2021 Webinar series begins

Yesterday we had 100+ Open Access advocates attend our first webinar of the year.

AOASG Chair, Martin Borchert, AOASG Executive Committee members and Director, Ginny Barbour looked back at the extraordinary year that was 2020 and presented open access initiatives from a variety of Australian Universities.

Martin Borchert, University Librarian at UNSW spoke about advocating for Open Access at UNSW. Maureen Sullivan, University Librarian at Griffith University discussed Griffith’s new Open Research Statement. Donna McRostie, Deputy Director, Research & Collection Stewardship at The University of Melbourne spoke about turning Open Access practice into principles. Scott Nicholls, Associate University Librarian (Library Research & Collections) at the University of Western Australia, discussed supporting Open Access in the Humanities at UWA, and Anne Scott, University Librarian at Canterbury University Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha spoke about Open textbooks.

Find the slide show and more details about our Webinar series here.

What a year it’s been…

If there’s anything the COVID-19 pandemic has done for us in 2020, it’s magnified the necessity for a broad conversation about the need for a coordinated approach in how research publications are disseminated – specifically the need for universal open access to research globally. It’s also shows that these conversations need to happen not just across not just the university and research sector, but in the public & community sphere as well.

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the dependence on an outdated and inequitable publishing system and flawed career incentive model for researchers. These impediments to open access can be addressed with commitments from both governments and the academic sector to building structural equity and inclusion, through coordinated support for open infrastructure, polices, practices and training.

We’re hoping our latest series of webinars at the end of 2020 – a joint venture with the Council of Australian University Librarians – will help make the case for well funded, stable open infrastructure. The first of our two panel discussions explored how an Australian national strategy might be developed with three individuals who have been key in the development of national strategies in their respective countries: Dr Pirjo-Leena Forsström (IT Centre for Science, Finland); Dr Patricia Clarke (HRB Open Research, Ireland) & Professor Noorsaadah Abd. Rahman (University of Malaya). The second panel heard from three key Australian stakeholders: Dr Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist, CSIRO & Australia’s next Chief Scientist Professor Robyn Owens, Emeritus Professor, and former DVCR UWA Ryan Winn, CEO of Australian Council of Learned Academies. Recordings of the panel discussions are available here. The webinars were very well attended by many participants from across the research sector in Australia and New Zealand, and came on the back of what we think has been our most successful Open Access Week so far.

When we planned our timetable for this year’s OA week activities we hoped to fulfill the sentiment of the Open with Purpose theme. Our line up didn’t disappoint with a record number (1686) of registrations across our 10 online events. Many thanks to our wonderful speakers whose passion for their fields of interest flowed into their presentations which were received with appreciation from an enthusiastic audience. Our online workshops were led with thoughtfulness and skill and provided insights for eager participants who took away some great new skills and knowledge. Our most well attended event was the panel session Indigenous Voices, Indigenous Research and Open Access which brought to the fore the need for the consideration of cultural sensitivities and preservation in the pursuit of knowledge. Our sincere thanks to all contributors, especially our OA Week Steering Group. Recordings of all sessions are available here.

To kick off our Open Access week activities Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty spoke with our Director Dr Ginny Barbour about his passion for science and research, and how publishing has changed during his career.  Listen to the interview here.

Throughout the year we were helped enormously by the AOASG Practitioners Group (volunteers from our member institutions) who assisted us with their time, expertise and good humour to help in:

  • developing and creating the concepts for teaching modules which will form the basis of our new advocacy workshops in 2021
  • analysing our online content for a massive website overhaul and upgrade (coming very soon)
  • developing and creating a databank of Open Access Frequently Asked Questions aimed at our main user groups

We also had a good year of public advocacy for open research. Highlights include:
Open science: after the COVID-19 pandemic there can be no return to closed working – Martin Borchert and Ginny Barbour for the Australian Academy of Science
Science publishing has opened up during the coronavirus pandemic. It won’t be easy to keep it that way Ginny Barbour in the Conversation
How Prestige Journals Remain Elite, Exclusive And Exclusionary Ginny Barbour quoted in piece by Madhukar Pai in Forbes
How Open Access Suddenly Became the Norm Ginny Barbour speaking in research symposium IP & education in the age of COVID-19
Ginny Barbour Interviewed on CGTN about COVID-19’s effects on research

2021 looks likely to be an even more active year for advocacy for open access and open research more widely. It will be very important we don’t lose the momentum of 2020. We thank all our member institutions for their support in 2020 and look forward to working with all our members and supporters on whatever the next year brings us.

