Open Access from Berlin to Rome

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Open access. Open access to scientific information. Open access to scientific information was requested and an "action plan" to obtain such access was proposed by the directors of 70 research organizations from around the world, as well as authoritative scientists, research managers and politicians in the research field during the Annual Global Meeting of the Global Research Council which was held in Berlin from May 27 to 30 of this year. The meeting was jointly organized by the Deutesche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the German Foundation for Research and by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), the National Council for scientific and technological development in Brazil.
At the meeting, the Global Research Council approved two documents: the Statement of Principles for Scientific Merit Review, a statement of principles for research integrity and the Action Plan towards Open Access to Publications, an action plan to make free access to scientific information a concrete practice rather than just an empty statement.

There are at least three new important aspects. The first is that open access - i.e. that anyone may freely access scientific information - is being asked not only by individual researchers or research centers, but jointly by 70 large scientific institutions many of which co-ordinate and provide funds to public research and are, therefore, in a position to take action in practice to fulfil the request made in principle.
The second novelty of the Berlin conference is that two documents were approved: one on open access and the other on research integrity (in particular on rewarding merit). This establishes a close link between open access and research ethics ,i.e. the values ​​that underpin scientists' work. Thus, allowing access to research results becomes a duty for scientists, at least those who receive public funds.
The third novelty is the proposal for a plan based on three different courses of action: awareness, promotion, assessment.
The first course of action is a kind of meta-communication: communicating the value of free communication. This value is deeply entrenched in history: as Paolo Rossi argued, modern science was born in the seventeenth century by breaking down the paradigm of secrecy and embracing the value of "communicating everything to everyone". This is also an ethical value: it is right that everyone may benefit from scientific knowledge and that researchers financed by public funds give back the results of their work to the public. This is finally a practical value: the free circulation of information facilitates the production of new knowledge.
The second course of action is to promote open access. Thus the important institutions that have signed the Berlin Statement undertook to actively encourage researchers who make use of their funds to publish in open access journals. A possible strategy is to finance the authors. While for traditional magazines it is the user who buys the magazine that finances publication, for an open access journal, accessible to all, publication costs fall on the author. Not every author, however, has the means and desire to do so. The institutions that fund their research may also cover publication costs. But this is not enough. The Wellcome Trust of London has been pursuing this policy for some time. But only 55% of researchers financed by it publish on open access journals. Some form of constraint is probably necessary: public agencies and charities only provide funds to researchers who accept the open access constraint.
The third course of action is to devise those mechanisms that are most suitable to promote a rapid expansion of open access, which is also considered by many as the future of communication: at the same time effect and cause of the creation of one big global scientific community.

Nevertheless, the victory of open access should not be taken for granted. There is resistance on all levels. Not just financial, but also cultural resistance. That's why the first course of action - communicating the concept of open access - proposed in Berlin is essential. This course of action requires discussion, reflection and in-depth analysis. These opportunities are offered us by the Open Science to Society, the group directed by Giovanni Destrobisol of the University La Sapienza of Rome, which on 2-4 September organizes a conference in Agnani, Scientific data sharing: an interdisciplinary workshop on a particular aspect of open access, i.e. open data: the free and total sharing of scientific data.     

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