The heads of some 70 research funding agencies from around the world said today that they had agreed to encourage open access to science publications resulting from their spending.
But the funders, gathering in Berlin for the second annual meeting of the Global Research Council, a voluntary but potentially influential discussion forum, did not commit to joint specifics in their seven-page action plan.
Instead, “working out individual details must remain a task for individual organizations”, Peter Strohschneider, the president of Germany’s main research-funding agency, the DFG, told reporters at a press conference. The same broad agreement without detailed how-to recipes applies to another agreement the council released today, a one-page statement on principles for research integrity.
Behind the scenes, “there’s a growing sense of how complex the matter actually is,” Helga Nowotny, the president of the European Research Council, told Nature after the press conference.
There is broad agreement that publicly funded results should be publicly available, but different nations are moving towards that goal at a different pace, said Glaucius Oliva, president of Brazil’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. Or as the document, revealingly called an action plan “towards” open access to publications, puts it:
The structure of academia and the research communities, the landscape of publishers, and the funding of research and publications vary from country to country … specific approaches towards implementing open access that are well suited for country A might not be feasible in country B.
One of the heated debates around making publications open to all is whether funding agencies want work to be made available immediately or after a delay, to give publishers some time to recoup their costs through journal subscriptions.
Another question is whether funding agencies commit to paying publishers to make research open or compel their researchers to put an accepted version of a manuscript in a public repository. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, and anxiety, and I think many people are looking for hybrid formulas,” Nowotny said.
Asked whether many countries are following the stance of the United Kingdom, where research minister David Willetts hopes that other countries will follow his preference to pay publishers for immediate open access, Nowotny said: “I have not noticed followers at all”.
The Global Research Council (GRC) is an informal grouping of executives representing some 80% of the world’s public, non-ministerial research potential, said Strohschneider. Its origins lie in the United States: it was founded last year in Washington DC at a meeting organized by the US National Science Foundation and called for by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in the hopes of finding common ground on disparate national agency policies on how to manage and conduct research.
The GRC works by gathering consensus among hundreds of funding agencies in regional meetings, before agreeing common documents at an annual gathering. But any aspirations it releases are non-binding. The next annual meeting will be in May 2014 in China, where attendees will again discuss open access, in addition to the career prospects and mobility of younger researchers.