Unlocking Science - OpenCon 2015

Dr Karin Purshouse shares her view on the recent OpenCon 2015 and its relevance in an increasingly open world of science and sharing ideas. Karin is currently working as a doctor in the UK, whilst attempting to juggle a side-line in research. Read her blog here. 

By open access, we mean the free availability of articles on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software or use them for any other lawful purpose...

-      The Budapest Open Access Initiative – February 14, 2002

OpenCon is a global conference for students, early career researchers and librarians.  Only in its second year, OpenCon has proven to be a game changer since the inaugural conference in 2014 in Washington, DC.  The aim? To bring together the community driving change in all areas of research and innovation towards open-ness.  Oh, and to hear Jimmy Wales, Mr Wikipedia, tell us why Open is so important (and successful). 

What does that even MEAN, I hear you cry?  Well, from a biotech perspective, Open Access and Open Data are absolutely crucial.  If we have any hope of bridging the gap between research and, frankly, the rest of the world, then Open is the only way.  Open Access means being able to access research articles without having to fork out to get over that pay wall.  Open Data is about getting the raw numbers or information and being able to analyse it afresh. The cost of accessing research through journal subscriptions has risen significantly, with some journal subscriptions costing up to $25,000 a year [1].  Everyone from the developing world to eminent institutions such as Harvard University are struggling to afford research articles, and that is halting innovation across every field.   

In the last few years, there has been a seismic shift towards Open Access, largely driven by researchers for whom the significant barriers placed by a closed system became unacceptable.  With major funders now largely mandating Open Access policies as a condition of support, a tipping point has been reached with over 50% of articles published between 2007 and 2012 available for free internet download. 

OpenCon2015 saw a community of Open advocates from every corner of the world congregate in Brussels for a weekend of inspirational lectures, panel presentations and group discussions.  Why on earth do we use Impact Factor?  How do we evaluate the impact of research? How can funders help researchers to be more open? These were just some of the big questions we were trying to answer with the help of science and humanities giants such as Michael Eisen, Salvatore Mele, Bjoern Brembs, Geoff Bilder and Martin Eve. Even more exciting was hearing about student and researcher initiatives such as Dissemin, Drop Dead Paper and ThinkLab to name but a few – these projects aim to unlock research so that we can maximise its impact. 

Why do I care about this?  I’m a junior doctor and researcher – so open access and open data is pretty important in making sure my clinical practice and research is evidence based and of high quality.  Being an Open junior researcher is hard – when you’re the third author on a paper, and every publication counts, how do you flex your muscle to say ‘I want this paper to be published Open Access’?  Conferences like OpenCon make you realise you are not alone.  Resources like SHERPA/RoMEO help you to identify what aspects of your paper you CAN publish online (a pre-print, for example, even if the final edit is blocked within a journal), and institutional libraries can help you to set up your own repository for your work.  The Open Access Button is also a great resource to find papers in repositories or direct from authors when paywalls get in the way. 

There are still satellite events happening all over the world, as well as a monthly OpenCon Community Call – a teleconference call where we learn, chatter, listen and share our tales of Open Access.  Check out the details at http://www.opencon2015.org/


[1] "Expensive Journals List: Current MIT subscriptions costing more than $5,000/year," MIT Libraries, 07/16/09