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09/27/2018

Europe is Pounding on the Paywalls of Research Publishing—Will USA Join Forces?

by Katrina A. Bramstedt, PhD

The 2015 headline was startling: “[US] Taxpayers spend $140 billion funding science each year — but can’t access many of the results.” In fact, gaining access to research results is costing universities and government organizations in the US $10 billion per year. You’d think these numbers would thrust US scientists and their research sponsors into uproar, but their angst seems a whisper compared to the thunder coming from Europe in recent weeks.  Europe has drawn a line in the sand with cOALition S.

Paywalls are financial boundaries that can be encountered by readers when they seek to access (view or print) research articles in scholarly journals.  Paywalls of another sort can also be encountered by the researchers themselves when confronted with article submission and publication fees. As an example, The Journal of Clinical Investigation invoices authors a USD$4500 research article publication fee.

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Eleven national research funders across Europe, as well as the European Commission (including the European Research Council) have put forth 10 principles for easier access to scholarly research publications, including authors retaining unrestricted copyright of their publication, as well as researchers themselves being relieved of personal paywalls for publishing their work. These changes effectively make open access immediate, without embargo, because the paywall for researchers and readers is removed.

In the USA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has followed a similar embargo-free Open Access Policy since 2017 which includes immediate and open sharing of the data which is foundational to their funded research. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, another high-volume US research funder has a similar but weaker policy which generally permits a 12-month paywall. The University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) provides over $500,000 of research funding annually for faculty, staff, and students, but without any open access requirement.  Instead, it promotes the Committee on Institutional Cooperation Author’s Addendum for attachment to publishing agreements. This addendum attempts to preserve an author’s rights regarding sharing their research outputs.  They also encourage use of their campus publisher; however, not all titles are open access.

Why is the US not taking a stronger and more vocal stand on open access?  Perhaps it is waiting for others to take the plunge.  Proudly, Europe has donned its Speedo and dived into this challenging and complex area filled with topics such as classified and confidential information, intellectual property, and data sharing agreements.  Indeed, open access itself should be studied and the results openly shared to fine tune its operationalisation.

Open access is a matter of research ethics and research integrity as it fosters accountability, collegiality, honesty, and stewardship.  As the work of cOALition S activates across Europe, it is hoped others watching will join in so that society can ultimately reap the benefits of what is a community resource – research.

Disclosure: Dr. Bramstedt is the Secretary General of the Luxembourg Agency for Research Integrity (www.LARI.lu).

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