Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Open Access at the PRBB

As a service to all members of the PRBB centers, as well as any external visitors interested in the research taking place on them, a search engine is going to be re-launched at the PRBB website that will allow to search for articles published by any scientist associated with any of the six PRBB centers, i.e. IMIM, CEXS-UPF, CRG, CMRG, CREAL and IAT. This search engine will retrieve a PDF copy of the full-length article, which will be freely and immediately accessible to the reader.

This initiative is similar to that of self-archiving articles in institutional repositories in parallel to publication in journals, a practice that is very common nowadays all over the world. More and more academic institutions, libraries and other organizations are creating open access institutional repositories as a way to manage and disseminate the intellectual output of their faculty; to preserve, archive, and provide access to the work being done on their premises. The U.S. National Institutes of Health, for example, ask researchers, on a voluntary basis, to make a copy of each paper freely available online, perhaps on their institute's Web site; and five research councils in the United Kingdom have made self-archiving within 6 months of publication mandatory, as have other research funding agencies. The brand-new E.U.-funded European Research Council also supports the idea of self-archiving.

The PRBB initiative of linking the PDF articles to the search engine is not an institutional repository, but it is an alternative and simple way of ensuring a major visibility of the work being done. As scientists, we are particularly dependant on ready and unrestricted access to our published literature, the only permanent record of our ideas, discoveries and research results. And having such advanced communication resources as the Internet, it would be foolish not to use them to share our research in an equally advanced way. We are all aware of the importance of increasing general awareness of our work, and of how a faster and wider sharing of articles and research data stimulates the advance of knowledge.

What about the journal´s copyright?

At the moment, most journals retain the full copyright of the articles they publish, although according to the most authoritative resource on journal policy for self-archiving, more than 90% of journals allow some form of self archiving [1]. Furthermore, awareness is growing by authors and their funders that assigning full copyrights to publishers may not be in their best interests. That is why universities, governments, and other organizations are suggesting that authors now retain their copyrights and then grant publishers a license to publish the work. After the article is published, the author will have nonexclusive rights to reproduce, distribute and deposit their work, including posting it in their website, as well as create derivative works. Ways of reaching this arrangement are suggested for example by The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Research Coalition (SPARC) in the US, and The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC in the U.K. and SURF in the Netherlands), who propose that authors include an “authors’ addenda” in their publishing agreements, asking publishers to grant them this right.

Another way for authors to retain the copyright of their published articles is to publish them directly with Open Access publishers, such as PLoS and BioMed Central. The Open Access movement provides free access to peer-review articles for everyone via online journals, giving the articles a huge visibility, and it also allows authors to keep the copyright of their work. As of February 2007, the Directory of Open Access Journals (www.doaj.org) lists 2,563 journals with 126,293 articles. In the last years, the Open Access movement has grown and received support from the major funding agencies in both the US and Europe, who now require that the results of research being funded by them is made freely available within a short time, usually not more than 6 months.

Another recent initiative to impulse the free distribution of research is coming from the UK. This is UK PubMed Central, a website that will give free access to most biomedical research conducted in the UK. This initiative is led by the Wellcome Trust, the world´s major biomedical funding agency. According to the Wellcome Trust director, Mark Walport, “Medical research is not complete until the results have been communicated” and “this is a great opportunity for research to be made freely available…”. The Wellcome Trust also says in its position statement that it supports unrestricted access to the published output of research as a fundamental part of its charitable mission and a public benefit to be encouraged wherever possible.

Finally, and despite the journals´ current restrictions, it is common practice for scientists to have links to their own published articles on their websites. A study in 2005 showed that the final version of more than one third of articles in high-impact journals were freely available online. This is the result of an ever-growing ideology that we at the PRBB share: the belief that it is fair that the results of publicly-funded research be also public and available for everyone, both scientists and the general public; that a faster and wider dissemination of information such as that possible through the internet fuels the advance of knowledge; that it is this knowledge upon which future scientific activity and progress are based; and that scientific progress is both a right and a necessity for our society and we as scientists have the obligation to do what is in our hands to stimulate it. We believe that the search engine of the PRBB will be a good step in this direction.


nielsseh said...

Where are the PRBB articles actually deposited? (and why not in the author's OAI-compliant Institutional Repository [IR])? The problem of OA is not the failure of search engines to find self-archived articles, but the failure of authors to self-archive their articles. If they do, the optimal way to self-archive them is in their own IR, not on an arbitrary website. The other advantage of IR deposit is that it can be mandated and monitored by the author's institution and/or research funder.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

Maru said...

Thanks for your comment nielsseh.

All articles published by authors at the centres of the PRBB are so far picked up by someone here and added (together with their full length PDF, when available) to a database that is publicly searchable via the PRBB website (I wouldn’t call it an ‘arbitrary’ website, since it’s the official website of the research park). True, it’s not an OAI-compliant Institutional Repository strictly speaking – I’m afraid there isn’t one at the PRBB or at any of its six centres, at least so far. But it’s an open database, an archive of all the papers being published here. And we don’t rely on the authors to self-archive the papers themselves but instead we do it for them, since, as you say, it is difficult to ensure that all authors self-archive.

I agree with you that the best way to go would be through a proper repository (whether it’s best if it’s institutional or cross-institutional it’s a different matter), and we are looking into that possibility. But for now we at least make all our research publicly available, which I think it’s a very important step.