The Open Access Dilemma
It has been bubbling over for a while but the lid has finally blown off the open access publishing pot. First the Wellcome Trust turned up the heat by giving teeth to its existing policy demanding open access publishing for its funded research.
Sir Mark Walport, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said ‘…despite our open access policy having been in place for over five years, still almost half of these publications [from grants funded by the Trust] remain restricted behind subscription pay walls. This is simply unacceptable and so with immediate effect we will be tightening up enforcement of our policy.’
The UK government and the European Commission then followed suit, requiring papers from research funded by the Research Councils UK and the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding programme to be open access from April 2013 (RCUK) and 2014 (Horizon 2020).
This is an exciting development and WCRF International fully supports it. Free public access to the research we fund has important benefits for us. It raises our scientific profile, gives new applicants an idea of the outputs of the research we currently fund and strengthens our fundraising requests to potential donors.
Our application process requests a list of relevant publications, and our scientific Panel consults previous outputs when assessing new applications. As senior scientists they usually have access to most of the listed papers through their institution’s journal subscriptions. The irony is that as an organisation funding research we do not. We also need to request final versions of all published papers from our principal investigators, to ensure that we have access to the grants’ outputs.
Nevertheless, despite its value to WCRF International, as the scientific representative of a global network of small charities, we need to balance carefully what we require from our grant holders with what we can offer them. We appreciate that, fundamentally, a request for more extensive open access publishing is not feasible without the additional funds to cover the publishing costs.
Currently we encourage grant holders to publish under open access and we provide a separate annual fund to cover the open access fees, allocated on a ‘first-come first-served’ basis. However the fund is not sufficient to cover all papers published each year by our grant holders.
We recently reviewed our open access fund’s ‘first-come first-served’ criteria, but couldn’t come up with a better alternative. Should we only pay for open access of those papers that we plan to publicise with a press release? Should we pay for papers on more obscure journals, so they can still be accessed globally? Should we narrow it down to high impact studies, and if so, how do we decide and choose which ones to prioritise?
Despite its current limitations, we are keen to increase our open access reach in forthcoming grant cycles, but we need to build a case to back it up with more funds. We would like to use this blog to encourage feedback and discussion among our grant holders and other scientists. We are listening and we are keen to hear from you on how you think small charities with limited funds should promote and fund open access publishing.