Lord Rees
President
Royal Society
6-9 Carlton Terrace
London
SW1Y 5AG

7th December 2005  

Dear Lord Rees

As Fellows of the Royal Society, we would like to express our disappointment with the Society's recent position statement1 on open access to published research. The society's statement, which takes a largely negative stance on open access, appears to be aimed at delaying implementation of the Research Councils UK's proposed policy2 on access to research outputs.

As working scientists who support open access to published research, we believe that the Society should support RCUK's proposal, rather than oppose it. The proposed RCUK policy will ensure that the results of research funded by the Research Councils are made freely and rapidly available, maximizing their utility not only to the scholarly community in the United Kingdom and around the world, but also to practitioners (including doctors and nurses) and to the British public whose taxes largely support the research. The RCUK policy has strong backing from librarians and academics, and has received official support3 from Universities UK, the organization that represents UK university vice-chancellors and principals.

In seeking to delay or even to block the proposed RCUK policy, the Royal Society appears to be putting the concerns of existing publishers (including the Society itself) ahead of the needs of science. The position statement ignores considerable evidence demonstrating the viability of open access, instead warning ominously of 'disastrous' consequences for science publishing. We believe that these concerns are mistaken.

The move towards open access to research literature builds on the tradition of making research data openly available, a standard that is well established within the scientific community. For example, free availability of genetic data, such as the genome sequences of humans, mice, pathogens and plants, has greatly accelerated the pace of research in both academic and commercial settings

In adopting a pro-open access policy, RCUK will be joining an increasing number of funding agencies striving for open access to research results. In the UK, the Wellcome Trust has already taken a lead by requiring that articles be placed in an openly accessible archive. In the US, funders such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health have adopted policies to increase access to research. And across Europe and the rest of the world funding agencies are recognizing that public access to the fruits of the research they fund will ensure that this work is effective in fostering the global sharing of knowledge and the creativity that is essential to scientific endeavour.

As Fellows, we urge the Royal Society not to delay the proposed RCUK policy, but to support it so as to foster professional and public access to research information, and to enable British research to achieve its maximum potential.

Sincerely,

Professor Michael Ashburner FRS, European Bioinformatics Institute, Hinxton, UK
Professor Jonathan Ashmore FRS, University College London, UK
*Professor Grigory Isaakovich Barenblatt, ForMemRS, MAE, University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA
*Professor Nicholas Barton, University of Edinburgh, UK
Professor Allan Bradley FRS, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, UK
Professor Adrian Bird FRS, University of Edinburgh, UK
Professor Martin Bobrow FRS, University of Cambridge, UK
Professor Mark S Bretcher FRS, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK
Professor Jeremy Brockes FRS, University College London, UK
Professor Ian Butterworth FRS, Imperial College, London, UK
Professor George Cross FRS, Rockefeller University, New York City, NY, USA
Professor Kay E Davies FRS, MRC Functional Genetics Unit, Oxford, UK
Dr Richard Durbin FRS, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK
Professor Douglas T Fearon FRS, University of Cambridge, UK
*Dr John T Finch FRS, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK
*Professor Steve Furber FRS, University of Manchester, UK
Professor Mike Gale FRS, John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK
*Dr Peter Goddard FRS, The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, USA
Dr Michel Goedert FRS, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK
Professor Peter Goodfellow FRS, UK
*Professor Peter Gray FRS, University of Cambridge, UK
Professor Michael B. Green FRS, University of Cambridge, UK
*Professor Brian Greenwood FRS, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK
Professor Norman N Greenwood, FRS, University of Leeds, UK
Professor Frank Grosveld FRS, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
*Professor Paul Harvey FRS, University of Oxford, UK
Professor Nick Hastie FRS, MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh, UK
Professor Brigid Hogan FRS, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
Professor Jonathan C Howard FRS, University of Cologne, Germany
Professor Thomas Jessell FRS, Columbia University, New York, USA
Professor Marc Kirschner ForMemRS, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USA
Professor Donald Knuth ForMemRS, Stanford University, CA, USA
Professor Arthur Kornberg FRS and Nobel Laureate, Stanford University, CA, USA
*Professor Sir Hans Kornberg FRS, Boston University, MA, USA
Dr Robin Lovell-Badge FRS, National Institute for Medical Research, London, UK
Professor Andrew Lumsden FRS, Kings College, London, UK
Professor Philippa Marrack FRS, National Jewish Medical and Research Centre, Denver, CO, USA
Professor David Q Mayne FRS, Imperial College, London, UK
*Professor Michael E McIntyre MAE FRS, University of Cambridge, UK
*Dr Walter Munk ForMemRS, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, USA
Professor Hugh Pelham FRS, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK
*Dr Terry Rabbitts FRS, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK
Professor Martin Raff FRS, University College, London, UK
Professor Richard Roberts FRS and Nobel Laureate, New England Biolabs, USA
*Dr Elizabeth Robertson FRS, University of Oxford, UK
Professor Nancy Rothwell FRS, Univerity of Manchester, UK
Professor Geoffrey Raisman FRS, University College, London, UK
Professor Charles R. Scriver FRS, McGill University, Quebec, Canada
*Dr Graeme Segal FRS, All Souls College, University of Oxford, UK
Professor David J. Sherratt FRS, University of Oxford, UK
*Professor Peter Somogyi, FRS, Director MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit, Oxford, UK
*Professor Stephen Sparks FRS, Bristol University, UK
*Professor Mandyam V. Srinivasan FAA FRS, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Dr John Sulston FRS and Nobel Laureate, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK
Professor Janet Thornton FRS, European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK
Professor James Till FRS, University of Toronto, Canada
Professor Harold Varmus ForMemRS and Nobel Laureate, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, USA
Professor James D Watson ForMemRS and Nobel Laureate, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, USA
*Professor Semir Zeki FRS, University College London, UK

* Asterisks denote signatories who have added their name to the letter since it was initially sent.The total number of signatories currently stands at 59 (including 5 Nobel prize-winners).

Links

  1. Royal Society position statement on ’open access’ http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=3882
  2. RCUK Position Statement on Access to Research Outputs, June 2005 http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/access/statement.pdf
  3. Universities UK supports calls for web access to research results
    http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/mediareleases/show.asp?MR=431

If you are a Fellow of the Royal Society and would like to add your name as a signatory to this letter, send an email to frsopenletter@googlemail.com