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Abstract

Academic publishers continue to thrive behind their paywalls but this may all change with a UK government initiative to make research freely available. Additionally, an independent working group will report in June on open access, and there are other international plans and programmes afoot. 

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While newspaper and magazine publishers have been struggling to devise business models that will allow them to survive in the digital world, academic journal publishers have continued to thrive behind their entrenched paywalls. The likes of Elsevier, Springer and Wiley-Blackwell continue to post good results, and no wonder considering the high, some say exorbitant subscription costs they charge academic and research libraries.

Researchers have been voicing their protests against what they see as a block to access of research findings for a while – see The Cost of Knowledge protest site here – but now the UK Government has stepped up the debate, this may all be about to change.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been acting as an adviser to the UK Government on how to provide open access to scientific journals, via a “Gateway to Research” initiative and, as he said in an interview with Wired magazine, “it’s time for us to disrupt things”.

Last week the Universities and Science Minister David Willetts spoke at the Publishers’ Association AGM and announced an initiative to work out a way to make primary research findings published in scientific journals freely available online. After all, as Jimmy Wales pointed out, “it makes no sense to charge the taxpaying public to access academic research that they funded in the first place”.

An independent working group, operating under the remit of the Research Information Network has been working on devising open access since last September and is expected to publish a report in June. The current downside to the open access approach is of course that the onus is on the article author, who pays to have their article published once it has been peer-reviewed. This clearly puts less well-funded scientists at a disadvantage.

Elsewhere, there have been plenty of other open access initiatives, such as Plos One, the US Public Library of Science peer-reviewed online publication, which since 2006 provides access to primary research in all scientific disciplines. The added benefit of Plos One is its post-publication discussions groups, which allows readers to rate publications.

In Europe, there is the OAPEN programme, based in the Netherlands, which allows users to search for open access academic books published in Europe in the humanities and social sciences.

So, if publicly funded research becomes openly accessible to scientists, the journal publishers will have to rethink their business models. Profits may go down, but science will improve.

For further sources for open access scientific journals go to this useful blog by a UK geologist and for more LiveWire comments on open access read Joanna Ptolomey’s contributions From January and April this year.

 

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