Top photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Developing a national open research strategy

Image from OpenAIRE CC-BY

Over the past year, the need for an overarching national strategy in Australia for open research that aligns the many ongoing individual initiatives has become increasingly apparent. There are an increasing number of countries that have developed and are in the process of implementing such strategies.

The Council of Australian University Librarians and the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group are convening a number of webinars to explore further how an Australian national strategy might be developed.

In the first of this series (Thursday 12 November), we will hear from three individuals who have been key in the development of national strategies in their respective countries:

  • Dr Pirjo-Leena Forsström (IT Centre for Science, Finland)
  • Dr Patricia Clarke (HRB Open Research, Ireland)
  • Professor Noorsaadah Abd. Rahman (University of Malaya)

Panel Chair – Catherine Clark, Advancing Open Scholarship Program Director, Council of Australian University Librarians & University Librarian, Curtin University.


Our next webinar in the series will be on 23 November and we’ll hear from an Australian panel.

SAVE THE DATES for Open Access Week 2020

This year’s theme Open with Purpose has guided us in planning our activities for Open Access Week from 19-25 October.  We have a diverse line up of guest speakers and skill sharpening workshops across the week and our Australasian timezone.

In these COVID-19 times all sessions will be online which means anyone with an internet connection is able to take part – events will be held each week day of OA Week between 11am and 1pm AEST.


AOASG Newsletter July/August 2020

What’s in this issue?

What’s new in OA & scholarly publishing in AU & NZ
What’s new in OA & scholarly publishing globally
Recent writing & resources on OA
Upcoming events in OA & scholarly publishing

Advocacy for open access more crucial than ever
As with many groups, the pandemic has led us to rethink our priorities and work. What has become clear in the past few months is that open access has become newsworthy in itself, and important for the wider community. The challenge for the next few months is to continue to make the case carefully for open access – in particular by highlighting news from our region and around the world. We regard this newsletter as key to this effort and encourage you to share it widely and encourage colleagues to sign up. Given how much news there is at the moment, we definitely can’t include everything. We welcome any suggestions for specific or general topics to include.We’re expecting a theme for this year’s international Open Access Week to be announced very soon. We’re already in the process of planning some exciting events for this region. Please let us know your plans and we can add them to our website.  If you need some inspiration have a look at some of the events from last year’s festivities.Joining our community of practice in Australia is a great way to support open activities and share ideas, whether you are new to OA or wanting to discuss specific topics. We also participate in the New Zealand community of practice. Contact us here for more information.cOAlition S leaders to speak in next AOASG webinar
The Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, in partnership with cOAlition S, will present a webinar to highlight and discuss the new Plan S Rights Retention Strategy.  Ginny Barbour, Director AOASG, Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research at Wellcome and cOAlition S Coordinator and Johan Rooryck, Executive Director of cOAlition S will answer any questions you may have about this initiative.

OA moves quickly! For regular news updates, check out our Twitter account 


Contributions to the newsletter or the blog, especially notice of upcoming events, are welcome. Contact us here  


What’s new in OA & scholarly publishing in AU & NZ

New Trove upgrades
Late last month, Australia’s National Treasure -Trove began showing off its new look website and promoting its new collections (including a wide range of data).  For more than 10 years this collaboration between the National Library of Australia and hundreds of partner organisations around the country has been helping researchers  connect and bring more freely available, digitised items to an increasingly online community. Have a look.

It won’t be easy to keep COVID OA open
The Conversation article from Ginny Barbour talks about how the opening up of research on the coronavirus pandemic should be the new normal, but likely won’t be without concerted action.

Impact case studies submission call
The Australian Research Management Society (ARMS) is calling for submissions of impact case studies, and has developed a template, with a view to identifying skills to share with research management professionals. Visit the ARMS website for a copy of the template.

ANU Press in the time of Covid-19
James Fox, Chair of the Advisory Board of the ANU Press, discusses the history and current activity of ANU Press, which since March 2020 has seen a 44% rise in downloads.

National Archives call for input on policy
Australia’s National Archive is calling for policy advice on the management of information and data for government agencies.  The new Building trust in the public record: managing information and data for government and community is a policy to improve how Australian government agencies create, collect, manage and use information assets.

