Open access to scientific data – Communication and Recommendation – background

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What is ‘open access’?

Under a policy of open access, researchers and others put the results of their research (publications and/or data, for example from experiments) onto the Internet so that people can view or download the results free of charge. Open access means scientists will have better access to articles and data resulting from publicly funded research – irrespective of their or their host institution’s financial means.

What problems will the proposed open access policy address?

Scientific publications are now often too expensive to access for many individuals and organisations. Small businesses and professionals like doctors, pharmacists, engineers or architects therefore lack access to critical information. This is despite having paid, through taxes, for the work leading to the information that is being published. This hurts the economy, by holding back innovation and skill levels.

In science terms, because data is often not shared at all, there are risks of parallel research that wastes brainpower, time and money. Greater data transparency will also help reduce academic fraud.

What are the benefits of open access?

For science: scientific exploration and innovation is more efficient and productive when researchers have easy and ready access to information. They do not waste time and money searching for research articles; they are far less likely to go up blind alleys or repeat work that has already been done.

For the economy: greater and better use of complex information and raw data can help create new companies and jobs. The most well-known example is the opening up of the results of the Human Genome Project (HUGO) in 2003. By 2010, every $1 initially invested from US federal funds in HUGO research was calculated to have generated $141 worth of economic activity. An original research investment of around €3 billion has already generated around €500 billion of economic activity..

Who benefits from open access?

Scientists first and foremost – they can be more productive and their work can be more often consulted and used.

Economic modelling studies have shown that an open access system for disseminating research results would be cheaper both for individual countries and for individual institutions.

Moreover studies demonstrate that Open Access would be beneficial to SMEs, the public sector and to voluntary and charitable organisations. For example, a Danish Government survey showed that access difficulties mean delays in product development, and cost €73 million to the Danish economy annually.

Last, but certainly not least, citizens will have direct access to publicly-funded research in addition to benefitting from the indirect effects resulting from everybody else’s faster access. Here to read more.

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