Open Access Week Kickoff Event Celebrates Impact on Innovation

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Caralee Adams

Two-part event explored the nature of impact and awarded innovative use of open content.

Experts discussed the changing nature of measuring the impact of research in the open, digital environment, and researchers who leveraged Open Access to advance science in significant ways were honored at the kickoff of “Open Access Week” hosted by SPARC and the World Bank on October 21 in Washington, D.C..

Thought leaders who are involved in Open Access from publishing to government to the nonprofit sector discussed the next steps for the movement and how it is redefining impact in science in the events opening panel, moderated by SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph.

Cyril Muller, World Bank’s Vice President of External and Corporate Relations, reported that demand is growing for access to the World Bank’s Open Knowledge Repository, which was launched in July 2012. In the first year, there were one million documents downloaded. By mid-October, two million were accessed, putting the organization on pace to double its downloads once again by year’s end. 

“The success of our work depends on Open Access,” said Muller. “Open Access is a way to share our research outputs with outside world, but also as a driver for change internally and externally.”

As Open Access expands, many are pushing for new ways to recognize and reward researchers for the outputs of their work.

“When you are thinking out of the box, ahead of the pack, your research may not get published where everyone else’s is,” said Stefano Bertuzzi, executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology. “The goal is to shift the culture from where we publish research to what we publish,” he said.

Bertuzzi said he was encouraged the response to the recently issued San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) proposal, which calls for an end to the widespread use of impact factors in evaluating scientists and their work. DORA has garnered over 9,500 signatories, which Dr. Bertuzzi said indicates that the time is right for change. “We aren’t in it for the short haul. This is going to be big time,” he noted.

While there is much discussion of new metrics for measuring impact of research work once it’s published, it should be considered along with rethinking the peer review process prior to publication, suggested Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association. Open Access has enabled scholars to think differently and not just focus on the end product, she said. There are scholarly venues that are seeking to publish not just journal articles, but also data sets and multimedia outputs that are innovative outcomes from research processes.

“Within an open environment, we might benefit from thinking about peer review as a collective process that functions less as a gatekeeping tool designed to let some things through but keep other stuff out - instead, more as filtering mechanism,” she said. “It would be a shift to a system to focuses on keeping bad stuff out, to more of a system that focuses on highlighting the good.”

Michael Stebbins, assistant director for Biotechnology in the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, said there needs to be a move to openness as the default policy in government. Progress is being made, he added, as the NIH open access policy is now a model that is expected to be expanded to two-dozen other federal agencies.

“All federally funded scientists will be developing data management plans that will explain what kinds of data they anticipate developing, and what their plans are for making that data available in a way that makes sense for their field,” said Stebbins. While some fields are more open than others, he suggested pilot projects can help scientists share their data more broadly to expand the environment of openness.

The benefits of openness are not limited to the hard sciences, said Brett Bobley, chief information officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities. For example, researchers who study ancient writings on stone and papyrus have built open databases that have accelerated the sharing of information. “This change has really impacted the whole community because people realize they can do research they couldn’t do before,” said Bobley at the kickoff event.

Cameron Neylon, advocacy director for PLOS, acknowledged that tensions exist in the world of scholarship, and that it’s difficult to predict where impact will come from in the future. But he suggested that systems can be constructed for research that leads to better outcomes.

“We don’t fund research without intent,” said Neylon. “We fund it because it will make the world a better place.” Funders can require researchers to communicate their work in ways that are open and encourage the sharing of knowledge. There should be a focus on the system and enabling the reuse of information, said Neylon.

In the second half of the program, the winners of the new Accelerating Science Award Program (ASAP) were announced and introduced. Hailing from Australia, Canada, and Germany, each of the scientists used, applied or remixed research published through Open Access to make a difference in society in a powerful way.

  • Matthew Todd, PhD., an organic chemist and senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, created the Open Source Malaria Consortium, using a crowdsourcing model to accelerate drug discovery to fight malaria, which kills more than 660,000 people every year.
  • Nitka Pant Pai, PhD., assistant professor in the department of medicine at McGill University Health Center, led a group of researchers that devised strategy and tailored a smartphone application to help educate and support patients taking an HIV self-test.
  • Daniel Mietchen, PhD., a researcher at the Natural History Museum in Berlin, developed a tool that scans Open Access articles to find video and audio files that can supplement journal articles to give readers a better visual understanding of openly available scientific research.

The award program, launched this summer and sponsored by several organizations including the Public Library of Science, Google, and the Wellcome Trust, attracted nearly 200 applications from 30 countries.  Each of the top projects received a $30,000 prize and another three received honorable mentions.

“Together their stories reinforce the central message that Open Access is good for science, good for business, and good for the public,” said Elizabeth Marincola, chief executive officer of PLOS at the event. “It eliminates artificial and unnecessary constraints and barriers for the dissemination of research findings. That means that every scientist, every student, and every citizen can benefit from any study.”

In a discussion after receiving their awards, the three winners explained how their projects were only possible because researchers had freely shared information in the spirit of advancing science. They also shared their hope for the future using this model.

Pai said patients were empowered by the HIV self-test approach and she feels it could be adapted for other potentially treatable infections, such as hepatitis C, and credited Open Access for helping her find the information necessary to develop the test.

“I am one of the biggest advocates of Open Access,” said Pai. “There is so much energy in giving and sharing knowledge. This is like a circle of giving and receiving…that’s the beauty of Open Access. It has great momentum. It has a noble mission. It will just grow in years to come.”

Every day, Todd said he is eager each morning to see what contributions researchers from around the world have offered overnight through the discussion of open data.

“It makes me excited about science in the way I was as a kid,” he told the World Bank audience. As word spreads about the thrill of discovery through Open Access, Todd said he expects more people will decide to share information freely.

A video of the full event is available here. To see what kinds of events took place across the globe visit