Copyright laws to be reviewed
The Australian Federal Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP has announced copyright reforms: ‘The reforms will set up a scheme to allow the use of material if the copyright owner cannot be found, introduce a fair dealing exception for non-commercial quotation, simplify and update copyright exceptions for educational and cultural institutions, and streamline the government statutory licensing scheme.” The ALCC has welcomed these reforms.

How Open Access Suddenly Became the Norm
AOASG Director,  Ginny Barbour spoke at a research symposium organised at QUT on 29 July 2020: IP & education in the age of COVID-19 . The  presentation is here

APEC meeting on Open Science
Ginny Barbour will be speaking at this regional meeting on 21st August, which is hosted by Malaysia.

International Open Access Week, a global event now entering its thirteenth year, is an opportunity for open access advocates to engage their communities to discuss the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.

We’re expecting a theme for 2020 to be announced very soon, and are planning an exciting schedule of online events for October 19-23.

What’s new in OA & scholarly publishing globally

Plan S

Call to understand journal landscape for Diamond OA publishing
A new survey has been put together which is part of the Diamond Open Access Study commissioned by cOAlition S. Diamond OA is the publishing model where research is both free for authors to publish and free for readers to access. They are calling for assistance in three ways:

1. If you belong to the scientific or editorial team of a journal based on the Diamond model, we’d very much appreciate your considering completing this survey. (in EnglishGermanFrenchItalianSpanish and Portuguese)  NOTE: The survey will be open until the 25th of August 2020

2. If you know of a Diamond OA journal or platform that is not included in major databases, like DOAJ, please add their information to this spreadsheet or simply pass this appropriate survey link on to them, the English one being (see above for other languages): https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GZQDBT5

3. We invite you to disseminate this message to your community to increase our outreach to as many quality journals as possible. A message is available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese.

Change to grant conditions on CC attribution licences
The cOAlition S organisations will change their grant conditions to require that a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY) is applied to all author accepted manuscripts (AAMs) or versions of record (VoR) reporting original research, supported in whole or in part by their funding. The AAM should be then immediately available at the time of publication. This rights retention strategy give researchers supported by a cOAlition S Organisation the freedom to publish in their journal of choice, and provides a huge boost to repository-based OA.  Read more.

Journal checker tool announced
In other cOAlition S news, they have awarded the tender to develop the Plan S Journal Checker Tool to Cottage Labs, a data services and software company experienced in managing OA data. This tool will be very important for the retaining rights policy.  Read more.

General News

Fox foundation OA policy
In the theme of progressive OA policies, the Michael J Fox Foundation, which funds research into new treatments and cures for Parkinson’s disease, has just released its new Open Access publication policy.

UNESCO convenes Open Science Advisory Committee
The first meeting was held in July. The 2-day online meeting gathered the 30 members of the Advisory Committee, along with some ten observers from UNESCO Permanent Delegations and the international scientific community dealing with Open Science. Read more

OA “crucial” in UFigure 3 - selected UK government funded R&D assets. Regional R&D intensity is calculated as Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D divided by Gross Domestic ProductK R&D road map 
The UK has released their R&D Roadmap with the requirement that research outputs funded by the UK government are freely available to the taxpayer to  ensure that UK research is cited and built on all over the world. They will mandate open publication and strongly incentivise open data sharing where appropriate, so that reproducibility is enabled, and knowledge is shared and spread collaboratively.
They will ensure that more modern research outputs are recognised and rewarded. “Crucially, we must embrace the potential of open research practices”.  Read more.
UK bodies call for publishers to cut costs
A price freeze on journal subscriptions will not be enough to avoid UK researchers losing access to key academic content, warn three major sector bodies representing academic library directors and higher education managers. RLUK, SCONUL, the professional association for academic and research libraries, and Jisc say that immediate reductions are necessary if institutions are to retain access to content. Read more
Tracking big cancellations
SPARC has made publicly available its Big Deal cancellation tracking data on a Google spreadsheet.
Finnish declaration covers 4 key areas
Finland’s research community will draft policies for four areas in its declaration for open science and research 2020–2025.  They are:     

  • Culture for open scholarship
  • Open access to scholarly publications
  • Open access of research data and methods
  • Open education and open access to educational resources. Read more

Canadian OA policy template
Canadian Association of Research Libraries announced the release of its Institutional Open Access Policy Template for Canadian institutions. Read more

Also in Canada, there is a new report in which CARL Member Libraries Quantify Their Investments in Open Scholarship  Read more

New CEO at Creative Commons
Catherine Stihler has been appointed the new CEO of Creative Commons. Catherine is the CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation, and was a member of the European Parliament as a Scottish Labour Party politician (becoming the UK’s youngest MEP at the age of 25).

