Please read the Wellcome Trust’s policy on open access. And then adopt it. Thank you.
Please read the Wellcome Trust’s policy on open access. It’s short so I’ve pasted it below. The policy states (with my emphases in purple):
The mission of the Wellcome Trust is to support the brightest minds* in biomedical research and the medical humanities.
The main output of this research is new ideas and knowledge, which the Trust expects its researchers to publish in high-quality, peer-reviewed journals.
The Wellcome Trust believes that maximising the distribution of these papers – by providing free, online access – is the most effective way of ensuring that the research we fund can be accessed, read and built upon. In turn, this will foster a richer research culture.
The Wellcome Trust therefore supports unrestricted access to the published output of research as a fundamental part of its charitable mission and a public benefit to be encouraged wherever possible.
Specifically, the Wellcome Trust:
- expects authors of research papers to maximise the opportunities to make their results available for free
- requires electronic copies of any research papers that have been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, and are supported in whole or in part by Wellcome Trust funding, to be made available through PubMed Central (PMC) and UK PubMed Central (UKPMC) as soon as possible and in any event within six months of the journal publisher’s official date of final publication
- will provide grant holders with additional funding, through their institutions, to cover open access charges, where appropriate, in order to meet the Trust’s requirements
- encourages – and where it pays an open access fee, requires – authors and publishers to license research papers such that they may be freely copied and re-used (for example for text and data-mining purposes), provided that such uses are fully attributed
- affirms the principle that it is the intrinsic merit of the work, and not the title of the journal in which an author’s work is published, that should be considered in making funding decisions.
As a policy it is clear and purposeful. It is built upon the principle that OA is good for science and good for the public. The policy is backed by funding that is available to Trust-funded researchers even after their grant support has finished. And, most pleasingly of all, although there is an expectation that the scientists it funds should publish in ‘high-quality’ journals, at the same time the Trust makes it clear that chasing after impact factors is not the point — there is a commitment in its funding decisions to judge work on its merit. If this goal can be realised, it will break one of the heaviest chains tying scientists to the status quo.
Now contrast the Wellcome Trust’s statement with a typical open access policy, say the one from the BBSRC (the funder that I am most familiar with – but the MRC policy looks rather similar). If you click on the link you will be taken to a web-page that contains two small PDFs. Each contains just a few paragraphs of text. The first is an initial statement from June 2006 of their OA policy and the second is an update that was published in late 2008. The organisation of these texts is a bit haphazard — and so are the declared aims.
In my view neither document has the drive or focus of the Wellcome Trust’s policy. The aim is to ‘encourage’, rather than oblige. The financial support on offer is more limited and more difficult to access (no pun intended but it is ironic). As outlined in the notes for BBSRC applicants (PDF), OA charges expected within the term of the grant should be put down as direct costs. Those expected after the end of the grant term should be charged to the overheads paid to the university holding the grant. Good luck with forecasting your need for OA funding accurately. This system is complex and it doesn’t work.
As a case in point, consider my most recent paper, submitted to the Elsevier journal Structure. Since the work had been funded by the BBSRC, that meant I had to pay Structure’s $5000 OA fee. Yes, $5000. I know. But the grant had finished between submission and acceptance so the BBSRC told me funds to cover that charge should be provided by my institution from the fEC payment (the overhead). My institution informed me this money was spent and when I relayed this to the BBSRC, I was instructed to take the green OA option — self-archive my version of the revised, peer-reviewed manuscript (not the Structure reprint). This is very much a second best option. I have put the PDF on my personal web-site and in my institution’s depository (Spiral) but am not allowed by Elsevier’s terms and conditions to upload my paper to UKPMC, where it would be much easier for the user community to find.
This was, in my view, an avoidable shambles, brought on by the combination of Elsevier’s high OA charge (at least for its Cell Press titles) and the Research Council’s lack of a proper funding mechanism.
But change is afoot, albeit slowly. In May last year, Science Minister David Willetts announced a renewed commitment to OA, to be implemented by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This intention was reaffirmed in December upon publication of the government’s “Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth” document (PDF). This states:
“The Government, in line with our overarching commitment to transparency and open data, is committed to ensuring that publicly-funded research should be accessible free of charge. Free and open access to taxpayer-funded research offers significant social and economic benefits by spreading knowledge, raising the prestige of UK research and encouraging technology transfer.”
Well that’s good. However, the document also revealed plans to establish “an independent working group chaired by Janet Finch to consider how to improve access to research publications, including publicly-funded research.”
It’s not clear to me why this is necessary. In a 2009 report (PDF) RCUK had already identified the main obstacles to the wider adoption of OA:
- a perception amongst many disciplines that OA journals lack impact
- limited awareness amongst researchers of funding sources for pay-to-publish models
- non-compliance with institutional policies which mandate self-archiving in institutional repositories.
The first of these points would be addressed by adoption of a statement identical to that in the Wellcome Trust policy, providing proper funding to show that OA matters and, crucially, emphasising that the Research Councils would base funding decisions on quality, not impact factors (though this would have to be backed by similar expressions by promotion panels in universities). The two remaining difficulties could be dealt with by stipulating that researchers who did not comply would soon find themselves ineligible for grant funding. Such a position would increase the awareness and compliance of scientists. I guarantee it.
The RCUK report even made the point that the push for Gold OA — publication in OA journals that do not charge subscription fees — could still permit commercial publishers to make a decent living, though perhaps not an exorbitant one, as is the case at present for the major publishing companies. The drive for OA engendered by a proper policy, seems likely to stimulate greater interest among scientists in OA enterprises like PLoS and could even enhance the marketplace by creating some real competition and so driving down costs.
So please adopt the Wellcome trust policy on Open Access. Thank you.
*Brightest minds – alas the Wellcome Trust doesn’t get everything right. Their funding policy means concentrating their resources in fewer hands, choking off a mixed economy of research funding that has worked well and is better able to sustain university-based research (as I have written elsewhere).