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All research funded by NHMRC to be accessible free of charge

One of the important benefits that the public expects from publicly funded health and medical research is access to the published…

A boycott by researchers against the academic journal publisher Elsevier has reignited the debate about open-access to scholarly work. Flickr/limonada

One of the important benefits that the public expects from publicly funded health and medical research is access to the published findings of that research. Patient groups, health consumers, advocacy groups and the individuals look for those outputs of health and medical research to access information about their health concerns.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has joined other international health research funding bodies, both governmental (such as NIH) and philanthropic (such as the Wellcome Trust), in requiring that publications from research funded by us are placed in the public domain - so called “open access”. This also assists other researchers in planning and conducting their research. Open access is particularly important for researchers in low income countries.

Last week’s article in The Conversation about the proposed boycott of publisher Elsevier (“Academics line up to boycott world’s biggest journal publishers”, by Justin Norrie) is a further indication that this view of public access to research outputs is shared widely in the research community.

We support wide discussion of open access, especially now at this time of rapid and possibly transformational change in research publishing (for example, see Science publishing: The paper is not sacred). Researchers, publishers, research institutions and funders all have important interests in this discussion and it’s good to see it occurring here in The Conversation.

The debate must be properly informed and so I would like to correct a detail in Justin Norrie’s article. He quotes Dr Danny Kingsley of the Australian National University, who has incorrectly claimed that NHMRC funding decisions use journal impact factors. This is not true. NHMRC removed journal impact factors from its assessments some years ago.

Some of the argument put to our Research Committee can be seen in our position paper on NHMRC’s use of journal impact factors, issued in April 2010.

NHMRC has updated its policy on open access to published research, aligning us with the practices of other international health and medical research funders such as the UN National Institutes of Health, the UK Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

From July this year, we will be mandating the deposit of publication outputs arising from NHMRC funded research into an institutional repository within 12 months of publication.

The next steps will be improving public and other researchers’ access to publicly funded data. NHMRC is a signatory to the Joint Statement on Data Sharing of Public Health Research, demonstrating our commitment to the timely and responsible sharing of public health data.

Members of NHMRC’s Research Committee are involved in an international committees developing the statement into practical polices.

In this second decade of the 21st century, those who pay for research through their taxes or through donations increasingly expect to be able to access what they have paid for. This expectation will only grow.

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14 Comments sorted by

  1. Matthew Todd

    Associate Professor, School of Chemistry at University of Sydney

    This is a very welcome start, for which the NHMRC should be congratulated. In the coming months/years, I hope we see the progression to: a) 6-month closed access period, b) all taxpayer-funded research being open access, then c) all data associated with taxpayer-funded research being open (rather than just the paper that summarizes the research). But this is a good first step.

  2. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    I agree that this is a very welcome start, which should be followed by the Australian Research Council.

    NHMRC's requirement that publications arising from research funded by the NHMRC be deposited into an institutional repository within 12 months of publication would be prohibited by the Research Works Act which is currently before the US Congress. The US Research Works Act is supported by Elsevier amongst other big copyright owners.

  3. Diane Lester

    logged in via Facebook

    Will the NHMRC provide evidence for compliance with its directive? In my experience researchers forget to observe such mandates and experience no penalties. Besides, institutions are not motivated to support them. Recently I wrote to a prominent Go8 university asking why their research was not ‘self archived’ and the VC told me
    ‘As you will appreciate, obtaining copies of all papers, clearing them for copyright purposes and mounting them (if permitted) in the repository, is a huge resource-intensive…

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    1. Matt Stevens

      Senior Research Fellow/Statistician/PhD

      In reply to Diane Lester

      I agree regarding funding the publication on open access. Currently the university I work for pays a member fee for BMC open access journals, but it still costs Australian researchers GPB1050 to publish.

  4. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    It is true that some universities don't invest much in digital access. This is very short sighted since puting a publication on an open repository increases its citations substantially. Nonetheless, I think best results will be achieved by setting an example, persuasion and then reinforcing a norm which colleagues are expected to follow.

