Keeping up with the world

At the SPARC Digital Repositories meeting earlier this week, I was particularly struck by the remarks about the policy environment for open access scholarship in Europe made by David Prosser of SPARC Europe. Without any apparent intent to be boastful, Prosser began his address by telling us that the policy argument in favor of open access has been won, and he proceeded to back up that assertion pretty effectively.

First, Prosser cited three separate studies of research policy in Europe that all concluded that open access was a necessary component of the ambitious European Community imperative to develop a highly competitive knowledge-driven economy. These reports all seemed to recognize that public access to scientific research is a prerequisite for increasing the pace of scientific and technical innovation.

Next, Prosser reminded us of the major funder mandates for open access. The private Wellcome Trust lead the way, but now six of the seven research councils in the UK have followed suit by requiring open access to funded research within six months of publication (not the one year embargo permitted by the US NIH mandate, which is currently subject to an attempt in Congress at reversal, even though that requirement is much more publisher-friendly). Most recently, the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology has adopted a similar mandate for funded research. All these funders of research recognize that open access is not just a nice thing to do for the public who puts up the money, but is a fundamental step toward remaining competitive in today’s digital environment.

The same recognition surely underlies the decisions by nine European universities that have adopted self-archiving policies that ask or require faculty to deposit their published research in an institutional repository. This, too, is an important step toward a new level of scientific competitiveness for the European Community, and a failure to follow suit will be a threat to the US ability to maintain its pride of place in research and scholarship.

After Prosser’s talk, Syun Tutiya from Chiba University spoke about the open access policy environment in Japan. Although their successes are more modest than those detailed by Prosser, Professor Tutiya ended his remarks with a telling challenge to the US and our ability to compete in the global environment. Speaking about the need for international collaboration, Tutiya said that Japan was ready to collaborate, and Europe was ready, but you (the Americans who made up the majority at the meeting) are not ready. Until we take the importance of increasing access to fundamental scientific research more seriously and stop treating it as a political power struggle, we will not be ready to collaborate or, I am afraid, to compete with the rest of the world.