Europe's March Towards Free And Open Scientific Research

The EU wants you to be able to access a treasure trove of scientific information.
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Olga Lexell
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The EU wants you to be able to access a treasure trove of scientific information.

Last week was a big week in the fight for open access. Europe's Competitiveness Council agreed to make European scientific papers available to everyone for free and set 2020 as the deadline for this goal. This may not sound huge at first, but it is. Scientific research is guarded by paywalls in journals that shut out those who can't afford subscriptions or don't have the support of a university behind them. The EU wants to give everyone a chance to be science literate regardless of their background or circumstances. See? Huge.

Now, there are some caveats. Only research supported by public and public-private funds will be opened up to everyone, which makes sense; the people who support science research should be able to take a peek at it. One organization that relies on public funding and whose research would become freely accessible is CERN (which is already committed to open access, as evidenced by the 300TB of research they made public in April). Of course, not all of the scientists who receive EU support are as big a household name as CERN; other recent backed projects include Philippe Dugaut’s grant to study the combustion of alternative fuels and Franciscus C.T. Van Der Helm’s 4D-EEG tool, which will allow doctors to investigate brain activity in a new spatial sense.

Open access is quickly becoming the preferred model for scientists, governments, and constituents. Like net neutrality, it allows the average citizen to access a wealth of information. In the case of the EU’s open access project, it gives citizens the right to access research they funded via taxes. Even the United States jumped on the bandwagon; this week, Joe Biden announced a new open access cancer research database: the Genomic Data Commons. Doug Lowy, acting director of the GDC, had this to say: “What I see as transformative is, this is where the world is going, and GDC is just a part of it.”

These open access initiatives are still just announcements, so we’ll have to wait to see what the detailed plans are, but most scientists seem to be receptive to the idea. (And most scientific journals remain, unsurprisingly, quiet on the issue.)