USA Uni libraries sharing the bid deal joy
College librarians who recently led their institutions through a fast-tracked Big Deal cancellations shared how they navigated the process in a SPARC forum this month. The  event focused on how the process of preparing for and executing a cancellation differs when the timeline needs to be compressed to a few months. Read more.


OpenAIRE COVID-19 resources
All of the records of the OpenAIRE COVID-19 Gateway (https://covid-19.openaire.eu/), Covid-19 publications, datasets, software and projects metadata are available in one place. View here

Internet Archive hits back 
The Internet Archive has fired back at the law suit filed against it by publishers over its National Emergency Library initiative which began in March as a response to Covid-19. The controlled digital lending system aimed to make almost 1.4 million books temporarily available to anyone who wanted them until the end of June or the end of the pandemic, without a wait list. Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in June claiming the site was a hub of piracy that had cost authors untold millions.  The archive has filed its response accusing the publishers of digital book burning which is “unprecedented and unfairly disadvantages people with print disabilities.”

Former US Sec of Homeland Security calls for Open to stay
President of the University of California and former US secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano writes in Inside Higher Ed  that after the COVID-19 crisis, the world can’t revert to its old ways of restricting knowledge and having tax payer funded research locked up behind paywalls. She says, “years from now, we will look back at this pandemic as a historic time of incredible challenges, disruption and anguish. But I hope we will also remember it as an inflection point — the end of restricting knowledge to a privileged few and the dawn of a new era in scientific progress.” Read more.


Survey on preprints
In anticipation of Peer Review Week 2020, and in consideration of the theme Trust in Peer Review, Delta Think is currently surveying broadly to determine whether COVID-19 has had an impact on perceptions of preprints. The survey is open to everyone  with an interest in scientific outputs.

Making COVID-19 preprints easier to find
Europe PMC is now indexing full-text preprints related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as the underlying data. Read more

How to cite preprints
ASAPbio has provided guidance on citing preprints correctly. Read more


The OCLC has published its 2018/19 Survey of Open content Activity in Libraries. The report, Same Direction, Different Trajectories is the culmination of efforts from across the OCLC membership to answer the question “What is the status of open access and open content in libraries across the globe?” The underlying open content survey was conducted in 2018-2019 by the OCLC Global Council in partnership with staff from OCLC Research.  Read more.

EU Science statement on Research Assessment 
Science Europe has put out a position statement & recommendations on Researcher Assessment processes. The document presents a set of policy recommendations that can be used as a framework to guide the evaluation of these assessment processes. They were developed following an extensive study performed in 2019 and a comprehensive consultation process, and are intended for both Science Europe Member Organisations and other research organisations. Read More


Zenodo drops Altmetrics badge
CERN-hosted open access repository, Zenodo has stopped using the Altmetrics badge on its records, after the free service was discontinued.  Zenodo has decided  the badge is not aligned with its core value of Open Data.  They will now look for a solution based on Open Data that enables users to discover the online conversation about their work, and make this solution available for other repositories to use via the InvenioRDM platform. Read more.

Recent writing & resources on OA

What we’re reading

Questionable Publishing Practice? Are you harmed? by Antony Ley & Gary Allen

Open science for responsible innovation in Australia: understanding the expectations and priorities of scientists and researchers Justine Lacey, Rebecca Coates & Matthew Herington

Labour of Love: An Open Access Manifesto for Freedom, Integrity, and Creativity in the Humanities and Interpretive Social Sciences – by Andrea E. Pia, Simon Batterbury, Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi, Marcel LaFlamme, Gerda Wielander, Filippo M. Zerilli, Melissa Nolas, Jon Schubert, Nicholas Loubere, Ivan Franceschini, Casey Walsh, Agathe Mora, and Christos Varvantakis

After Open Access: collaborative publishing for social and environmental justice – Statement by European Journal of Cultural Studies, European Journal of Women’s Studies, Feminist Legal Studies, Feminist Theory and The Sociological Review.

