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Debate begins after Willetts’ statement on open access to research

21st May 2013

Bland J (2013) Will open access to research achieve transparency? Your responses please. The Guardian online 9th April 2013

The Guardian has called for an open debate on the UK minister for universities and science David Willetts’ statement about open access to journal articles. The author agrees with the principle of transparency which Willetts cites as a reason (using the ‘sunlight as a disinfectant’ metaphor), but questions Willetts’ (and David Cameron’s) motives for opening up access to scientific data. The author believes that the real motive is not public accountability but to encourage access by private companies in the hope that it will generate business opportunities.

The author’s other concern is whether a ‘right to roam’ through research output will also convey a ‘right to understand’, and also points out that despite an open access policy by the Medical Research Council in operation since 2006, the potential of shared medical knowledge remains unrealised.

There is also the question of quality. There have been cases of fake websites accepting fees for journals and there is an ongoing problem of assessing the quality of published research when the peer review process and editorial quality found in journals is often questionable.

She cites Onora O’Neill who argues that if access is improved then openness should also be accompanied by more effective communication. The Research Council has responded with FAQs about the open access programme (http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/documents/OpenaccessFAQs.pdf).

The author calls for a debate on the open access system, asking particular questions about the links between funding research and subsequent publication of research findings, the limitations set on universities to publish articles proportionate to their research grants, whether it affects certain areas of research more than others, the impact on the reputation of UK research and whether the government should approach the matter in a different way. Join the debate here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/political-science/2013/apr/09/open-access-transparency

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