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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.