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The serendipity of openness

by Guest Author on 25 Oct 2018

Freely available science papers enable research findings to be shared widely, helping to speed up the pace of science and advance research worldwide. That’s why we support open knowledge solutions like Europe PMC (Pub Med Central): a vast digital library of biomedical research articles, available for anyone to access. But that’s not the only perk, as Community Manager Maria Levchenko explains for Open Access Week 2018.

Image credit: Maria Levchenko

Every scientist hopes that their research will change the world. However, that change can only happen when science is shared with the wider community. Open access to research ensures that anyone, from fellow scientists to journalists and patients, can read the full story behind an important finding.

But open access goes beyond the promise of free readership. Just as aspirin, which was first touted as a painkiller and subsequently also found to thin the blood and prevent heart attacks, there may be some unexpected uses for open content.

I am part of the team behind Europe PMC – a public knowledgebase for biomedical research literature, located at the European Bioinformatics Institute. Europe PMC hosts 34 million records – that’s five times the number of articles in English Wikipedia.

We are supported by 29 international science funders, including the MRC and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). If you have an MRC or BBSRC research grant, you can use Europe PMC to make your work open. And opening up your research does more than just help to advance science further.

Bringing science to the spotlight

In the age of ‘digital first’ our ability to find relevant scientific content relies heavily on search engine algorithms. All open access content in Europe PMC is converted to a machine-readable format and shared with other digital data libraries around the globe. This enables top-ranking for open content in major search engines, so that any citizen can discover and freely access research.

Strengthening public trust in science

Reproducibility is an important step to build public faith in research integrity. In order for someone to reproduce the study, they need access not only to the publication itself, but also to the data behind it. To support reproducible science Europe PMC links publications with the open research data in public archives. Easy access to underlying data makes the scientific process more transparent, and supports further analysis.

Creating new tools to support research

With thousands of new articles appearing monthly, scientists are in dire need of better ways to read the literature. Open content allows us to build better tools for exploring research literature, from image searches to automated summaries.

We offer a service through Europe PMC which adds notes explaining biological terms and concepts to articles, aiming to help readers get an overview of the key findings. This tool is available for all papers that have an open copyright license supporting reuse (eg CC-BY). Assigning an open copyright license to your paper will help us and others to create new, innovative tools based on open data.

Painting a bigger picture

Just imagine your research contributing to the advancement of science, in ways that you couldn’t envisage when you wrote the paper. Techniques, such as natural language processing or deep learning – a machine-learning method used to spot patterns in large volumes of data – hold the promise of speeding up the discovery process.

Making your publication open with Europe PMC makes it available for computational analysis and text-mining. If your article becomes part of a machine-learning dataset, it can support the development of key technologies in areas like drug discovery.

There is a place for serendipity in research. And the same holds true for open access. You may not yet know about the ways in which others could build on your work, so why not give it a go?

We expect all MRC-funded researchers to comply with the UKRI open access policy

If you have any queries about our policy and its implementation, check our website or contact us at openaccess@mrc.ukri.org

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