Sunday, March 18, 2007

European Commission: Update and Reflection

Earlier this year, IJPE readers were invited to sign the Petition to the European Commission for Guaranteed Public Access to Publicly-Funded Research Results. The petition attracted over 19,000 signatures, and was presented at a meeting in Brussels on February 25, 2007, to European Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potočnik. As Richard Poynder points out, many of the signatories will be hard to ignore. The Petition itself was created by 4 national research funding agencies, and SPARC Europe; the petition was signed by senior representatives of more than 1,000 education, research, and cultural organizations; research organizations; and thousands of researchers, academics, and librarians from across Europe and around the world.

Janez Potočnik,European Commissioner for Science and Research, in his Open ing Remarks to the February 15, 2007 Brussels meeting, referred to the petition and its over 19,000 signatories and talked about "the input this conference will produce for the future policy on scientific publishing in the European Research Area.

Vivian Reding, in her Closing Address at the Brussels meeting, talks about loss of access to information as the reason for slipping into the Dark Ages, in a talk that very much supports open access in principle. Librarians may be interested to note that Vivian also highlights the need for preservation. Some important interim steps are announced, particularly significant funding for infrastructure relating to open access (repositories, preservation). Researchers will be able to make use of grant funds to pay for article processing fees of open access publishers, a welcome move, in my opinion, that will help to advance the transition to open access. Moral support is offered for experimentation towards open access, and movement away from the polarization of debates surrounding open access is encouraged.

In summary, while many of us would have loved to have seen an open access mandate announced at Brussels, policy development will take a little longer. On reflection, it is not surprising that an organization with as broad a portfolio as the European Commission, did not come to the meeting with the strong mandate policy warranted by the Petition which was only presented AT the meeting.

As usual, Peter Suber provides a succinct overview and well-written comments, in the March 2007 SPARC Open Access Newsletter. Thanks for the links, Peter!

Freelance journalist Richard Poynder has written an in-depth analysis, Open Access: the War in Europe. Poynder's article (full version, page 8) includes a great summary of the Petition for Guaranteed Public Access to Publicly-Funded Research Results.

Any opinion expressed in this post is that of the author alone, and does not reflect the opinion or policy of BC Electronic Library Network or Simon Fraser University Library.


  1. n. miradon3:02 AM

    You write "In summary, while many of us would have loved to have seen an open access mandate announced at Brussels, policy development will take a little longer".

    I think that you (like many other OA enthusiasts) have swallowed the Commission's space cake. For more, see the OA camp failed to do their homework, and were lulled to sleep

    N. Miradon

  2. Thank you for your comments, N. Miradon, here and on Open and Shut. From my perspective, what the open access movement needs is more advocates and more expertise; this will make it possible for us to make sure the homework gets done. The OA movement is growing, so I think this is a given. If you have any more specific advice about the homework we should be doing now to prepare for future strong OA policies, I would like to hear it.

  3. N Miradon11:59 AM

    I just think that OA people would do better if they read the literature, thought critically about their materials and methods, submitted their plans to peer review before acting, and drew conclusions afterwards. Mailing lists and blogs are not the ideal way to do any of this. Would a wiki discussion help?

    Long version follows

    1. Read the literature.
    For dealing with a bureaucracy, you need Antony Jay's classic "The Householder's Guide to Community Defence Against Bureaucratic Aggression" pub London, Jonathan Cape (1972), ISBN 0224007998. Several copies available on Amazon

    For the European Commission, you could try "The Penguin Companion to European Union" Timothy Bainbridge and Anthony Teasdale ISBN 978-0141007694

    2. Materials and methods
    Next you need an inside view, of what is actually going on now. At government level, find a friendly MP. At funding agency level, find someone who already has a research grant from that agency - they will be welcome visitors. This is probably better than sending in spies, as did the campaigners at (nothing to do with OA, but its a good story). Next best thing to spies would be to talk with a journalist or two.

    3. Peer review
    Once you have written your plan of action, give it to some colleagues to read critically. Anyone with good common sense will do - but dont neglect specific expertise. Your colleague the Professor of Government probably knows more than you about the roles of the European Commission, the Parliament and Council. The Senior Lecturer in Business Management probably knows more than you do about intellectual property, the reader in European History more about tactics and the emeritus Professor of Psychology more about motivation.

    4. Draw conclusions afterwards, and revise plans accordingly.
    For example, the USA petition has garnered less signatures in 20 days than the EUR petition did in two days. Is anyone in the OA movement asking themselves why? Would a wiki discussion help ?


  4. Sound advice - and interesting, too! I like the idea of checking with academic experts in various topics. Who knows - maybe some will end up as open access advocates themselves?

    I do think, though, that we need lots of people to be speaking up for open access. Almost all of us are doing this as volunteers; we cannot afford to have everyone wait until they have fully developed their expertise.


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