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Policy

European science ministers call for open access

By 2020, publications of publicly funded research are to be freely available in EU, but details are unclear

by Andrea Widener
June 3, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 23

Credit: European Union
Moedas, left, and Dekker announce the EU’s open access policy.

Science ministers from European Union nations agreed last month to make publicly funded research publications freely available by 2020, a move European Commissioner for Research, Science & Innovation Carlos Moedas called “huge” and “life-changing.”

The unanimous decision sets a policy goal of “immediate access” to such research, as well as associated data, published by scientists in the EU’s 28 member countries. Each country will implement its own publication policy.

The open access push was spearheaded by the Netherlands, which is leading the EU for a six-month term that ends June 30.

“The results of publicly funded research are currently not accessible to people outside universities,” says Sander Dekker, Dutch state secretary for education, culture, and science. “As a result, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs do not have access to the latest scientific insight that can be relevant to their work. Universities have to take out expensive subscriptions with publishers to gain access to publications.”

The vote is an important step forward for open access in Europe, says Heather Joseph, executive director of the open access advocacy group the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition. She is especially impressed by the EU’s ambitious goal of fully implementing open access in less than four years. “It’s really important to put a marker to say we would like to get it done by then,” she says.

What exactly the ministers mean by “immediate access” to research is not clear. In the U.S., federally funded research at the National Institutes of Health and several other agencies may remain behind a publisher’s paywall for up to a year before being made freely available.

The American Chemical Society, which publishes multiple research journals as well as C&EN, hopes EU countries will adopt a similar embargo model, says spokesperson Glenn Ruskin. “This cooperative approach will permit free access to federally funded research while also permitting the sustainability of the scientific publishing enterprise.”

Joseph says that if the EU move does result in immediate access to research, it might force changes in the U.S., which would be at a disadvantage if publications are available sooner elsewhere. “This does keep up the pressure on the momentum driving toward open access.”

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