the EC Communication

Martin Enserink, European Union Steps Back From Open-Access Leap, Science Magazine, February 23, 2007 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

Europe took center stage last week in the growing battle for free access to the results of publicly funded research. An online petition, signed by almost 14,000 researchers and 500 research organizations in the European Union (E.U.) and presented here at the start of a 2-day meeting, asked the European Commission to take bold action on so-called open access. Traditional scientific publishers launched a counteroffensive, arguing that the future of scientific communication —as well as their €3 billion European
industry— is at stake.

For the moment, the publishers’ argument has carried the
day: In a policy brief, the commission failed to enact a mandatory open-access policy for E.U.–funded scientists, to the disappointment of ardent supporters of the petition. “This doesn’t reflect the spirit of what’s happening in Europe,” says cognitive scientist Stevan Harnad of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom....

The U.S. National Institutes of Health asks researchers to [self-archive] on a voluntary basis....[F]ive research councils in the United Kingdom have made self-archiving within 6 months of publication mandatory, as have other research funding agencies. If the E.U. required the same from the scientists it funds through its €50 billion Seventh Framework Programme, many individual countries —within and outside the E.U.— might follow suit, contends Harnad. “It would be terrific if this big domino fell,” he says. Indeed, a commission-sponsored study of the publishing industry by Belgian and French academics recommended mandatory self-archiving in January 2006, as did a December report by the commission’s European Research Advisory Board. The brand-new E.U.–funded European Research Council also supports the idea.

But mandatory self-archiving has met stiff resistance from most scientific publishers. Making papers freely available after just 6 months may lead librarians to cancel subscriptions....

In a 14 February policy statement, [the EC] acknowledged that data from publicly funded research “should in principle be accessible to all” and offered steps to move in that direction, such as a promise to reimburse scientists publishing in journals such as PLoS. But it didn’t endorse a mandate to self-archive, asking for more studies and debate instead.

Robert Campbell, president of Blackwell Publishing, calls it a “sensible and encouraging” position. But Harnad says the commission’s steps are “wishy-washy.” It appears to be protecting publishers’ interests without realizing that open access would have much greater economic benefits overall, he says. Other supporters of open access take a more optimistic view. The commission is still new to the debate and may come around, notes Sijbolt Noorda, chair of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands. “Rome wasn’t built in one day.”