Sunday, April 30, 2006

Open Access: to Leverage the Research Dollar

For the research funder, here is yet another reason why the results of research should be openly accessible, as soon as possible: immediately on publication - or before: to leverage the research dollar.

Why? The way science works is in a series of steps, or like a puzzle. The goals of research are broad: finding cures for cancer, learning how to prevent or treat heart disease. These kinds of goals are rarely reached through a single study. Rather, each piece of research brings us just one step closer to the goal. One researcher discovers something that tells us that it looks like a disease just might be caused by a virus. Several studies later, this is confirmed, and the virus is identified. Other studies tell us best methods for treating the illness, and a vaccine is developed. Someday, hopefully, a means of destroying the virus altogether will be found.

When we fund one step in this research, we achieve more when more researchers are able to get on with the next steps, and we achieve the most when the results are shared as openly and quickly as possible, so that as many researchers as possible can get on to the next steps as quickly as possible.

How this relates to research dollars: because research occurs worldwide, the research dollars of one funder can be leveraged through the efforts of others, including researchers receiving funds from other agencies, and often researchers working without specific funding. Open, immediate sharing is like multiplying your research lab, your research team - with no extra dollars involved.

Another way to look at this: look at what happened when the world's researchers and funders worked together, sharing information openly and rapidly, to map the the human genome - and look how fast this was actually achieved. Why not use the same methods to understand and find better treatments or cures for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other human ailments?

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

1 comment:

  1. Heather - I agree completely that funding agencies will get more bang for the buck if research is made publicly available more quickly and extensively. A significant obstacle now is that research productivity is mainly measured in terms of peer reviewed publications, which tends to encourage secrecy and selective disclosure of only "successful" experiments.


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