U.K. Getting More Serious About Open Access Scientific Research

Two developments in the U.K. indicate that it should be much easier to both access and make available, more scientific information connected to research papers.

Last week the House of Commons Select Science and Technology Committee (perhaps my favorite legislative science and technology committee) issued a report strongly encouraging greater disclosure and availability of scientific data (H/T Science of Science Policy).  A key recommendation:

“Access to data is fundamental if researchers are to reproduce, verify and build on results that are reported in the literature. We welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of openness and transparency. The presumption must be that, unless there is a strong reason otherwise, data should be fully disclosed and made publicly available. In line with this principle, where possible, data associated with all publicly funded research should be made widely and freely available.”

(The committee makes these recommendations under a greater theme of improving the quality of research and effectiveness of detecting misconduct, which deserves a separate post.)

Recent proposed changes to U.K. copyright law could make this much easier to accomplish.  Last updated in 1988, U.K. copyright law requires researchers who want to access materials to digitize and search for research purposes to obtain permission from the original authors.  Depending on the age of the research, that may not be possible.  (This phenomenon of orphan works is a serious sticking point in the Google Books matter.)

Under the proposed changes, there would be an exemption granted to researchers to allow them to use data and text mining of relevant literature for research purposes without obtaining permission.  While I think the exemption was envisioned to facilitate research, it can certainly facilitate effective peer review, especially the replication of results.  It may need a stronger push from the U.K. Parliament, but they seem inclined to shove.