This tool is saving universities millions of dollars in journal subscriptions – Science AAAS blog

Knowledge and equity: analysis of three models – Heather Morrison & Anis Rahman IAMCR Online 2020

Sharing research with academia and beyond: Insights from early career researchers in Australia and Japan – Margaret Merger &Shannon Mason

Sharing Indigenous Cultural Heritage Online: An Overview of GLAM Policies 
Brigitte Vézina and Alexis Muscat

Open access resources

New Toys

Try this new tool – How to FAIR – from the Danish National Forum for Research Data Management, with support from the Danish e-Infrastructure Cooperation (DeiC).

Upcoming events in OA & scholarly publishing

Many conferences have been postponed. Some of those being held online are below.

OASPA Online Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing 2020
21-25 September 2020

eResearch Australia Conference link
eResearch Australasia
19-23 October 2020

Online November 9-13, 2020

This is a great time to get in touch with (or even start!) local and online initiatives such as Hacky Hours. AERO has a list of resources here

Want more OA news?

We can’t cover everything here!  This is a curated list of items that caught our eye and/or which seem especially relevant to OA in this region. For daily updates the best source is the Open Access Tracking Project or if you prefer to be more selective, our Twitter account which has posts throughout each day.

The newsletter archive provides snapshots of key issues throughout the year. Other ways to keep in touch with discussions at AOASG include joining our community of practice calls or the listserve.

Follow us via twitter @openaccess_anz  or online at  http://aoasg.org.au

Please get in touch if you have ideas for the newsletter
or on anything to do with Open Access in Australasia.

Newsletter compiled by Sandra Fry and Virginia Barbour, AOASG.

Sent this newsletter from a colleague? Subscribe here.

Copyright © 2019 Australasian Open Access Strategy Group,
Published under a CCBY 4.0  license.

Our mailing address is:

Australasian Open Access Strategy Group

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Science publishing has opened up during the coronavirus pandemic. It won’t be easy to keep it that way

Image from Shutterstock (The Conversation)

This article by Virginia Barbour from Queensland University of Technology  was originally published in The Conversation on 28 July, 2020

Scientific publishing is not known for moving rapidly. In normal times, publishing new research can take months, if not years. Researchers prepare a first version of a paper on new findings and submit it to a journal, where it is often rejected, before being resubmitted to another journal, peer-reviewed, revised and, eventually, hopefully published.

All scientists are familiar with the process, but few love it or the time it takes. And even after all this effort – for which neither the authors, the peer reviewers, nor most journal editors, are paid – most research papers end up locked away behind expensive journal paywalls. They can only be read by those with access to funds or to institutions that can afford subscriptions.

What we can learn from SARS

The business-as-usual publishing process is poorly equipped to handle a fast-moving emergency. In the 2003 SARS outbreaks in Hong Kong and Toronto, for example, only 22% of the epidemiological studies on SARS were even submitted to journals during the outbreak. Worse, only 8% were accepted by journals and 7% published before the crisis was over.

Fortunately, SARS was contained in a few months, but perhaps it could have been contained even quicker with better sharing of research.

Fast-forward to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the situation could not be more different. A highly infectious virus spreading across the globe has made rapid sharing of research vital. In many ways, the publishing rulebook has been thrown out the window.

Read more:
The hunt for a coronavirus cure is showing how science can change for the better

Preprints and journals

In this medical emergency, the first versions of papers (preprints) are being submitted onto preprint servers such as medRxiv and bioRxiv and made openly available within a day or two of submission. These preprints (now almost 7,000 papers on just these two sites) are being downloaded millions of times throughout the world.

However, exposing scientific content to the public before it has been peer-reviewed by experts increases the risk it will be misunderstood. Researchers need to engage with the public to improve understanding of how scientific knowledge evolves and to provide ways to question scientific information constructively.

Read more:
Researchers use ‘pre-prints’ to share coronavirus results quickly. But that can backfire

Traditional journals have also changed their practices. Many have made research relating to the pandemic immediately available, although some have specified the content will be locked back up once the pandemic is over. For example, a website of freely available COVID-19 research set up by major publisher Elsevier states:

These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the Elsevier COVID-19 resource centre remains active.

Publication at journals has also sped up, though it cannot compare with the phenomenal speed of preprint servers. Interestingly, it seems posting a preprint speeds up the peer-review process when the paper is ultimately submitted to a journal.