    In Australia Queensland University of Technology's eprints has been one of the leading repositories. The university started by encouraging, establishing a norm and I think the university now requires its staff to lodge publications in its repository

    Many journals' policies on open access are provided on this convenient SHERPA/RoMEO reference based at the University of Nottingham

  5. Rafael Santos

    logged in via Twitter

    First of all, I support Open Access. However, I am confused about requirements to post papers in repositories:

    1-) Are you requiring the final "edited" copy of the paper to be posted? If so, this would infringe the copyrights of the publisher (this is what the RWA seeks to protect), which were acquired from the authors by their own "free will".

    2-) Are you requiring the author accepted manuscript (or the so called pre-print) to be posted? Then that is ok, even Elsevier allows for this, but…

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    1. Matt Stevens

      Senior Research Fellow/Statistician/PhD

      In reply to Rafael Santos

      And every academic I speak with disagrees with the RWA. It is good to know that pre-publication manuscripts for Elsevier journals can be posted.

  6. Anne Fitzgerald

    logged in via LinkedIn

    @ Gavin Moodie - As well as the SHERPA/RoMEO list of journals and colour-coded publishers' open access policies/practices, see the OAK List, developed at QUT under the OAK Law project.
    The OAK List was designed to be interoperable with SHERPA/RoMEO but extends the list of publishers and publications to include those with particular relevance to Australian researchers which were not originally included in SHERPA/RoMEO. It works on a colour-coding from green (open open) to white, through 4 steps. For further information, contact Paula Callan, the QUT eResearch Access Coordinator.

  7. Danny Kingsley

    Executive Officer for the Australian Open Access Support Group at Australian National University

    Thank you for correcting my comment in last week's article. Unfortunately in my attempt to explain a complex concept to the author I conflated the assessment processes used for grant funding, ERA and promotions.

    May I offer my congratulations to the NHMRC for taking a strong and forward-looking position in this important area.

  8. Ruth Armstrong

    Deputy Editor, The Medical Journal of Australia

    We applaud Warwick Anderson and the NHMRC for this impending change of policy.

    Research papers published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) have, for some time, been open access for the fortnight after publication and then indefinitely from 12 months after publication.

    From January 2012, however, all research published in the MJA, however funded, is open access indefinitely from the day of publication. This, we believe, is the gold standard in access to medical research reports…

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  9. Diane Lester

    logged in via Facebook

    Its hard to tell from MJA’s website whether its back content goes into PubMed Central, but from searching PMC I conclude that it does. Of course, central archiving is part of the gold standard for medical journal literature access so that literature becomes organised according to subject matter, rather than ownership, and can be properly searched. It would be good if MJA could clarify its policy with respect to archiving, not least because it will create awareness amongst authors of the vital role of PMC.

  10. William Bennett

    Lecturer in Environmental Chemistry at Griffith University

    So how does the NHMRC evaluate the track record of a researcher? If not by the impact factor of the journals they publish in, or the citation rate of individual papers, then by what??? I don't believe for a second that grant reviewers delve deeply into the methodology of each paper to determine it's quality/impact!

    Even though they won't admit, I have a strange feeling that although the use of 'impact factors' is not officially approved, it still happens in a roundabout kind of way. Reviewers in the field will know which journals are high-impact, and which are the 'last resort' kind of journals and will rank researchers accordingly...

  11. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    Most papers that are lodged on digital repositories are the preprints of papers published in conventional journals so it is still possible to consult impact factors if one wants to.

    On the glorious day when all papers are published only on open repositories one would refer to one of the authoritative on line citation counts such as Google scholar citations.

  12. Coral Gartner

    Research Fellow

    Increasing use of open access is a great initiative, however I would like to know if NHMRC will be providing funds for open access publication? Unlocking articles to make them open access is permitted by many journals for a fee. However, NHMRC funding rules do not allow for these publication fees to be included in grant budgets. Some journals allow you to deposit your articles in an institutional repository after a set time has elapsed (>12 months), so that may also make it difficult to comply with these new requirements, which specify within 12 months.