Willetts turns to Wikipedia founder for advice on open access

David Willetts has reaffirmed his support for full open-access publishing and has drafted in the Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to advise the government on how best to make the transition.

May 2, 2012

Writing in The Guardian, the universities and science minister says full open access would “usher in a new era of academic discovery and collaboration, and will put the UK at the forefront of open research”.

Mr Wales has agreed to advise on “the common standards that will have to be agreed and adopted for open access to be a success”. He will also provide input into the creation of the research council’s “Gateway to Research” portal, aimed at improving access to information on publicly funded research: an initiative announced last December in the government’s Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth.

A government source quoted by The Guardian suggested that the long-term aim was to build tools to share, comment and discuss articles to create a national open-access platform for all publicly funded research.

“We want to harness new technologies to enable people to comment and rate published papers in ways that were not possible before, and we want to develop new online channels that enable researchers from around the world to collaborate and share data and build new research partnerships,” Mr Willetts writes.

The announcements, which Mr Willetts is also outlining in a speech to the Publishers’ Association today, come a day after the release of a report suggesting that a move to universal open access could save UK public sector organisations £135 million a year. According to the Open Access Implementation Group, whose members include Research Councils UK, the Wellcome Trust and several universities, this is the current cost to public sector organisations, excluding universities, of journal subscriptions and searching for articles.

The report, Benefits of Open Access to Scholarly Research to the Public Sector, says current open access provision already saves the public sector nearly £30 million a year.

A second report, Benefits of Open Access to Scholarly Research for Voluntary and Charitable Sector Organisations, says more charitable organisations are already heavily reliant on open-access journals even though most journals still have subscription models. Eighty per cent of voluntary organisations cited cost as a barrier to accessing research.

The implementation group’s chair, Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of the University of Salford, said: “These findings mark a turning point in the quiet revolution of open access. There are many good reasons for making research available on an open-access basis, and the reports are clear that one reason is because open access makes economic sense.”

But Mr Willetts admits the transition to full open access will not be easy. “There are clear trade-offs. If those funding research pay open-access journals in advance, where will this leave individual researchers who can't cover the cost? If we improve the world's access to British research, what might we get in response?”

He hopes to see these issues resolved by the government-convened Finch Group on open access, which is expected to report in June.


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