All scientific papers to be free by 2020 under EU proposals

So many people here have suffered the frustration of seeing a quote from a research paper and then being unable to read it because the paper is behind a paywall.

The open-access journals have been a major help. But so many remain inaccessible it is diabolical. After all, often the research, the researchers' pay, the subjects, and goodness knows what else have already been paid by us in one way or another. Why even access to the journals is often paid for by institutions.

Hence great joy if the access suggested below comes about.

All scientific papers to be free by 2020 under EU proposals

Results of research supported by public and public-private funds set to be made freely available to all

All publicly funded scientific papers published in Europe could be made free to access by 2020, under a “life-changing” reform ordered by the European Union’s science chief, Carlos Moedas.

The Competitiveness Council, a gathering of ministers of science, innovation, trade and industry, agreed on the target following a two-day meeting in Brussels last week.

The move means publications of the results of research supported by public and public-private funds would be freely available to and reusable by anyone. It could affect the paid-for subscription model used by many scientific journals, and undermine the common practice of releasing reports under embargo.

At present the results of some publicly funded research are not accessible to people outside universities and similar institutions without one-off payments, which means that many teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs and others do not have access to the latest scientific insights. In the UK, funding bodies generally require that researchers publish under open access terms, with open access publishing fees paid from the researcher’s grant.

More at link:

19 Replies

  • An unexpected and pleasant surprise! I look forward to the day it actually happens for real. :D

    What would also be useful is if raw data was made freely available to researchers as well.

  • It most certainly would be.

    I think it will happen - after all, the USA already has some access mandates:

  • Interesting link, thanks. I wasn't aware of all that kerfuffle on the subject of access to taxpayer funded research in the UK.

  • This is a difficult one. It only applies to publically funded research. There is a danger that smaller independent research will be pushed out if the cost of 'vanity publishing' goes up due to the absence of free to publish journals (paid for by subscribers). Researchers in other parts of the world will have an advantage if they do not have to pay for publication.

    On the other hand open access is really useful for patients and speeds up dissemination of knowledge. The Endocrine Society has a good model whereby their papers are available to patients on request free of charge.

    My main concern is that if the EU is involved there will be widespread corruption, small grants will be given to certain groups to enable publication, the scientific equivalent to Eurovision. Publication will be in the hands of politicians. Independent research run by cash strapped charities will be at a disadvantage.

    In general I'm in favour of open access.

  • When you see fifty-year-old papers still behind paywalls, and still at extortionate cost, it is extremely hard not to make the journal publishers look like the guilty parties.

    That even those who should have access such as researchers and medics are severely affected makes the whole thing unacceptable. Your point about vanity publishing is, of course, important.

    I think the USA approach resulted in publishing fees being included with the funding of the research.

    [Of course, when published, they were not actually behind paywalls as such things hadn't been dreamed up.]

  • If this happens it will be the only good thing i would be able to thank the EU for

    Neurology papers are the very worst for being hidden as we have found over the last 2 years trying to find info for grandaughter

  • (I think the EU can be thanked for a little more than this proposal!)

    As it currently stands I am not sure how researchers or medics are *severely* affected? Most (surely all?) educational and research institutes will be part of an access management system such as Athens. Any journal not subscribed to by the institution can be requested.

    There are a growing number of academics and journal editors who firmly believe in open-access ( as I do) and publicly-funded research should of course be accessible to us, the great unwashed.

    More and more journals are moving towards a open-access or hybrid model which may, in reality, mean just a couple of papers available in any volume but it's a start. But remember, too, that researchers pay to be published as open access - in reality that's generally the institution. I read a really rough figure of nearly around £ 900,000 - not far off 1 million sterling -for Cambridge University for the research publishing costs for a 12-month period. So free for the end user but somebody, somewhere, is paying....

    On the other hand, getting annoyed because not everything you want to read is free is, to my mind, a bit unreasonable. And always remember that just because a paper is published doesn't mean it needs to be read!

    I would have thought that unless you were a student, an academic or a researcher ( or all 3!) an abstract should suffice. It should give sufficient information for you to judge relevancy. Failing this, reading an open-access paper that cites the paper you think might be interesting is a good strategy. That way you get a summary and see how it connects to other research.

    Research, at the end of the day, is not written for, and not intended to be read by, end-users/patients/consumers, etc.

  • Our own respected researcher, diogenes, I think, doesn't have access via Athens.

