Why open access makes sense for the Crick

Frank Norman, the Crick’s Head of Library and Information Services and long-time open access advocate, explains why open access publishing is a natural fit with the way we do science.

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind,” said 19th Century American polymath Oliver Wendell Holmes. I agree – ideas gain momentum when they are shared.  

Science grows through the sharing of new knowledge. Dissemination of new discoveries and research results was one of Henry Oldenburg’s motivations when in 1665 he founded the first scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society

Scientific research has grown enormously since then and today we have a huge and complex edifice of science publishing. Dissemination of new findings remains at the heart of the best publishing but sometimes plays second fiddle to commercial interests. 

I’ve been observing the landscape of science publishing for about 30 years, since 1987 when cognitive neuroscientist Stevan Harnad coined the term ‘skywriting’ for online discourse. This was followed in 1991 by physicist Paul Ginsparg launching arXiv, a way for physics researchers to share preprints (articles that have not yet been peer reviewed).

Today the surest way of maximising the readership for a new research paper is to make it open access, with a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY). This means that the article is free to read – anyone with an internet connection can access it.

A CC BY licence also means that the article can be reused, provided only that the original authors are attributed. Choosing a CC BY licence will make the article more useful: it means it is open for text and data mining, so other researchers can use computer-assisted methods to generate new knowledge.

Open access at the Crick 

I’m pleased to say that the Crick’s commitment to open access is part of our wider strategy. In our strategy document Discovery without boundaries we espouse openness, while ‘collaborating creatively’ and ‘accelerating translation’ are two of our strategic priorities.  

Ensuring that research is open increases the audience beyond disciplinary boundaries, and beyond the research community.

These values, as well as the policies of the Crick’s major funders, all naturally lead us to strong support for open access. When we make research open, we increase the audience beyond disciplinary boundaries, and beyond the research community. This enhances the chances of multidisciplinary collaborations and translation to industry and healthcare. 

Increased open access adoption also benefits those Crick researchers who are using text & data mining and artificial intelligence to extract new knowledge from published research. 

The Crick open access team is part of Library and Information Services at the Crick. We work hard to ensure that all primary research outputs are made open access. We also promote innovative open access journals and publishing platforms, to make Crick researchers aware of the increased range of publishing formats and models available. 

Posting preprints

We’ve put particular emphasis on promoting preprints. Many more Crick researchers are posting preprints on bioRxiv than was the case two years ago. We curate a Crick bioRxiv channel which highlights preprints from Crick authors. 

Preprints can help to accelerate science. It typically takes between six months and two years for an article to be peer-reviewed and published. Preprints allow other researchers to read and comment on research reports as soon as they are written up.

As a member of the bioRxiv Advisory Board, I believe that preprints have the potential to catalyse change in publishing and to hasten a change in researchers’ publishing and reading behaviours. 

This belief underpins the work of ASAPbio, an organisation formed to promote preprint use. It is helping us promote the use of preprints by supporting our three ASAPbio ambassadors with information and news about preprints. 

Our next project is to install a research information management system and a document repository for the Crick. These will enhance our open access work by helping us to keep track of the outputs of Crick research. 

Of course it’s not just research papers that can be shared openly. We are also at an early stage of work around data sharing, protocol sharing and research software sharing. 

Open access is good for science, good for researchers' careers and good for innovation. I look forward to the day when we can stop talking about ‘open science’ and just say ‘science’.


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