UCSF sets example for open access to research

Taken by Leena Butt
UC San Francisco (UCSF) has become the largest scientific institution in the nation and the first UC campus to allow for public access to its research publications. The university, which publishes around 4,500 scholarly papers each year, will be following in the footsteps of other notable universities such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Our primary motivation is to make our research available to anyone who is interested in it, whether they are members of the general public or scientists without costly subscriptions to journals,” stated UCSF School of Medicine Professor Richard A. Schneider in an article by the UCSF Newsroom. Schneider spearheaded the open-access policy initiative and has eight years of experience on the UCSF Academic Senate Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication, for which he currently serves as chairman.

A reason that a significant number of research institutions have not adopted the open-access policy is illustrated by the obstacle that UCSF now faces: convincing commercial publishers to change their contracts. “The system as it is currently designed where you have to pay to get access is only benefiting one group and that is the publishers who are making billions of dollars in profit every year—all off of our free labor,” stated Schneider in an interview with the Highlander.

According to Schneider, commercial publishers have been able to achieve profit margins of over 30 percent—an outcome accomplished by charging fees for access to scholarly journals and renowned research articles. These fees have resulted in institutions such as the University of California paying (usually around $40 million a year) for student and faculty access to large databases. Access by the general public, however, largely remains restricted to fee-based subscriptions, visiting a university library or having access only to research abstracts and summaries of articles.

Despite these obstacles, the future for open-access scholarly articles remains relatively promising due to the efforts of potent research donors and organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Past progress includes the NIH’s agreeing to make articles open to the public after one year of an article’s initial release. Meanwhile, some donors and other sources of funding have made their awards dependent on the recipient’s willingness to publish their funded work on an open-access policy.

The new policy will allow UCSF faculty and researchers to publish their articles via commercial publishers and public databases such as Google Scholar. Since the policy was the result of a collaboration among committees such as UC Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication, the UCSF publications will also be available on databases operated by the UC.

“The decision is a huge step forward in eliminating barriers to scientific research. By opening the currently closed system, this policy will fuel innovation and discovery, and give the taxpaying public free access to oversee their investments in research,” stated Schneider.
According to Schneider, the University of California had previously tried to create an open-access policy in 2006 but failed to garner enough faculty votes. Schneider remains hopeful that the model created by UCSF can one day be implemented by the entire UC system.

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