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Royal Society must embrace open archiving

I am appalled at the recent statement made by the Royal Society regarding access to research publications (see Open access deemed 'dangerous' by Royal Society).

Apart from misunderstanding the proposals made by the UK research councils, the Royal Society's statement indicates a total lack of understanding of the world's research needs.

"A young post-doctoral researcher in mathematics at an Ethiopian university has different needs and different means compared with an established senior research fellow in pharmacology [at] a UK company's laboratory."

Just what are these "different needs"? Researchers everywhere need access to the world's research information — those that are less privileged need it most. The advent of open access archiving policies, now widely accepted by visionary academics, solves the problem and greatly strengthens the international scientific community and its ability to solve global problems (think only of bird flu, HIV/AIDS, environmental disasters, climate change).

Institutional repositories require the continuance of journals so that author's versions of published, refereed articles can be archived electronically. Indeed, 93 per cent of the 9,000 journals surveyed by the Joint Information Systems Committee (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/) have accepted this, including enlightened science and technology publishers such as Elsevier (see http://romeo.eprints.org/publishers.html). The aim of such repositories is not the demise of journals, but quite the contrary.

It is shameful that one of the most senior scientific bodies misinterprets the present open access situation and dismisses the needs of poorer nations.

Thankfully, this is not the case with organisations such as UNESCO, the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), the International Federation of Library Associations, France's National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) and the French national institutes for health and medical research (INSERM), agricultural research (INRA) and computer science (INRIA), as well as all universities in the Netherlands and Scotland, and many in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and United States.

All of these support the concept of institutional repositories for publicly-funded published research.

The Royal Society should join with the international scientific community in embracing new technology, which has such huge potential for science and the economies of poorer countries.

This is an edited version of comments made to the American Scientist Open Access Forum.

Link to SciDev.Net's special feature 'Opening doors with open access'