Tuesday, 17 July 2012 11:06
July 17, 2012
Iconic journals like Nature and Science have been publishing some of the most important scientific discoveries in the world for more than a century and a half at this point. But that could be changing in coming years, with the British government announcing on Monday, July 16, that the country would soon be requiring all publicly-funded research to make their findings freely available online.
The Guardian reports that there has been a growing sentiment within the scientific community for several years that the current structure of the publishing industry is beginning to prove a hindrance to research.
"Academics write the papers, academics referee the papers, academics select the papers that are going to be published – it's almost as though the publisher does nothing that we need except perhaps their organisational role and lending the name of the journal that confers a certain reputation," Tim Gowers, a mathematician at Cambridge University, told the news source.
This so called "academic spring" has led to the a boycott by many researchers of Dutch journal publishing company Elsevier, which produces Cell, The Lancet and ScienceDirect.
The argument runs that the increasingly minimal costs of actually making scientific research globally available make traditional journals unnecessary, even as the increasingly restrictive focus of many journals has led to a proliferation of titles and thus higher costs to maintain subscriptions. The Guardian reports that universities in the U.K. alone pay as much as 200 million pounds, or $311 million, in subscriptions to scientific journals.
In response to this growing outrage, the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings released a report last month outlining suggestions for requiring public research to be made freely available, according to ScienceInsider.
Chaired by University of Manchester sociologist Janet Finch, the group suggested that research should instead be mediated through open access journals that rely upon article processing charges, which generally run in the range of 2,000 pounds per article, or around $3,110.
The report drew criticism for some corners, however, both among supporters for the current system and for open access.
"My main concern here is that I do not see a convincing mechanism for keeping APCs down," Gowers told ScienceInsider. "It means that publishers have complete control over prices, which is not obviously an improvement over the stranglehold that they have at the moment."
U.K. takes the plunge
While not everyone has rallied around the Finch report, its arguments did manage to sway the British government. After some debate, Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts announced that the government had accepted all but one of the report's recommendations and plans to require all publicly-funded research to be published online by 2014.
"Removing paywalls that surround taxpayer funded research will have real economic and social benefits," Willetts said in a statement. " It will allow academics and businesses to develop and commercialise their research more easily and herald a new era of academic discovery."
While the National Institute of Health in the U.S. has already implemented a similar policy for its research, the U.K.'s decision represents a major step, running the risk of making British research available freely while still forcing universities to pay for studies from abroad. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been considering a bill that would end the current NIH policy and prohibit similar programs in the country.
However, Reuters reports that the European Commission has expressed support for the ideas of free access espoused in the Finch report, saying that it will apply these "general principles to the massive Horizon 2020 research grant program.
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