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Friday, January 11, 2008

OA mandate from the European Research Council

The Scientific Council of the European Research Council has released its Guidelines for Open Access.  Although the document is dated December 17, 2007, it was put online January 10, 2008.  Here it is in its entirety:

  1. Scientific research is generating vast, ever increasing quantities of information, including primary data, data structured and integrated into databases, and scientific publications. In the age of the Internet, free and efficient access to information, including scientific publications and original data, will be the key for sustained progress.
  2. Peer-review is of fundamental importance in ensuring the certification and dissemination of high-quality scientific research. Policies towards access to peer-reviewed scientific publications must guarantee the ability of the system to continue to deliver high-quality certification services based on scientific integrity.
  3. Access to unprocessed data is needed not only for independent verification of results but, more importantly, for secure preservation and fresh analysis and utilisation of the data.
  4. A number of freely accessible repositories and curated databases for publications and data already exist serving researchers in the EU. Over 400 research repositories are run by European research institutions and several fields of scientific research have their own international discipline-specific repositories. These include for example PubMed Central for peer-reviewed publications in the life sciences and medicine, the arXiv Internet preprint archive for physics and mathematics, the DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank nucleotide sequence database and the RSCB-PDB/MSD-EBI/PDBj protein structure database.
  5. With few exceptions, the social sciences & humanities (SSH) do not yet have the benefit of public central repositories for their recent journal publications. The importance of open access to primary data, old manuscripts, collections and archives is even more acute for SSH. In the social sciences many primary or secondary data, such as social survey data and statistical data, exist in the public domain, but usually at national level. In the case of the humanities, open access to primary sources (such as archives, manuscripts and collections) is often hindered by private (or even public or nation-state) ownership which permits access either on a highly selective basis or not at all.

Based on these considerations, and following up on its earlier Statement on Open Access (Appendix 1) the ERC Scientific Council has established the following interim position on open access:

  1. The ERC requires that all peer-reviewed publications from ERC-funded research projects be deposited on publication into an appropriate research repository where available, such as PubMed Central, ArXiv or an institutional repository, and subsequently made Open Access within 6 months of publication.
  2. The ERC considers essential that primary data - which in the life sciences for example could comprise data such as nucleotide/protein sequences, macromolecular atomic coordinates and anonymized epidemiological data - are deposited to the relevant databases as soon as possible, preferably immediately after publication and in any case not later than 6 months after the date of publication.

The ERC is keenly aware of the desirability to shorten the period between publication and open access beyond the currently accepted standard of 6 months.


  • This is an exemplary policy --kudos to all involved.  First and above all, it makes OA mandatory.  The embargo is reasonably short and ERC clearly hopes to make it even shorter.  The policy supports central and distributed (disciplinary and institutional) repositories equally.  For peer-reviewed articles, it requires deposit upon publication, before the embargo runs, supporting what I call the dual deposit/release strategy or what Stevan Harnad calls immediate deposit / optional access.  It makes no exception for resisting publishers and even seems to apply to the published editions of articles, not just the authors' peer-reviewed manuscripts.  And it unambiguously extends the OA policy from articles to data.
  • The ERC's March 2007 grant guidelines make clear (pp. 12, 35) that when grantees submit their work to fee-based OA journals, ERC is willing to pay the publication fees.  But the new document is silent on the subject.  Do the older grant guidelines stand, because not modified here?  Or is ERC silently rescinding its willingness to pay publication fees?
  • If you remember, the Scientific Council of the ERC pledged to adopt an OA mandate back in December 2006, before the ERC itself had even launched.  (That pledge is now included as Appendix 1 in the new document.)  The ERC formally launched in February 2007, and in September 2007 it issued a position paper reiterating the need for an OA mandate.  Now it has delivered on its earlier promises.
  • While there are OA mandates at public funding agencies in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, and the UK, and OA recommendations in other European countries, this is the first EU-wide OA mandate.   It makes a beautiful bookend to the new OA mandate ordered by Congress and the President last month for the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • The ERC will disburse about 15% of the EU research budget for FP7 (2007-20013), or about 7.5 billion Euros.

Update. Also see Stevan Harnad's comments.

Update (1/18/08). On my second bullet point above: The ERC will continue to pay publication fees. Details in my post from January 18, 2008.