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NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science

NC3Rs-funded research findings now available for all

A stack of papers

Amidst the ever-changing landscape of scholarly communication, open access publishing has emerged as an attractive option for disseminating research findings further.

In May 2014, the NC3Rs joined the Europe PubMed Central research funder’s consortium, meaning that NC3Rs-funded research papers will now be openly and easily available to all. 

Spreading the 3Rs message

The purpose of 3Rs research is to look for viable alternatives to animal testing, to reduce the number of animals needed in studies and to find scientifically robust ways to improve animal welfare in the lab. Ultimately, the intention is that all 3Rs research will have a positive impact on the use of animals in research and testing. At the NC3Rs, when one of our researchers takes a step towards this goal, we want to shout it from the rooftops. This is because, the best way to maximise the uptake and benefits of new 3Rs methods, is to make sure that everybody knows about them; especially other research scientists, lab technicians and policy makers.

Publication is one key way of getting the 3Rs message out there. In order to gain the respect of the scientific community it is vital to follow conventional procedures; with new findings undergoing rigorous peer review, and often several rounds of revisions, before publication in a well-established journal. This process is the very foundation of how scientific ideas are moderated and how scientific thinking is advanced.  However, in years gone by, at the end of the process the final paper could often only be accessed via journal subscription or as a pay-per-view article. For this reason, the open access option, which removes this pay wall, is something that the NC3Rs are keen to embrace. Simply put, we understand that the wider the reach of the published research, the more influential the findings will be.

A time for change

Turning the traditional scientific publishing model on its head was never going to be easy, and yet change was inevitable. With the birth of the internet and its rapid evolution over the last few decades, the way in which readers find and consume information has completely transfomed. To stay abreast of this, information providers have had to seriously up their game.  And that means scientific publishers too.

Benefits of open access

All open access articles can be read by anyone, free of charge. They also usually have less restrictive copyright rules than traditionally published papers, meaning that, providing the original source is fully attributed, sections of the work can be easily reused and the research can be shared further still. There is also evidence that higher visibility of research findings published openly leads to increased paper citations, which in turn propagates the message further.

In the years since its conception, the spread of the open access business model has quickly gathered pace. Some journals have moved to an open access only model and others have more cautiously opted for a hybrid approach, but almost every publisher seems to be dabbling with this novel concept in one way or another.

Funding to publish openly

Despite the advent of open access being welcomed enthusiastically by most researchers and academics, there have been, and continue to be, numerous hurdles to overcome. One of which is the question of ‘who shoulders the cost?’ The services offered by a high-quality publisher – such as facilitating the peer review process, proof reading text, designing clear figures and making sure each research paper reaches the right audience – all cost money. If the publisher no longer charges the reader, then who pays for the publication process? With the open access model, paper handling fees often fall to the author. And this creates another problem.

However, for government-funded research in the UK, there is a solution. As part of its overarching commitment to transparency and open data, the government is committed to ensuring that publicly funded research findings are made freely accessible. In line with this commitment, the Research Councils UK have recently updated their policy on open access. In accordance with the RCUK Open Access Policy, RCUK OA block grants for institutions can be used to pay article processing charges for any RCUK-funded paper, and this includes research funded by the NC3Rs. Peer reviewed papers reporting research that is in whole or in party funded by the NC3Rs must now be published in journals which are compliant with the RCUK policy on Open Access. A Question and Answer document on the RCUK website gives further details.

Reaching a wider audience

The NC3Rs has recently joined a consortium of major biomedical and health research funders, who require their grant holders to make their work freely and readily available on Europe PubMed Central within a maximum of six months after publication.  The NC3Rs now sits alongside 25 other funders, including the World Health Organization and various medical research charities, ensuring that the fruits of their funded research can be openly accessed by all.

Europe PubMed Central is a free database of biomedical and life sciences research literature, bursting with over 2 million full text articles and nearly 26 million abstracts. The single search portal encompasses PubMed and PubMed Central content, as well as 5 million additional relevant resources. The overall aim of ensuring that all of our research is deposited in this database is to disseminate publicly funded research to the widest possible community; not only to promote the scientific outputs, but also to ensure the highest level of utilisation and awareness of 3Rs methods.

For more information on publishing your NC3Rs-funded research, please see Grant Holder Information