Free access publishing

At the moment, this seems primarily to be about science publications, but… Watch this space.

The Wellcome Trust, the UK’s biggest non-governmental funder of biomedical research, has taken the historic step of announcing that, from October 1 2005, recipients of its funding will be required to deposit a copy of all resulting research articles in an online archive, and that this archive will make those articles freely available within six months of publication.

The Wellcome Trust spends £400m annually on research, and recipients of Wellcome funding produce almost 3,500 scientific articles a year. It seems that even the most reluctant publishers are likely to go along with Wellcome’s policy and start to allow research articles to be archived, since they cannot afford to refuse articles from all recipients of Wellcome funding. …

Wellcome is not alone in its enthusiasm for open access. In the USA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has instituted a policy of requesting deposition of the research articles they fund into their own open access archive, with open access after 12 months. The initiative has attracted cheers from scientists and patient-advocacy groups but opposition from some publishers who have portrayed it as an example of government interference in a profitable industry. It seems, though, that one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on is that taxpayer-funded research should be accessible to the taxpayer – the NIH initiative has had broad bipartisan support in the Houses of Congress.

Back in the UK, our own government’s research councils are due to announce their policy shortly. They, too, are expected to come out in favour of open access since, as they put it, “as a matter of principle, the outputs of publicly funded research should be made available as widely and rapidly as possible”.

The move towards open access to scientific research has now acquired unstoppable momentum. ..

I think the author of the article might be over optimistic in thinking that these moves will inevitably lead to “the ultimate goal of immediate and comprehensive open access to the scientific literature”. In fact, the two-tier model of access (pay for access immediately after publication; free after a determined period) sounds to me like a good compromise between what publishers and readers want. (I’ve recently come across journals in the humanities that do exactly this, by the way: the website for Women’s History Review doesn’t shout about it, but you can freely access anything in that journal which is more than one year old. If you didn’t already know…)

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