Opening up science to the community
Brussels, May 2003
Providing better public access to research findings is critical to knowledge transfer in Europe. Germany's Max Planck Society shows how it can be done without too much fuss.
Institutes working for the Max Planck Society (MPS) publish some 10 000 scientific articles annually in internationally recognised periodicals. Prior to publication, their findings are assessed – peer-reviewed – by noted experts from the respective discipline. Recently, MPS has taken steps to open its research up to an even broader audience over the internet via BioMed Central's Institutional Membership programme, set up in 2002 and used by over 130 members including the NHS in England, Harvard University (USA), Institut Pasteur (France) and the World Health Organisation.
Established in 1948, the Max Planck Society for the advancement of the sciences is an independent organisation which promotes and performs fundamental research in the interest of the general public. In particular, it takes up new and innovative research areas that German universities may otherwise not be able to handle – i.e. interdisciplinary research in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences and humanities which requires exceptionally large sums for personnel and/or equipment.
As a non-profit organisation, scientists and scholars in Max Planck institutes have to make the results of their work accessible to the general public. The main vehicles of this knowledge transfer include publishing research results in professional journals, on-going training and education of junior scientists, technology transfer, as well as press and public relations work circulating the latest results to a wider public.
German taxpayers are currently footing the bill for much of the research performed in universities and research centres in the country. Yet their findings are only published in expensive trade and scientific journals, which are not freely available to the general public. In recent weeks, German politicians have been calling for more transparency in the way government and state-funded research is carried out and disseminated.
Signing up to public platforms such as BioMed is a simple and effective way to publicise new research findings. A number of Max Planck researchers have already used BioMed's platform to publish their work on a range of topics including genomics and genome biology, bioinformatics, biochemistry, cell biology as well as medical research into arthritis and breast cancer.
"[Our] Institutes conduct scientific and other research autonomously and independently since the results of their work are to be published," according to the Max Planck Society website. In addition, it is actively committed to promoting technology transfer in the economy by directly collaborating with partners from the business sector and public institutions, as well as through patenting and licensing. But, the website openly admits, "the most important path of knowledge transfer from Max Planck Institutes is via people".