Thursday, 24 October 2013

Medical research charities and Open Access

This post is by our guest, Dr Stephen Pinfield, a Senior Lecturer in the Information School at the University of Sheffield. In this post he introduces us to his recent paper 'Medical research charities and open access' where he reports on a survey he carried out to assess the Open Access (OA) policies and activities of medical research charities in the UK, including several of the Europe PubMed Central (Europe PMC) funders.

Open access has come a long way in the last decade and the funders of medical research have often been at the forefront of developments. However in the last two years there has been a heightening of the OA debate internationally, as many funders have strengthened their positions on OA and as OA has begun to enter the mainstream of research communication for many disciplines. In the UK, the Finch Review and the Research Councils UK OA policy, and in the USA, the Federal Fair Access to Science and Technology Research bill and the Office of Science and Technology Policy OA policy memorandum, are examples of developments that have increased the momentum towards the ‘mainstreaming’ of OA.

In this context, and following discussions with Europe PMC and the Association of Medical Research Charities, I decided to carry out some research to assess the OA policies and activities of medical research charities in the UK. How are they responding to recent developments? What do they see as the main opportunities and challenges? Where are they taking their organisational policies?

I asked these and related questions in a survey of UK AMRC and Europe PMC members, and received some very interesting responses. There is clearly a lot going on and some of this is described in an article recently published (and available in open-access form) in the journal Learned Publishing.

The results presented in the paper show that OA is an important issue for many medical research charities and a large number already have or are developing policies which encourage OA. Some clearly see OA as a really important way of getting the research they fund out there and used. Trends on a wide range of issues from compliance monitoring to licensing are also discussed in the paper, providing a snapshot of the current state of play in the sector.

However, there are concerns. In particular, there are concerns about costs and resource requirements to support OA. Some of the data presented in the paper provides provisional evidence of the size of the cost challenge for different organisations. "Provisional" because what the article illustrates amongst other things is the need for more and better data in this area to help create a reliable evidence base to inform policy development. There is still some way to go.

Of course, the debate currently happening amongst medical research charities in many respects reflects wider debates about OA: Gold versus Green, IPR, roles and responsibilities and so on. However, medical research charities have an important perspective on the discussion and can make a valuable contribution to it. I hope this research helps to get their voices heard.
Pinfield, S (2013). Medical Research charities and open access. Learned Publishing, 26(4), 285-302. doi: 10.1087/20130409

Stephen teaches on several postgraduate programmes and pursues research in a number of issues including scholarly communications (particularly OA), research data management, and information strategy. Before becoming an academic, Stephen was for 23 years an information professional, latterly Chief Information Officer at the University of Nottingham where he managed a converged library and IT services Department. At Nottingham, he was founding Director of the Centre for Research Communications, which runs a number of OA-related services, such as SHERPA RoMEO, and carried out research and development projects in various areas of scholarly practice and communication futures. Stephen has been active for a number of years in OA developments at institutional, national and international levels.

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