Open Access – Our Academic Responsibility

Illustration by Marina Noordegraaf. Via Flickr.

The Norwegian government wants Norway to be a forerunner in the effort to ensure open access to published research. To this end, the government established a working group at the start of 2016, assigned with the task of compiling guidelines for open access to scientific papers. We, the working group, submitted our recommendation on 14 June.

We recommend a number of measures to accelerate the transition to open access. We believe, for example, that Norway needs to amend its current methods for quality evaluations and accreditation of publications, as the current publication indicator seems to be an obstacle for open journals.

Why is this important?

Free electronic access to research publications for all would be highly beneficial in several respects. It would undoubtedly enhance academic development.

Businesses would benefit from better access to essential knowledge. Employees in public administration, health personnel, teachers and journalists would benefit from more rapid and free access to research results. The capacity of the general public to make use of knowledge would be improved.

Section 100 of the Constitution of Norway says that the government is obliged to facilitate an open and informed public debate. In our view, few initiatives fulfil this obligation better than open access to research results.

A number of studies indicate major economic gains from such a change. For instance, a recent report published by Denmark’s Electronic Research Library (DEFF) studied the impact of improved access to research literature in a selection of small and medium-sized businesses. Most of the employees in these businesses needed research literature in their work, but struggled to gain access to the necessary publications. The time spent on overcoming this obstacle and the disadvantages of not getting access were estimated to represent a value of DKK 540 million. The study did not include large companies in Denmark.

No corresponding studies have been carried out in Norway, but it is reasonable to assume that the financial losses incurred due to insufficient access to research results are high in Norway, too, or in any other country for that matter. We have urged the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) to pay more attention to the need of easy access to research in business.

Moreover, open access represents far more benefits than improvements to research and greater competitiveness. And it is not just about the Norwegian taxpayer’s right to make use of knowledge produced by means of public funding; we also have to look beyond the national perspective. Open access also has an important global dimension. Carlos Moedas, the European Commission’s Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, recently held a speech where he described EC research policy within a global perspective of solidarity. Research articles, for example, are an essential tool in the efforts to improve health services in low-income and medium-income countries.

Despite the major potential gains to be made, some still claim that the requirement for or expectations of open publication are in breach of the principles of academic freedom. It is our opinion that such claims are based on a narrow-minded interpretation of the concept of freedom. A proper and comprehensive interpretation of academic freedom must also comprise academic responsibility. At the very core of the debate on open access is the academic responsibility researchers must accept to make their results available to all those who may benefit from them. This academic responsibility must apply jointly to the global community of scholars, as well as to individual researchers.

With traditional academic publications, rights are transferred to the publishing house. This limits dispersion and reuse of knowledge. We believe that such limitations on the distribution of publicly funded knowledge is a much greater threat against academic freedom in the true sense of the word than the introduction of incentives for open publication. It is high time that we as researchers realise our academic responsibility, which is intrinsically linked to our academic freedom. It is high time that researchers now give their full support to the mounting initiatives to open up all publicly funded research.

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