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European Commission hearing on access to and preservation of scientific information

Diane Cabell, June 8th, 2011

Along with over 50 organizations, I attended a recent European Commission public hearing on access to and preservation of scientific information. Among those present were representatives from national and regional ministries, higher education institutions, libraries, data repositories, public and private funders, scientific societies, supranational research centres, journal publishers and advocacy groups. A majority of those at the hearing were strong proponents of open access (OA).

Because science and digital technology are evolving so rapidly, the hearing was held to collect information in order to re-assess the European Commission’s 2007 Communication on scientific information in the digital age: access, dissemination and preservation. European Commission communications are used to make policy, propose legislation, fund research, and raise awareness. European Commission communications also have a substantial impact on member state national activity.

Supporters of open access asked for continued European Commission financial and political support. The following specific observations and recommendations were made.

  • Open access accelerates the speed of science. Time is wasted in serial submissions as researchers first seek the prestigious journals. Publication is not simply a method for communication among peers; it also has practical impacts (social, economic, consumer) that should also be taken into consideration when evaluating impact. A shift is needed away from evaluation of research based at the journal level to one that is based at the article level which can include a wider and more sophisticated variety of post-publication impact metrics beyond mere citations in other journals.
  • The European Commission should encourage rewarding the release of data as well as of text articles. Support curation and preservation of data (in digital and non-digital forms such as images, artifacts, and tissues) as well as access. These fields require research themselves to produce globally useful, efficient, transparent and realistic data management plans with sound policy guidelines, longevity and consistent terminology.
  • Careful investigation and planning will be required in order to build a strong and useful information architecture for a global research system. The architecture could do many things (link related information such as data sets and software to text articles, collect usage metrics, integrate user-friendly attribution and citation tools, develop unique identifiers for both research output and individual researchers, and develop methods of expressing linked data, structuring metadata, and for publishing data schema and code books that allow machines to give context); however choices should be made based on thorough study.
  • Research and dissemination belong together as do access and re-use. The European Commission should recognize OA as a main strategy and support an open access ethic among researchers to encourage them to understand and value non-traditional assessment tools—as well as the value of sharing data—and to willingly contribute useful metrics to the open access publication. Dedicated funding and training should be provided for OA publication and compliance should be monitored.
  • Scientific publication needs its own rules because it is profoundly different from revenue-generating work. Scholarship exists only as it is shared and circulated and should be treated as “give-away literature.” Intellectual property rights and even tax laws also need to be harmonized to enable, rather than inhibit, data use and mining and copying for preservation. An author’s right to self-publish in his own institutional repository should be ensured; a fair-dealing exemption should be established for text and data mining—including format shifting for technical purposes—for research purposes; and permissions should be extended for use of orphan and out-of-print works. Contract law should not be allowed to override such protections.
  • Government agencies should publish their data management plans and budget for compulsory data preservation. Open formats should also be used in preservation to ensure consistency and compatibility. Clinical trial data should be publicly available to ensure integrity.
  • OA needs to be approached globally. The European Commission should set standards for harvesting, curating, trusted processing and presentation of results.

Speakers from the funding, publishing and research communities also urged the adoption of Creative Commons licenses because of their widespread use.

Some publishers expressed caution lest the strengths and values inherent in traditional publication be lost. One approach may not suit all disciplines. Slow science is good for some and enhances the longevity of articles. Careful review procedures produce works with the level of integrity and permanence that deserve high prestige. These include taking time and resources for refereed interaction, keeping review independent from research funding, removing barriers for unfunded/underfunded authors, and ensuring long-term preservation of authoritative copies. And, lastly, open access needs to be sustainable.

My personal observations:

The majority of the attendees were text publishers, so discussion around data was limited with even less said about tissue samples or patent concerns. There are many technical, legal and social hurdles ahead and serious questions about how to best use OA for certain research disciplines. This observer wonders whether the European Commission will be able to coordinate the development of data architectures, standards and guidelines in time to avoid a plethora of incompatible market-generated systems and, even if so, how the European efforts will be coordinated on a global basis.

2 Responses to “European Commission hearing on access to and preservation of scientific information”

  1. anonymous says:

    I really, really hope the EC encourages as much openness as possible in academic research. Life is too short to make idiots understand why keeping research behind paywalls is harming everybody.

  2. Iris says:

    I agree that the EC should encourage transparency in academic research and that there are still many questions surrounding how the standards will be governed. However, I do believe this is a step in the right direction and I avidly wait for the outcome.

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