It's been a big year for proponents of the open-science revolution. In January, an angry blog post quickly transformed into a clarion call within the scientific community over the exorbitant cost of academic journal subscriptions. In May, the British government announced it would be collaborating with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to make publicly funded research available online free of charge. Now, the U.K. government is preparing to announce its plan to make publicly funded research freely available to British taxpayers, in what The Guardian's Ian Sample calls "the most radical shakeup of academic publishing since the invention of the internet":
Under the scheme, research papers that describe work paid for by the British taxpayer will be free online for universities, companies and individuals to use for any purpose, wherever they are in the world.
In an interview with the Guardian before Monday's announcement David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said he expected a full transformation to the open approach over the next two years.
The move reflects a groundswell of support for "open access" publishing among academics who have long protested that journal publishers make large profits by locking research behind online paywalls. "If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn't be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it," Willetts said.
"This will take time to build up, but within a couple of years we should see this fully feeding through."
Willetts has said that the benefits of open access will translate to "massive" economic benefits, and detractors of the proposed plan say it'll have to if it's to recoup the estimated £50 million per year that it will cost to make the information free to the public.
"I am very concerned that there are not any additional funds to pay for the transition, because the costs will fall disproportionately on the research intensive universities," explained Professor Adam Tickell (pro-vice chancellor of research and knowledge transfer at Birmingham University), who says he supports the ideas espoused by the government, but wonders what price the country will pay in attempting to achieve its goals.
"There isn't the fat in the system that we can easily pay for that," he explains, which could lead to "a reduction in research grants, or an effective charge on our income."
Read more about the controversial proposal over at The Guardian.