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Open access to scientific data – Communication and Recommendation – background

European Commission - MEMO/12/565   17/07/2012

Other available languages: none

European Commission


Brussels, 17 July 2012

Open access to scientific data – Communication and Recommendation – background

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,1, 2 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.

Why is there a need for European action in this field?

Science is a global endeavour. Great research often involves many researchers, and they often work across borders. That work should take place in the most co-ordinated way possible, where scientists can focus on research rather than bureaucracy or paying the costs of bureaucracy. The European Commission implements the largest research funding programme in Europe (€54 billion for the period 2007-2013 in the Seventh Framework Programme) and therefore acts also as a research funder.

What is the level of open access today?

So far, 20% of the scientific literature is openly accessible, 12% through open access repositories (green model) and around 8% available through open access journals (gold model). See details of models below.

What is the difference between so-called 'Gold' and 'Green' open access?

In the ‘Gold’ open access model (open access publishing), payment of publication costs is shifted from subscriptions paid by the reader (usually the academic library) to the author of an article. Most often these costs are borne by the university, research institute or funding agency which supports the research.

In the ‘Green’ open access model (self-archiving), a version of the article (for example the final published article or final peer-reviewed manuscript, often called the 'stage II version') is archived by the researcher in an online repository, prior to, after or at the same time as its publication in a journal. Access to the deposited article is often delayed ('embargo period') at the request of the publisher so that subscribers retain an added benefit. Such repositories exist both in academic institutions or are organised along specific disciplines.

Versions archived in 'Green' open access repositories will lack some final changes and the citable page numbers needed to cite the paper in subsequent publications. This provides incentives for those who can to still pay for full access. The 'Green' model thus allows for cheap and easy perusal of the existing published material without hurting publishers.

What has the EU done in the field so far?

An Open Access Pilot covering 1084 projects is running under the EU's current research and development funding program (FP7). This has made 10,000 articles available under open access, with a further 17,000 to become available in the coming months.

The pilot covers researchers from seven thematic areas including health, energy, and environment. The FP7 Open Access Pilot is supported by the EU-funded OpenAire e-infrastructure which provides a single point of access to publications from EU-funded research.

What do scientists think of open access?

A public consultation on the topic has shown very wide support for the principle of open access to publicly funded research.

In a European Commission survey of 811 projects involved in the pilot, the majority of respondents expressed their support for open access to research data.

More broadly, in 2007, in only three weeks, 18,500 scientists and librarians signed a petition to the European Commission calling for a policy on open access, after which pilot programmes began. This support was echoed in June 2012 when 25,000 people signed a petition to the US White House calling for a federal government policy on open access.

Leading professors are supportive of efforts to increase access to science using open access models. See these video interviews between Vice President Kroes and leading scientists.

Why have you chosen a six-month embargo period for "hard science" research?

This is a common approach amongst early adopters of open access policies, including the Commission's own open access pilot in FP7 which is running since 2008. In the UK, the Wellcome Trust permits an embargo with a 6-month delay, which is also the case for the European Research Council and the Research Councils UK. The Research Councils in Denmark in June 2012 also announced a six-month embargo.

Why do social sciences and humanities have a longer 12 month embargo?

Because it takes longer to recoup the costs related to the publishing process for social sciences and humanities than in the scientific, technical and medical fields. This approach mirrors the Commission's current open access pilot as well as the policies of other funding bodies.

What will this mean for jobs?

A direct boost of €1.8 billion annually is predicted, but there are no precise figures about new jobs. There is no evidence that the open access policies adopted today will lead to a loss of jobs in the publishing industry.

Why should the European taxpayer pay for open access when third countries also benefit from the material?

Studies show that 2/3 of the economic benefits of an open access policy are felt in the country funding the research.

How can you be sure that no commercially sensitive or personal data will be released with the Open Access obligation to data?

All researchers must already respect European data protection rules. The new policy also respects legitimate commercial interests, including the need to protect prior knowledge brought into a research effort. The legal framework in this regard remains unchanged.

All open data obligations will be detailed in each project's grant agreement.

Does the obligation to preserve data put an extra burden on scientists?

The Commission will work with Member States to help scientists comply with data preservation obligations. This will be an improvement on the situation today where many researchers bear alone the obligations to share and properly preserve data.

Why is walk-in access through a local public library not the solution for those who want to read scientific publications published in subscription journals?

Walk-in access rights are a useful option for some groups, especially individual readers, however limited opening hours and geographic barriers mean this is not a full solution. Making use of the internet allows true 24/7 access to anyone who needs it, including those who need to use software and new digital science methods to conduct automated reviews of large amounts of data and publications.

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