Open data

What else has changed in the pandemic? What has become clear is the power of aggregation of research. A notable initiative is the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), a huge, freely available public dataset of research (now more than 130,000 articles) whose development was led by the US White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Researchers can not only read this research but also reuse it, which is essential to make the most of the research. The reuse is made possible by two specific technologies: permanent unique identifiers to keep track of research papers, and machine-readable conditions (licences) on the research papers, which specify how that research can be used and reused.

These are Creative Commons licences like those that cover projects such as Wikipedia and The Conversation, and they are vital for maximising reuse. Often the reading and reuse is done now at least in a first scan by machines, and research that is not marked as being available for use and reuse may not even be seen, let alone used.

What has also become important is the need to provide access to data behind the research papers. In a fast-moving field of research not every paper receives detailed scrutiny (especially of underlying data) before publication – but making the data available ensures claims can be validated.

If the data can’t be validated, the research should be treated with extreme caution – as happened to a swiftly retracted paper about the effects of hydroxychloroquine published by The Lancet in May.

Read more:
Not just available, but also useful: we must keep pushing to improve open access to research

Overnight changes, decades in the making

While opening up research literature during the pandemic may seem to have happened virtually overnight, these changes have been decades in the making. There were systems and processes in place developed over many years that could be activated when the need arose.

The international licences were developed by the Creative Commons project, which began in 2001. Advocates have been challenging the dominance of commercial journal subscription models since the early 2000s, and open access journals and other publishing routes have been growing globally since then.

Even preprints are not new. Although more recently platforms for preprints have been growing across many disciplines, their origin is in physics back in 1991.

Lessons from the pandemic

So where does publishing go after the pandemic? As in many areas of our lives, there are some positives to take forward from what became a necessity in the pandemic.

The problem with publishing during the 2003 SARS emergency wasn’t the fault of the journals – the system was not in place then for mass, rapid open publishing. As an editor at The Lancet at the time, I vividly remember we simply could not publish or even meaningfully process every paper we received.

But now, almost 20 years later, the tools are in place and this pandemic has made a compelling case for open publishing. Though there are initiatives ongoing across the globe, there is still a lack of coordinated, long term, high-level commitment and investment, especially by governments, to support key open policies and infrastructure.

We are not out of this pandemic yet, and we know that there are even bigger challenges in the form of climate change around the corner. Making it the default that research is open so it can be built on is a crucial step to ensure we can address these problems collaboratively.The Conversation

Virginia Barbour, Director, Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fair beyond data webinar now online

Fair beyond data

Presented by ARDC’s Natasha Simons, AOASG Director Ginny Barbour, CAUL’s Angus Cooke & Martin Borchert AOASG Chair & UNSW University Librarian

FAIR was never intended to be just for research data. Increasingly, the FAIR principles are being applied to diverse research outputs and hence a variety of organisations from publishers to institutions are involved in implementing policies and processes to support FAIR. This joint CAUL/ AOASG webinar, facilitated by ARDC, discusses FAIR from a number of different perspectives and will propose some simple approaches institutions might take to support FAIR.  Click the icon below to access webinar on YouTube.

Listen to the webinar here

Open science: after the COVID-19 pandemic there can be no return to closed working

This article by Professor Ginny Barbour & Martin Borchert has been peer reviewed and was first published in April 2020 by the Australian Academy of Science

  • Science is largely publicly funded but not publicly accessible.
  • When science is not openly accessible, it does not, and cannot, reach everyone who needs it.
  • Research relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic has been made open access, which has enabled a unified and rapid global scientific response—but COVID-19 open access agreements are likely to be temporary.
  • Open access to all research is an ongoing issue. If we are to advance our global effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we must reframe what the standard is.

In the few months since the first case of COVID-19 was identified, the underlying cause has been isolated, its symptoms agreed on, its genome sequenced, diagnostic tests developed, and potential treatments and vaccines are on the horizon. The astonishingly short time frame of these discoveries has only happened through a global open science effort.The principles and practices underpinning open science are what underpin good research—research that is reliable, reproducible, and has the broadest impact possible. It specifically requires the application of principles and practices that make research FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable); researchers are making their data and preliminary publications openly accessible, and then publishers are making the peer-reviewed research immediately and freely available to all. The rapid dissemination of research—through preprints in particular as well as journal articles—stands in contrast to what happened in the 2003 SARS outbreak when the majority of research on the disease was published well after the outbreak had ended.

