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Results of publicly funded research should be available to all, says web creator

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 01 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:476
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. London

    A group of eight UK academics that includes Tim Berners-Lee, who created the world wide web, has called for all publicly funded research to be made freely available on the internet.

    In an open letter to the Research Councils UK (RCUK) the group is highly critical of the Association of Learned and Professional Society, which represents non-profit academic publishers and which has opposed such moves to open access. The society claimed that a proposal by RCUK—a strategic partnership of the United Kingdom's eight research councils—that all research papers resulting from its funding should be archived on the internet “will accelerate the move to a disastrous scenario.” This scenario, the society said, would bring financial ruin to many journals as librarians cancel subscriptions and would lead to the collapse of quality controls and peer review processes.

    RCUK, which provided about £2.1bn ($3.7bn; £3.1bn) for research last year, has been running a consultation on its proposal for the open access publication of the results of research through institutional online repositories. The consultation closed at the end of August.

    The group of academics has hit back at the Association of Learned and Professional Society, saying that many of the society's claims are unsubstantiated. “All the evidence to date shows the reverse to be true: not only do journals thrive and coexist alongside author self-archiving, but they can actually benefit from it—both in terms of more citations and more subscriptions.”

    They say that many researchers are currently hampered in their work because they don't have access to all the articles they need, as no institution can afford to subscribe to all the journals its users need.

    “Due to the current constraints on the accessibility of research results, the potential for British scholarship is not being maximised currently,” the group wrote in its letter. “Yet the constraints on accessibility can now, in the digital age, be eliminated completely, to the benefit of the UK economy and society, exactly in the way RCUK has proposed.”

    The letter includes a line by line critique of the society's reasons for opposing open access. It gives physics as an example of an area in which open access has not been detrimental to traditional publishing. Hundreds of thousands of articles in the field have been made freely accessible since 1991, say the academics; and they have been widely accessed, retrieved, used, and cited. Questioning of the large physics learned societies in Britain and the United States showed no damaging effects. “They cannot identify any loss of subscriptions to their journals as a result of this crucial mass of self-archives and readily retrievable physics articles,” say the academics.

    The letter concludes: “RCUK should go ahead and implement its immediate-self-archiving mandate, without further delay. That done, RCUK can meet with ALPSP [the Association of Learned and Professional Society] and other interested parties to discuss and plan how the UK Institutional Repositories can collaborate with journals and their publishers in sharing the newfound benefits of maximising UK research access.”

    The letter is at and a longer, more detailed analysis, signed also by some international supporters, is at

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