Open access…to research…what does this exactly mean?
I’ve seen the use of this term more increasingly over recent months and whilst that may be in part down to our work on the ARCHIVER project, I truly believe this will become a movement affecting outputs from multiple research fields.
For example, some resources claim that approximately 1/3 of all global research articles are now published open access.
Additionally, it’s predicted that some countries are on track for 90% of their researchers’ output to be published OA over the coming months.
Having said that, I’ve not found that many explanatory pieces on this topic exist and that’s what I hope to provide with the paragraphs below. I’m hoping to take it back to basics so that anyone reading this can click off the tab with a better understanding of this subject and some of its possible implications…so here goes.
What does OA mean?
In general terms, open access means unrestricted and free access to published research findings.
OA can be granted to any research undertaken and subsequently published – whether that be clinical or academic.
Why is open access important?
Probably one of the most significant reasons is the societal benefits it brings.
Making research available enables collaboration amongst researchers and provides a foundation for other researchers to examine the associated area of investigation.
These alone have the potential to accelerate research findings and advance scientific discovery to benefit wider society.
What benefits does OA bring?
- Allows for content discovery
- Increased impact by allowing researchers access to previous findings applicable to their own field of study.
- Accelerates research and understanding by making research outputs immediately available.
- Re-purpose research in the hope of extending the applicability of its findings.
- Help counter misinformation and enable scientific findings to progress faster.
- Helping to better share data which could in turn lead to quicker discoveries.
- Access to raw data for future generations of researchers and/or students to access and investigate.
- Collaborative research on a global scale.
Additionally, by making their work openly available, individual researchers and scientists can increase the impact of their work, promote its reach, increase its usage and citations which will work towards building both their individual and institution’s reputation.
It’s all FAIR in OA
Open access closely aligns with the FAIR data management principles which promote that data is stored in a manner that ensures it remains:
- Findable: There’s no point storing data for any period of time if it cannot be found. A key component of ensuring that date is findable is through the use of metadata.
- Accessible: Once a file has been found, it’s essential that the user is able to access and read it.
- Interoperable: As organisations adopt more and more digital technology, a growing issue is the number of different systems in which that data resides. The concept of interoperability is to ensure that data (where possible) can easily move between systems – while also ensuring that no information (including metadata) is lost.
- Re-usable: Ensuring it can be open, read and used.
These were devised to support further scientific study through good data management and rapidly became an industry standard in how data and digital assets should be stored.
What challenges could impact open access research?
Whilst OA to research is gaining traction across industries and having an extremely positive impact, there are some challenges which could impede its progress.
If people do not have the right technology to be able to access and use complex research data, then there is no point in it being openly available. The software used by one facility may be different to that used by another who wishes to read and use the data.
Without the appropriate measures in place, research that is shared today may not be accessible, readable or usable years into the future. Technology will continue to evolve so we cannot rely on the data source used by researchers today will still be in use in say, so years’ time.
Only if the research is stored within a solution that digitally preserves it can it be future-proofed. I won’t delve into this too much here but we have a blog which you may find helpful if you’d like further information.
Potentially one of the key challenges is the issue of IP privacy.
How does privately funded research get shared if the information in question is protected/prohibited by IP laws?
If inadequate or incorrect source data is provided, then this could negate the impact and reliability of the research.
Additionally, if metadata is incorrect or missing, then how is that research supposed to be searched for and located in the first instance?
Longevity of the research
Who is responsible for being the care-taker of the research? How can someone accessing it in 5 years’ time be certain that it’s still applicable or has been revisited since it was first published? Who will be responsible for updating the information with any subsequent information gathered since?
And then there’s alternative angle to also consider; in publicly funded projects with a fixed timeline, who is responsible for the long-term funding of making that accessible?
The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) “provides an environment for hosting and processing research data to support EU science.”
Will it be necessary that more international bodies will be required to facilitate and monitor the research that’s available?
Over the coming months we will be publishing more in-depth and opinion pieces in the field of scientific research.
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04 Aug, 2022
Research Report: Transforming the Future of Clinical Data
23 Mar, 2022
eBook: An eTMF Archiving and Preservation Guide – Revised for 2022
13 Oct, 2021