Many outside observers might reasonably assume, given the digital world we all now inhabit, that science usually works like this. Yet this is very far from the norm for most research. Science is not something that just happens in response to emergencies or specific events—it is an ongoing, largely publicly funded, national and international enterprise.

In Australia there is a well-established base of scientific research conducted by thousands of researchers. Most of these researchers are in universities, associated public institutes such as medical research institutes, or CSIRO. These organisations receive substantial taxpayer funding. The Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) administer most of the funding that goes by competitive grants to researchers and institutions—approximately $1.6 billion per year.

Australian research is highly diverse: it may be very specific—aimed at a cure for a particular disease, for example—or much more theoretical. Theoretical research (also called ‘discovery’ or ‘basic’ research) may often not have an immediate application but can lead to long-term benefits. One example is the work by CSIRO scientists on radio physics that led to the development of Wi-Fi, on which many of us rely today as we stay at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Breaking down the barriers

Having a strong scientific research base ensures that when emergencies happen, there are already groups across Australia and around the world who are working on relevant areas and can rapidly turn their attention to the new problem. Of course, most of these scientists are geographically remote from each other and the success in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has depended fundamentally on open science: scientists being able to rapidly see what others have done, to check its validity by accessing both the underlying data and the researchers’ interpretation of their research, and to build on it for the next advance.

This success has been enabled by calls from organisations that already support open research for a coordinated global open science effort. However, the very reason these calls are needed is because the current system is not open by default. Researchers are not incentivised to share before journal publication, since research is a highly competitive process. This includes acquiring funding for research, which is largely based on just one part of a research effort: the journal publication.

In 2019 for example, the NHMRC only funded 13.2% of grant proposalssubmitted to its Investigator Grant scheme. Publication of research in academic journals itself is competitive, can take many months, and tends to favour only the sharing of positive results (including for the most important of clinical studies, controlled clinical trials)—all of which is highly problematic in emergency situations where it is equally important to understand what does not work. Sharing of the underlying data that journal articles are based on is not yet a universal requirement for publication, nor are researchers usually recognised for data sharing.

There are many benefits associated with an open science model. Image adapted from: Gaelen Pinnock/UCT; CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Once published, even access to research is not seamless. The majority of academic journals still require a subscription to access. Subscriptions are expensive; Australian universities alone currently spend more than $300 million per year on subscriptions to academic journals. Access to academic journals also varies between universities with varying library budgets. The main markets for subscriptions to the commercial journal literature are higher education and health, with some access to government and commercial.

The Department of Education and Training statistics indicate 1.5 million students and 130,000 staff members are in universities, while the Department of Health indicates there are 600,000 health workers. Together these comprise about 2.5 million people or 10% of the Australian population, noting that the largest group, university students, move through universities and may actually lose access after graduation. This percentage is likely to be similar for other developed nations but will be much worse for those in countries with developing economies—they simply cannot afford the subscription fees.

One reason for this lack of access to published research is because the means of sharing of research largely sits outside of universities. Furthermore, most of the journals—and indeed much of the infrastructure that underpins research dissemination—are owned by a small number of companies with high profits. Just one of these, Elsevier, made almost AUD2 billion (£982 million) profit in 2019. Hence, despite the enormous sums spent globally on publishing, which could support research being open, traditional publishers of research (i.e. non-open access ones) have an inherent interest in, at the least, slowing the transition from the status quo. Publishers know that lack of access in emergencies is unacceptable and have indeed made much research on COVID-19 open, just as they did during the Ebola epidemic and the recent Australian bushfire crisis, only to quietly close off access afterwards.

There are signs that publishers are thinking about how to reinstate control after the emergency. On its corporate site for COVID-19 research, Elsevier states that ‘these permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 Resource Center remains active’ and the publisher requires its own ‘els-covid’ licence terms on collective resources. Some publishers have notably not participated at all in coordinated calls to make coronavirus-related articles discoverable and accessible to facilitate text mining (computer-aided searching and analysis of research) and secondary analysis—the American Medical Association, publisher of JAMA, is one example.

Opening up research on the specific topic of the current crisis is really only a gesture. In the current pandemic, researchers are also searching for information from the past literature on many topics, such as on the properties of ventilators and face masks as well as on previous coronaviruses. These papers, especially older ones, have largely not been made available in, for example, the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) of scholarly literature.