    Access is usually based on the institution having access and not all researchers and medics work in places with that access. Even moving between institutions with that access can result in transient loss of access.

    Some abstracts are very poorly written. Some leave out vital factors. One example: coffee and its effect on levothyroxine. Without getting into the paper we have no idea if that was any coffee at all, or only ground coffee, not instant, only white coffee, not black, only with sugar, not unsweetened, only Robusta, nor Arabica. The simple fact of coffee affecting absorption is obviously the headline but the view might be changed by more detail.

    (I only drink black ground coffee, usually mostly Arabica. :-) )

    I feel that for research funded by us, the full papers should be available. Whether the payment comes from the funding body or the reading institution makes little difference in the end. Whatever else, 57 US dollars for time-limited access to a two-page, fifty-year-old paper is a bad joke.

  • Well, it does make a difference who pays if the costs to publish make an enormous hole in the institution's budget! That has a knock-on effect. Less money available, less research carried out and less published - which is why grant attracting is a skill that will get you hired! Big pharma has tons of money - but there are plenty of academic disciplines (and medical research) that struggle to attract private funding

    I agree entirely that 57 US dollars for a paper that's half a century old is ludicrous. However, enormous advances have been made in five decades that I would be surprised if said paper had results of such interest that haven't subsequently been developed? If they haven't I might wonder whether it was worth the bother reading the paper to begin with. And if it was a seminal paper I'd find a way of getting it! 😉 Though I appreciate this 50-year-old, 2-page paper is of less importance than the principles involved.

    Another thought: poor abstracts can often precede poor papers.

    And finally, what kind of medic wouldn't have access to research? All NHS staff do, I believe, and a host of other institutions, associations and bodies. Mind you, we know it has little bearing on whether they make use of the facility.

  • You may not believe it, but, in the open access journals, available in Researchgate, I regularly see downloads from my papers dating back to 1970. Indeed I hit a record of 1968 only the other day. So do not think that old papers necessarily have no value by now. There is information there, perhaps not the overall conclusion which may or may not have been superseded, but experimental details, that help present day researchers. Abstract -only accession is of limited value as it does not allow full discussion of the results and what they mean. It also doesn't allow for criticism of such discussion and interpretation. Abstracts are difficult to write. Usually the limit is 250 words and it takes many goes to get the heart of the paper down with this limitation. Regarding access to all journals. Even active medical people cannot access everything. Institutions will select access according to their assessment of the importance of the journals. Then researchers there must cross-contact others to help out. Very recently I and colleagues have tried in vain to access a particular important paper, and have had to appeal directly to the author to get it (which as I write we haven't).

  • I certainly do believe it Diogenes! I didn't mean to suggest at all that old has no value - heaven forbid - but that if someone really needed access to a paper that would be of use then perhaps there would be a there was already the will! But but but you -and others like you - have a different reason for needing access to research . Published or otherwise. The average user of internet health forums is not involved in research or scientific writing so an abstract for their purposes should suffice. Abstracts are not super-easy to write, I agree, but then neither are the research papers themselves!

  • Even if all NHS staff have access, that leaves the possibility of many medics not having access. Sounds upside-down, but for example, our ophthalmic services locally are provided by a private organisation under contract.

    There are quite a number of medics in the UK who do not work in any sense for the NHS. For example, the late Dr Skinner.

    And if so many already have access, the excess cost of allowing public access should be pretty marginal. Let us assume that the NHS pays one million a year for access and the rest of the UK science establishment pays another million. That quite possibly represents as much money as the publishers could make. Allowing UK public to ride on the coat-tails of NHS and research wouldn't cost the publishers very much at all. (Obviously costs are greater than that.)

    Of course, I would prefer it to be world-wide.

  • I found a list of who is and isn't eligible under the NHS Athens contract and I think your opthalmic service would be as it has direct contact with patients. What I also saw and what is much more interesting for the public and users of this forum is that if you have walk-in access to an NHS library (?) you also have Athens access. I have no idea about public access NHS libraries though... Any one know of one?

