ICT can bring greater openness: regular readers will know how committed I am to delivering those benefits for everyone. Today, some exciting news about how we are also helping open up science, and a reminder of the benefits it can bring.
It’s partly about making access to scientific information more affordable. Currently, in many cases getting access to published scientific research results needs an increasingly costly journal subscription. That may not be an option especially for smaller businesses. Even big institutions like university libraries are finding it’s getting unaffordable. And those difficulties to the public getting access apply even when the research is funded by the taxpayer – who is, after all, the biggest research funder in Europe, via national or EU research funds. Taxpayers, all of us, deserve the widest possible social and economic benefits from publicly-funded research.
But improving access can also help science and innovation itself. Sharing research results helps the scientific community to examine, compare, learn, and spread knowledge — faster and better. For example, openness gives a boost to new tools like large-scale data analysis, meaning breakthroughs in drug treatments; or textmining, helpful in many different fields. And it’s not just scientists who gain: we know that, with simple, instant access to research, innovative small businesses can bring their products to market up to 2 years earlier.
Of course openness is not just about published final results: it’s also about the data that underpins those publications. Being open with data – in this field as in others – brings huge benefits, for example boosting outcomes for researchinto complex problems like Alzheimer’s disease.
Such access is possible today because of the internet, the most efficient tool for distributing information ever invented. We simply don’t need to haul tons of paper around the world any more. The internet and computing are changing the way research is done and the way the scientific system works. So of course the centuries-old system of how people report and distribute scientific results adapts. Open access and scientific publishing are one aspect: but discussions on how to best organise and modernise peer review, or on more precise quality and impact metrics for scientific publications are part of the same picture.
Today we detail our plans to make available under open access all publications stemming from EU-funded research. We also commit to progressively open access to research data (i.e. the data generated by scientific experiments or studies). (Depending on the kind of project, open access to data poses a specific set of challenges, like legitimate privacy or commercial concerns, so we haven’t proposed to make it mandatory for all projects).
Perhaps even more importantly – because the Commission only accounts for a fraction of all public research funding in the EU – we are also formally recommending to EU Member States that they join us on this road to open access, for research funded at national level.
I think this is a great step for science. But don’t just hear it from me. Plenty of scientists have long been campaigning for a shift to open science (see this report from the UK’s Royal Society, for example). And I recently met some very prominent scientists who told me about all the great things open science can do. Check out this short clip of our discussions:
In short: sharing and cooperation are essential to science – no wonder scientists have long sought out tools to help them do this better. Remember it was scientists at CERN who invented the World Wide Web. That was a great gift of science to society: now we can ensure that it helps the scientists back.
This is – as one scientist put it to me – a return to the origins of modern science; where the philosophy was all about open access and achieving progress. This change is a great opportunity: adapting the scientific ecosystem to seize it will bring huge rewards for scientists, businesses and research funders alike. I’m glad the EU – and I hope the Member States too – will be playing their part.