Wikipedia's founder will help make academic research available to allS

The wealthiest university of Earth can't afford its academic journal subscriptions. Why not? Because academic journals are expensive. Now, the British government is doing its part to change that.

Yesterday afternoon, Science Minister David Willetts outlined the details of a plan that would make publicly funded research available online. Free of charge. They're even enlisting the help of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to help pull it off. This is a huge win for the open science revolution.

Willetts writes:

My department spends about £5bn each year funding academic research – and it is because we believe in the fundamental importance of this research that we have protected the science budget for the whole of this parliament.

We fund this research because it furthers human knowledge and drives intellectual, social and economic progress. In line with our commitment to open information, tomorrow [May 2, 2012] I will be announcing at the Publishers Association annual meeting that we will make publicly funded research accessible free of charge to readers. Giving people the right to roam freely over publicly funded research will usher in a new era of academic discovery and collaboration, and will put the UK at the forefront of open research.

The challenge is how we get there without ruining the value added by academic publishers. The controversy about the status and reliability of reviews on TripAdvisor is a reminder of how precious genuine, objective peer review is. We still need to pay for such functions, which is why one attractive model – known as gold – has the funders of research covering the costs. Another approach, known as green, includes a closed period before wider release during which journals can earn revenues.

While opening up the fruits of research is a seismic shift for academic publishing, it is not a leap into the unknown. There are many good examples in medicine. For instance, the Wellcome Trust requires all the research it funds to be made freely available online. A report this year from the U.S. Committee for Economic Development has concluded that the US National Institute of Health's policy of open access has accelerated the transition from basic research to commercialisation, generated more follow-on research and reduced duplicate or dead-end lines of inquiry – so increasing the US government's return on its investment in research. And the researcher Philip Davis has found that, when publishers randomly make articles open access on journal websites, readership increases by up to 250%.

Twenty years ago it would have been impossible to imagine an encyclopedia written by millions, openly and freely collaborating via the internet. Today, Wikipedia is an important part of our lives and its co-founder, Jimmy Wales, will be advising us on the common standards that will have to be agreed and adopted for open access to be a success, and also helping to make sure that the new government-funded portal for accessing research really promotes collaboration and engagement.

You can read the article in full over on the Guardian.

Make no mistake: this represents a monumental achievement in the open science revolution, which, for the first time in years, has been gaining significant momentum ever since Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers wrote this condemnatory blog post about Elsevier, the largest publisher of scientific journals in the world.

Gowers published that post back in January. Within a day, one of his readers had set up a website, The Cost of Knowledge, which allowed academics to register their protest against Elsevier. As of this posting, the site has collected over 11,000 signatures. With organizations like The Wellcome Trust, institutions like Harvard, and governments like the UK backing the push for open access to scientific knowledge, this revolution shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.