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Does mandatory policy help Open Access?

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How to disseminate Open Access? How to convince scholars, universities and research institutions that OA may help in the development of science? These questions are a never-ending topic of discussion in the scientific community. There are also many answers to these questions, and one of them is a mandatory OA policy for scientists, established by a government or university. However, the question is: does it really work?

The mandatory policy for OA has its supporters and opponents and this division can be observed pretty well during the discussions on the new regulations in the UK. The opponents may say that new rules favor one type of OA and marginalize the other (Gold vs. Green), that the objectivity and freedom of scientific research may be compromised, that freedom of choice is being limited, or that those who control funding will have undue influence on what is being published and where.

Many of these arguments may, or indeed touch upon the real threats that may arise with the introduction of top-down rules for OA. Unfortunately, there is always a shortage of funds for science, research and publishing. Each institution introducing rules concerning OA, whether it is a university or government, will take into account the financial factor and try to choose the best compromise. Of course, you can always argue whether the solution actually supports OA and scientists or not.

However, despite it all, the mandatory policy has at least one important advantage. It gives an impulse for the dissemination and development of OA by setting rules, which do not only promote OA, but also require it. A simple rule of thumb: “you do research for our money, you need to publish results in OA” affects more strongly than any marketing inducements.

The first results of the OA policy introduced by the National Institutes of Health are a good example of this. The NIH policy requires investigators to submit papers arising from NIH-funded research to PubMed Central no later than 12 months after publication. The new policy came into force in spring 2013 and since then the NIH has noted an increase in the number of submitted publications. In May more than 10,000 peer-reviewed manuscripts were added to repository (in 2011-2012 the average was 5,100 per month).

Of course, mandatory OA policies are not a cure for all evil and Open Access cannot develop in isolation from the scientific community and its needs. What is more, the question of what publishing model should be used by scientists is not the only one to consider. In fact, Open Access is a matter of transformation of science, especially on a communication level, but also of the changing relations between scholars and universities. It is an issue of new criteria for evaluating scientific work and the quality of the science. Therefore, there are no zero-one solutions or miraculous potions that will solve all ills.


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