Karen Folkes on increasing access
For the readers of People & Science, the word ‘open’ will have many positive associations. We want the STEM disciplines to be open to everyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity.
We want our society to be open to new scientific developments – and we want pseudo-science to be open to legitimate challenge.
Few of us would disagree in principle with the idea that research funded by the tax-payer should also be open to the public. So we want no unnecessary financial disincentives to accessing and exploiting published research. We also want the UK to be open to scientific talent beyond our shores so that one of the world’s most highly-performing scientific nations can attract the brightest and the best from around the world. We can be ‘world-beating by being world-greeting’, as Business Secretary Vince Cable said recently at the Royal Society.
Vince Cable spoke in praise of openness at his first keynote on a science theme since 2010.
Sharing a platform with Sir Paul Nurse, a world player in his own right as well as President of the Royal Society, and Roland Aurich, CEO of science and technology multinational Siemens, Cable gave an appreciation of the social, economic and global value of openness in science.
In a UK context, he warned against ‘closed minds and closed borders’ celebrating Britain (and the Royal Society itself) as traditionally the Mecca for scientific talent from around the world. BIS research has shown that those coming to the UK to work for a short time are some of our most productive visitors. He was keen to stress modifications to the rules on immigration, designed to welcome exceptional scientists and scientific expertise.
The Business Secretary also wanted to ensure that both STEM study and careers involve people from a diverse pool of talent. Readers of this column will know that both the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering are currently driving forward a four-year government-funded programme to tackle barriers to greater diversity in STEM. The Royal Society also has work in hand exploring socio-economic status within the science workforce, on which there is currently minimal information.
Business Secretary Vince Cable meets young scientists and Fame Lab finalists from around the world at the Cheltenham Science Festival. Photo: Tom Roberts
Following the Higgs Boson discovery, the Business Secretary reflected on the British role at CERN: £500 million invested, 15 UK universities and 600 UK scientists involved. This is the world’s largest scientific experiment. It must also be one of the biggest exercises in science engagement – to which the 2,000 increase in applicants for physics degrees in the UK in 2011 probably attests.
Staying with an internationalist theme, he also highlighted his visit to the Fame Lab International Final at the Cheltenham Science Festival. He saluted contestants who had come from 11 countries to compete in a tournament of wit and lucidity on a scientific subject of their choice (Austria won).
The Cheltenham Science Festival also demonstrated the ministerial commitment here at BIS to science engagement, attracting both Vince Cable and Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts.
June saw the publication of Janet Finch’s report on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings . It was greeted by support from David Willetts and partner bodies like Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Funding Councils.
The plans include widening public access by ensuring that article processing charges are paid upfront to cover the cost of publication, and enabling free access to global research presentations owned by members of the UK Publishers’ Association via public libraries. The licensing access currently enjoyed by universities will also be made available to high technology businesses for a modest charge. This removal of pay walls surrounding taxpayer-funded research will allow academics and businesses to develop and commercialise their research more easily.