Everybody’s doing it (except us)

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 | Richard White | No Comments

They’re doing it in the UK. In Australia too. And in the US, they’re going to be doing it more than they already were. I’m talking about open access publication of research.

In 2012 a public petition was made to the Whitehouse proposing that the public should have free access to the outcomes of scientific research that they have funded. Over 65000 people signed and this week the Obama administration has responded with a resounding, “Yes, we can.” While the US National Institutes of Health has had a public access policy for years (which “requires scientists to submit final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts that arise from NIH funds to the digital archive PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication“), the announcement this week goes much further. Any research with a budget of over $100m will be expected to be made publicly available within 12 months of original publication. “The logic behind this is plain,” says the statement, to provide access to taxpayer-funded research to innovators in industry, science and the public generally. It cites the “great success” of the NIH policy, which is to be used as a guide to other agencies now coming under this new one.

The discussion that has ensued has centred on the fact that 12 months after publication is hardly lightening fast and the level of budget threshold  (which sounds like a lot to NZers). Nevertheless, it is generally being hailed as a landmark announcement in the adoption of Open Access as the default.

A key reason for this is that the statement also “requires that agencies start to address the need to improve upon the management and sharing of scientific data produced with Federal funding.” This goes further than the UK’s Finch report and the announcements by Australia’s funding bodies in recent times.

In any case, from a NZ perspective, it is becoming clear that everybody is going OA except us – but the question is no longer if but when. While the NZ government has established NZGOAL and issued its Declaration on Open and Transparent Government, it has so far been silent on research by organisations like Otago. It can only be a matter of time before this changes, given developments around the rest of the world.

Open minds: open data

Thursday, September 27th, 2012 | Richard White | No Comments

Data is perhaps the trickiest type of ‘open.’ It is often seen as the precious jewel that must kept locked away as the source of all power — and that’s before you even start thinking about privacy or intellectual property issues. Where, for example, is the line between pure facts (which you can’t own) and datasets that are the product of a particular researcher’s brain? And who owns data that is the product of such a brain if that person’s salary comes out of the public purse?

Nevertheless, the voices of those calling for the opening up our data are getting louder. Governments are doing it, as the NZ Government has done with the NZ Government Open Access and Licensing Framework (NZ GOAL) and the Declaration on Open & Transparent Government to actively release data of value to the public. BioMed Central is one publisher consulting the scientific community about how they might “put the open in open data and open bibliography” by proposing to establish CC0 (i.e. public domain) as their default for data published alongside academic papers.  And a provocative piece by Peter C Gøtzsche (Why we need easy access to all data from all clinical trials and how to accomplish it) appeared recently in Trials, suggesting that it is not only advantageous to publish your data “it is a moral imperative to render all results from all trials involving humans…publicly available” in the interests of patients, the progress of science and heath systems around the world. He even proposes legislative changes that could facilitate such a quantum shift.

We’ll be discussing these things and more in the third of our Open Minds seminar series, to be held in the Arana College Main Common Room, 9.30 – 1.00pm on October 25. Check out the full programme for details of our keynotes and panel members. This is a University of Otago staff only session for us to consider what strategies we might pursue in this area but we plan to release some video footage later under CC BY-SA. Otago staff should email library@otago.ac.nz to register your interest by 12 October.