Wikipedia founder to help make UK research accessible

10 May 2012

The Minister for Universities and Science, David Willets, has announced that publicly-funded research in the UK will be made accessible free of charge to all and that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has been enlisted as an unpaid advisor to help realise this goal.

The central idea of open accessibility is that researchers pay a fee to publish their work and that it is free for anyone to read, as opposed to the prevalent current system of readers paying fees to access research articles. The movement towards a policy of open access for UK research has gained momentum since a boycott of one of the leading scientific journal publishers Elsevier was organised by Professor Tim Gowers of the University of Cambridge at the beginning of this year.

The leading funders of biomedical research in the UK - Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Wellcome Trust – already have open access policies in place for the work that they fund, but compliance by researchers is low. Both institutions are planning to expand the terms of their policies, and to introduce measures intended to increase adherence to those already in place: these include rejection of publishers’ embargo terms and withholding activation of researchers’ new grants until their previous work has been made open access. Competition from Wellcome Trust’s own recently announced open access journal eLife (see last month’s PHG news) is likely to further drive the shift towards the new publishing paradigm.

The latest announcements are not without their critics amongst academics: Professor of Classics Mary Beard has expressed reservations about a ‘one size fits all’ approach to open access, and particularly to the involvement of Jimmy Wales, while Professors John Bynner and Harvey Goldstein have argued in a blog post that open access will discriminate against researchers without the funds to cover  the cost (typically £1K-£2K per article) of publishing their work.

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