U.K. to Make All Science Articles Free
All British taxpayer-funded science articles will appear for free by 2014, the U.K. announced today (July 16).
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The U.K. government has announced plans to make all scientific journal articles about British taxpayer-funded research free for anyone to read as soon as the articles are published. The full changeover will happen by 2014, reported the Guardian, which called the move "the most radical shakeup of academic publishing since the invention of the Internet."
"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," David Wiletts, the U.K.'s universities and science minister, told the Guardian.
Right now, scientists, businesses and others pay publishers to read journal articles. A small business may pay about $1,000 a year for articles, as InnovationNewsDaily reported in May, while university libraries, which pay for entire campuses to read articles, shell out tens of thousands of dollars annually. This past spring, researchers around the world joined a movement for free access to journal articles, arguing that publisher's prices are unfair and suppress innovation. The new U.K. policy is the first major, national response the movement.
The new system would shift the burden of paying for articles from libraries, companies and individual readers to the U.K.'s annual federal science budget of 4.6 billion British pounds ($7.2 billion). The same budget pays for science research in the U.K. in the first place and is not expected to grow to accommodate the change. Lawmakers expect the publishing shift may cost up to 50 million British pounds ($78 million) a year.
Officials think the change will pay for itself, by stimulating more companies to use the freely available research to invent new products. "I think there's a massive net economic benefit here way beyond any £50m from the science budget," Willetts said.
Others worry that British research will suffer from giving away U.K.-based journal articles while still paying for articles written by researchers in other countries, including the U.S. Adam Tickell, vice chancellor of research at Birmingham University, told the Guardian he thinks the European Union and the U.S. will eventually follow the U.K.'s example, but until then, increased competition for research funding in the U.K. could reduce the number of U.K. research projects that get published at all.
In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health already require American taxpayer-funded research to appear for free within a year of publication. Activists have submitted a petition to the White House to extend that policy to every U.S. agency that funds scientific research, including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. The petition hasn't yet received a response.