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Some notes on Open Access Week

17 October 2010 One Comment
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Open Access Week kicks off for the fourth time tomorrow with events across the globe. I was honoured to be asked to contribute to the SPARC video that will be released tomorrow. The following are a transcription of my notes – not quite what I said but similar. The video was released at 9:00am US Eastern Time on Monday 18 October.

It has been a great year for Open Access. Open Access publishers are steaming ahead, OA mandates are spreading and growing and the quality and breadth of repositories is improving across institutions, disciplines, and nations. There have problems and controversies as well, many involving shady publishers seeking to take advantage of the Open Access brand, but even this in its way is a measure of success.

Beyond traditional publication we’ve also seen great strides made in the publication of a wider diversity of research outputs. Open Access to data, to software, and to materials is moving up the agenda. There have been real successes. The Alzheimer’s Disease Network showed what can change when sharing becomes a part of the process. Governments and Pharmaceutical companies are releasing data. Publicly funded researchers are falling behind by comparison!

For me although these big stories are important, and impressive, it is the little wins that matter. The thousands or millions of people who didn’t have to wait to read a paper, who didn’t need to write an email to get a dataset, who didn’t needlessly repeat and experiment known not to work. Every time a few minutes, a few hours, a few weeks, months, or years is saved we deliver more for the people who pay for this research. These small wins are the hardest to measure, and the hardest to explain, but they make up the bulk of the advantage that open approaches bring.

But perhaps the most important shift this year is something more subtle. Each morning I listen to the radio news, and every now and then there is a science story. These stories are increasingly prefaced with “…the research, published in the journal of…” and increasingly that journal is Open Access. A long running excuse for not referring the wider community to original literature has been its inaccessibility. That excuse is gradually disappearing. But more importantly there is a whole range of research outcomes that people, where they are¬†interested, where they care enough to dig deeper, can inform themselves about. Research that people can use to reach their own conclusions about their health, the environment, technology, or society.

I find it difficult to see this as anything but a good thing, but nonetheless we need to recognize that it brings challenges. Challenges of explaining clearly, challenges in presenting the balance of evidence in a useful form, but above all challenges of how to effectively engage those members of the public who are interested in the details of the research. The web has radically changed the expectations of those who seek and interact with information. Broadcast is no longer enough. People expect to be able to talk back.

The last ten years of the Open Access movement has been about how to make it possible for people to touch, read, and interact with the outputs of research. Perhaps the challenge for the next ten years is to ask how we can create access opportunities to the research itself. This won’t be easy, but then nothing that is worthwhile ever is.

Open Access Week 2010 from SPARC on Vimeo.

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