What is Open Access all about? Given the amount of words expended on the topic (including this post) it seems that nobody can provide a simple answer, but the old Higher Education Funding Council for England had a go – it stated that “open access is about making the products of research freely accessible to all” That last word is the most important, perhaps.
When we were looking at the starting the project that is now Ingenta Open, I had a meeting with Prof Alejandro Madrigal, a leading scientist in the field of stem cell transplantation and for twenty years the Scientific Director at Anthony Nolan Trust. He told me the story of Shirley Nolan, Anthony’s mother.
In 1971, Anthony was born with a rare condition - Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, for which the only cure was a bone marrow transplant. But no one in his family was a match; no transplant using bone marrow from an unrelated donor had ever succeeded. There was no system to find matching unrelated donors, either.
His mother, Shirley Nolan, was not a medical expert. She taught drama and had no more than a basic school-level scientific education. But, determined to find a way to fight her young son’s illness, she bought and studied as many medical journals as she could afford or lay her hands on. This of course was pre-Google, pre-internet, and “citizen science” research was an exhaustive process. Eventually her persistence and study led her to establish a register of bone marrow donors in 1974: in the words of transplant expert Professor John Goldman, "She was really the first person in the world to think that we needed a structured organisation to collect data that could be made available for people suffering from leukaemia and other illnesses on a voluntary basis."
Open Access must surely be about supporting all those with a non-academic interest in the sciences and humanities, as well as those professionally engaged in funded academic research. When building Ingenta Open we wanted to create an interface that was clean, approachable and intuitively usable by all, from professors to citizen-scientists, and a dataset that made as much OA content, from as many sources as possible, available in one place for free, for everyone.
The latest version was relaunched only a couple of weeks ago, at the Frankfurt Book Fair – our contribution to open access week.