  • Thinking back to when my late husband was doing research paid for by a grant from a pharmaceutical company as most are I think you had to publish your findings at scientific meetings who I think reserved the right to refuse your application. I presume the whole system then made the individual work hard at something credible and the grants would there be forth coming in the first place. I can't remember now the size of these grants but they are pretty high. I don't know whether the learned qualified member got anything but the establishment where the research took place would be paid lab fees and money to cover equipment purchase etc etc and pay a salary to the individual as well and sometimes the salary for a dedicated tech in so over three years a huge outlay. Before anything is published the individual has to give a public talk about this at a leers end institution, a respected relevant institution and it's these papers that we come across online. So an academic could request copies of this research sent freely to keep up to date with present research, see the references given as proof for various points and to see the team behind the researcher. So lots of expense and I suppose it's not unexpected to try and get some back. In today's system I've no idea whether hard copies of extracts are actually produced but I can't see what is wrong with getting a free digital copy. May be its still if there's a cost we won't get people requesting for the wrong reason. So basically it's free to the interested science based researchers so that they can coordinate research and I know my husband worked with various groups in USA, S Africa, Netherlands and probably others I've either never known or forgotten as well as many in the UK. If you look at Scientific papers and read who has written it then the main author comes first , then his supervisor if a student and others in the department and then others he has worked with in other places as they are looking at the same thing. I do think GP's should have free access if they don't already ( they may learn something) but I do agree that patients should have free access now that electronically we can all fo this. Alright we may not fully understand but the title in itself can help to get the message across and enable us to ask questions. We moan that GP's aren't up to date but being more transparent and easier access has got to help.

  • Let it come as soon as possible! As a researcher and writer of scientific papers it is hugely irritating to be legally prevented from presenting more than the abstract of a paper in collective forums like Researchgate (which is designed to disseminate scientific information amongst the scientific community). And I totally agree with the accusation of money grubbing from the journals if they charge for ancient papers from the past. Clinical Chemistry goes part way to addressing this by only charging for recent papers and allowing access of older ones freely.

  • I love open access it saves time and money travelling to the British Libraray to get papers (and not everyone can get there). However, an average on-liine open access journal will charge something like £800 to publish an accepted paper. The danger is that lesser journals will publish rubbish in order to obtain funds. Journals that rely on subscriptions have to be good enough to sell. A bigger issue is the peer review process which often amounts to nothing more than scientific censorship.

    The EU proposal is that countries that carry out research should pay for publishing so that other countries may access their research for free. Not surprising then that the UK is the major medical research centre in Europe and probably worldwide except for the USA (and possibly China soon). The USA is about to adopt a policy whereby publically funded research is available for free after 12 months. Many journals have a policy of allowing free or low cost access to developing countries.

    Open access is good but we need to be wary of how it is introduced and by whom. Large pharmaceutical companies can easily afford the upfront costs of publication but what about smaller scientific groups or charities?

    I may be wrong, but I believe anyone may obtain a free copy of a paper by e-mailing the corresponding author and requesting one. I have done this once or twice but I don't like to as if it occurred frequently the authors would be overburdened.

    In summary, we need more open access but be careful about how it is controlled. There is a danger that publishers become dependent upon research organisations (government run or corporate) and are controlled (or even owned) by these organisations. There is also the question of how we get research that is not government funded or published by a pharmaceutical company into open access. Currently many journals offer the opportunity for open access if the research team are willing to pay for it. Many research teams choose not to do so, presumably on cost grounds. Pharmaceutical companies always pay the open access surcharge.

  • Lots of issues.

    Contact details change over the years. People, even academic authors, retire.

    Rare diseases are especially hard-hit. With things as common as thyroid, there is a torrent of papers. Much information comes out even when lots of papers are themselves behind paywalls. With rare conditions there might be only a handful of papers - certainly that was true of one disease I know about until some researchers started to realise how that disease might unlock new medicines. If one of that handful is not accessible, you can be mightily stuck.

    I also desperately want Russian papers to be much more accessible. You see the odd one these days on PubMed, but still far fewer than they actually publish.

  • An other right we ll lose if the nation votes for an exit!

  • We already have this 'right' in the UK as in general publically funded scientific research in the UK has to be open access. This does mean that we get less research as part of the budget has to go on paying for publication. On the other hand we (and the rest of the world) benefit from open access. It's swings and roundabouts.

    The danger is that the EU attempts to take control of research, taxing us and designating that the research be conducted in other countries. A sort of CAP for research. One has to look at why they have chosen to adopt this policy when the countries involved could simply follow the examples of the UK and the USA but choose not to. Remember this only applies to research funded by government bodies.

You may also like...