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Science for everyone

By news editor, on 6 July 2012

In the third of a series of blog posts about the UCL Neuroscience Symposium 2012, held on Friday 29 June, Dr Andrea Alenda (UCL Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience) discusses a presentation by UKPubMed Central and the wider issue of open access research.

Access to research findings has, traditionally, largely been restricted to members of higher education institutions and related sectors that can afford the costs of subscriptions to a great number of journals.

With an average cost of £16,500 per year of journal subscription, not a single institution can afford the costs of subscribing to every existing journal.

For people outside these institutions, there is a paywall with a £20 pay-per-view fee per article to access peer-reviewed scientific research. The open access movement aims to remove these paywall barriers and make publicly funded research outputs freely available to everyone.

Open access hits the mainstream
Open Access has recently become a topic of mainstream interest, with the UK government showing their support by setting up a working group composed by members of academia, publishers and research funders to investigate expanding access to published research.

The findings of the group are contained in the recent Finch report. David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, has indicated that the government backs the move to open access, saying: “We need to make as much as possible, as open as possible, as quickly as possible”.

UK PubMed Central (UKPMC)
At the UCL Neuroscience Symposium, UK PubMed Central (UKPMC) offered researchers the chance to learn about searching for and accessing information. UKPMC is an online information resource providing free access to over two million full-text biomedical research articles and over 26 million abstracts.

Content can be found via an integrated full text and abstract search and additional links to other biological databases and resources.  The service is managed and developed by a partnership of the British Library, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and the University of Manchester. It is supported by 18 biomedical research funders including the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research, who require that research outputs arising from their funding are made available via UKPMC.

Implications for researchers
Karen Walshe, Research and Engagement Manager of Science at the British Library explained that one of the most recent things to have happened relating to open access, and one that will have direct implications for biomedical researchers in the UK, was the announcement by the Wellcome Trust that they are strengthening the way they enforce their open access policy, by sanctioning researchers who do not make their articles freely available in future grant applications to the charity.

“We welcome the level of interest researchers have shown in UKPMC today, clearly the recent flurry of press coverage on Open Access has raised awareness of mandates and policies. The Research Councils will be publishing a unified policy on open access soon, which should make it simpler for researchers funded by a combination of research councils to comply with what is being asked of them. It is likely to be quite a big thing”, Karen explained.

Implications for science communication
The increasing amount of open access content available could also have positive impacts on the communication of science to the public.

Last March at the Royal Institution, scientists and journalists debated about how to communicate science to the general public. I was amongst the scientists who had the general impression that journalists frequently rely on press releases rather than reading the underlying research paper that they are writing about. Some journalists explained this was mainly because of the pay-wall access to reach journals.

Since the UK scientific community produces 6% of the total of research papers published in journals per year, in order to reach its full potential the Open Access movement will need international support.

For more information about open access and developments to UKPMC, follow @UKPMCUpdates on Twitter and see the UKPMC blog. For more information on UKPMC funder’s policies, go to: http://ukpmc.ac.uk/Funders/

Image: Karen Walshe (from the British Library) and Allan Sudlow (from UK PubMed Central)

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