The roots of this system are complex and come from a time when sharing research via paper journals and subscriptions were the only options. This has left us with a research system that is much less efficient than it could be: duplicated funding, duplicated effort, and more time taken to solve big scientific and health problems. We now need a system that not only works for but also exploits the opportunities of a world where research is digital from beginning to end—where seamless connections are the key to fully interoperable research.

Building a new and open system

The open research practices on COVID-19 are acting as a real-time lesson for how the system could work in the future. However, moving to an open system will not be trivial, especially as some current open access initiatives have led to publishing costs falling on individual researchers, which is not appropriate or sustainable in the long term. It requires a reimagining of the whole research infrastructure which includes a systemic, national and international rerouting of financial flows. This money is already in the system but is currently paid piecemeal. A system that was designed to be open would ensure the costs of that openness are built upfront into the research support and funding processes themselves so that, for example, the costs of data curation and the costs of final dissemination become simply part of the cost of doing research.

Open Access logo
Open access publishing refers to a set of principles and practices for freely distributing research outputs online. Image adapted from: Public Library of Science (PLoS); CC-BY-SA 3.0 

Since the beginning of the 21st century, groups and individuals in Australia and across the world have been working on a variety of initiatives to open and speed up science. These initiatives include making journal articles open (free to read, share and reuse—that is, the open access mentioned above) which both the ARC and NHMRCsupport through policies, national efforts to promote better data management in organisations such as the Australian Research Data Commons, supporting open infrastructure, and developing open educational resources (OERs). Indeed, OERs have become especially important in the past few weeks as many schools and universities have had to rapidly transition to online learning. Despite communities of practice and innovation by researchers and other experts, an assortment of organisations and companies, and repeated calls for a national approach,  global and Australian initiatives remain largely fragmented. International efforts outside of times of emergencies have not had uniform buy-in and there is no ongoing nationally coordinated Australian effort for open science.

The current crisis offers an opportunity to refashion a better system—to make it open and FAIR so that not just humans but, increasingly, machines can be enlisted to ensure that research is maximised. For this to become the norm, it will require the reshaping of research systems and investment at many levels: practical, legal, financial and human. It also requires careful thought around equity, both of participation in research and access to that research, including consideration of initiatives such as the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance.

Taking the FAIR principles as a guide illustrates some of the issues. For research to be findable requires that all research publications, the research data behind them and the researchers who produce the work are all uniquely identified through permanent machine-readable identifiers. For research to be seamlessly accessible, subscription or other barriers have to be removed, while at the same time there is a need to be mindful of the management of sharing sensitive data. For research to be interoperable requires a workforce that has the skills to curate research data and other outputs. Finally, for research to be fully reusable it needs a legal framework, which is achieved through the application of open licences.

How might this look in practice? In the current pandemic an effort coordinated by the White House gathered together a massive, freely-available, well-curated and machine-readable set of research on the COVID-19 pandemic which can be used by researchers globally for further research and which has already been downloaded thousands of times.

Transforming science and society

The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to rapid rethinking of how many parts of society function. It should also be the catalyst that finally lays to rest the myth that closed research as the norm is acceptable, either morally, economically or technically. We need a whole-of-system coordinated reshaping from grassroots initiatives through to national policy and political commitment, that aligns with international initiatives—such as the Sustainable Development Goals for which access to information is key—and which are sensitive to national needs. Though there are many issues to work through, as for the other challenges we are facing with COVID-19, these issues can be solved if we only choose to do so. Arguably, we can’t afford not to.

This topic’s links to the Sustainable Development Goals:

Sustainable development goals: Decent work and economic growthSustainable development goals: Industry, innovation and infrastructureSustainable development goals: Responsible consumption and productionSustainable development goals: Climate action


This feature article from the Australian Academy of Science is part of the ‘Science for Australians’ series where experts are asked to shed light on how science benefits all Australians and how it can be used to inform policy.

Views expressed in this feature remain those of the authors.  Conflict of interest declaration: Professor Virginia Barbour is employed by AOASG, which advocates for open access.This article has been peer reviewed by the following experts: Associate Professor Lucy Montgomery Program Lead, Innovation in Knowledge Communication, Centre for Culture and Technology, Curtin University; and members of the Australian Academy of Science’s National Committee for Data in Science (Professor Virginia Barbour, a member of the committee, was not involved in the peer review process).

© 2020 Barbour and Borchert. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.