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UK government to provide a research portal to make publicly funded research freely available to all

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e3184 (Published 03 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3184
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

The government has enlisted Jimmy Wales, cofounder of Wikipedia, to help realise plans to make all publicly funded research accessible free of charge.

David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, announced the appointment in an article in the Guardian today (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/01/open-free-access-academic-research) and was due to elaborate on it later in a speech to the Publishers Association.

Last December in its innovation and research strategy for growth the government promised that open access was its aim, and it set up a working group chaired by Janet Finch, former vice chancellor of Keele University, to consider implementation. She is expected to report next month.

“Giving people the right to roam freely over publicly funded research will usher in a new era of academic discovery and collaboration,” wrote Willetts in his Guardian article. “The challenge is how we get there without ruining the value added by academic publishers.”

Jimmy Wales would provide advice on the common standards that will need to be agreed and to help ensure that the new £2m ($3.2m; €2.46m) government funded portal, known as the Gateway to Research, really promotes collaboration and engagement.

“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 to collaborate and share data and build new research partnerships,” Willetts wrote. “With Jimmy Wales’s help I am sure we can achieve all this and much more.”

Willetts said that questions remained to be answered, warning that controversies over sites such as TripAdvisor were a reminder of how precious genuine, objective peer review was. The portal still had to be paid for, either by the funders of research paying the costs or by having a closed period before wider release, allowing publishers time to recoup these costs. The first alternative ran the risk of excluding the individual researcher, he admitted. He looked to Finch to provide the answer when her report is published next month.

Wales’s advice is expected to cover a common format and data standards for a central repository that would contain both published papers and underlying data. The contents might include versions of papers published in traditional journals, but David Prosser, executive director of Research Libraries UK, warned the Guardian that such a system might be difficult to operate. “What would an author put into this parallel system? Are they putting in a different type of research output other than the paper?” he asked.

Two recent reports from the Open Access Implementation Group, which favours open access and comprises some universities, Research Councils UK, the Wellcome Trust, and others, suggest that open access is already having financial benefits in the public sector and in the charity and voluntary sector.

The savings to the public sector, which spends £135m (€165m; $220m) a year in subscriptions, and time spent accessing research amount to £28.6m a year (£26m in access fees and £2.6m in time saved), estimates a report compiled by Hugh Look of Rightscom Ltd and Kevin Marsh of Matrix Evidence. The authors say it is impossible at present to quantify indirect benefits such as improved decision making or analysis, but they believe that such benefits exist. A second report says that open access is also of value to the voluntary sector, whose members can spend substantial amounts accessing research.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3184

Footnotes