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Open Access (OA) is here to stay. Whether by driving teaching opportunities, giving more people access to valuable data or increasing the flow of ideas, it’s opening doors throughout the academic world. In addition to journals and data, institutional repositories are helping increase the benefits of OA.

Raddy Ramos, a neuroscientist and assistant professor at New York Institute of Technology’s Department of Biomedical Science, has used OA research to advance his research in a cost- and time-efficient manner. Research he has done using OA sources has been published in papers like Developmental Neuroscience.

As associate editor of the Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, he’s also been involved in the use of OA data to advance class curricula and exercises.

Open Access is shaping the academic world

For the last few years, there have been two major types of OA efforts. One was publishing, which gave researchers access to publications that their libraries might not otherwise have subscribed to. The second was data, which made raw data from experiments available to the public. The two efforts are now coming together to increase the impact of OA, with OA journals starting to require the publication of the experiments’ raw data.

This has allowed for unprecedented scientific sharing, not just of data but of perspectives and ideas. Before, the people who had produced the data were the only ones with the ability to interpret it, but now OA has allowed researchers of all backgrounds to find different hypotheses from the same data.

For instance, the Allen Brain Atlas created a massive repository of data on the gene expression profile of every brain-related gene in the mouse genome. Few organizations have the capability to produce such a vast quantity of data, but because the Allen Institute was founded by Paul Allen of Microsoft, it had the resources.

Now neuroscientists all over the world have access to an unprecedented amount of data from a reputable organization which was found using classical histological techniques. These techniques aren’t accessible to all researchers, and certainly not on the scale – 20,000 experiments – that the Allen Institute did.

“It’s like having a virtual slide box online,” says Ramos. “So I can go online and click on an experiment that he did and click on a tissue and then look at the brain specimen.”

Then he can develop research hypotheses, or perhaps class curricula and exercises based on this free information. He’s had students develop hypotheses and try to replicate experiments based on OA data, for example. They can interact with the world of professional research in a totally new way.

Ramos also notes that OA is helping minimize the need for animal experiments, something with clear ethical benefits. He, for instance, can use data from the Allen Brain Atlas rather than performing his own animal experiments.

Institutional repositories help drive success

Institutional repositories increase the benefits of OA by enhancing the sharing of ideas among colleagues. Whereas even within the same institution, data was once inaccessible to most faculty, now even working-stage data can be made available to the whole institution.

“[With institutional repositories], more diverse groups of people will be able to look at and analyze data and bring a perspective that previously was not there, because the data was only in one spot, with access to a limited group of people with perhaps a narrow range of expertise,” Ramos says.

This increases the sharing of ideas, and therefore the impact of research. Sharing data doesn’t increase the research burden, but it brings more opportunities to increase research impact. Without requiring the organization of formal collaboration, it brings many of its benefits – benefits like the interpretation of data by researchers in different fields.

“So there are plenty of people outside of traditional life sciences training who can now use informatics, programming or data visualization tools to begin to answer questions using these OA data,” he notes.

To learn more about Open Access, download Open Access: Evident Rewards, Ongoing Challenges.