British government hopes that offering scientific studies for free will spur innovation
The British government has announced plans to allow members of the public to access scientific research materials online for free by 2014, in the hope that access will inspire innovation and the commercialisation of work that has already been paid for by taxpayers.
The research is traditionally published in science journals and requires people to pay an additional subscription to gain access to it. However, as the research has been paid for already by taxpayers, critics argue that it should already be freely available. Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts told the Guardian newspaper: “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.”
The government plans to pay a £50m a year subsidy to the science journals in order to provide this access, which is hoped will be used by universities and businesses. Willetts believes it will also boost the British economy: “Removing paywalls that surround taxpayer funded research will have real economic and social benefits.
“It will allow academics and businesses to develop and commercialise their research more easily and herald a new era of academic discovery.”
There has been criticism, however, that the funding for this access will come out of the existing science budget, which may lead to less extensive research. Currently, universities pay £200m a year for subscriptions to research information.
Open-access to scientific research is a hotly debated subject in many countries, with many advocates in the science and education communities in both the US and throughout Europe. The EU is set to launch its €80bn research program Horizon 2020, which will allocate funds to projects from 2014 until the end of the decade, and it is unclear whether there will be an open-access mandate.
Professor Adam Tickell, pro-vice chancellor of research at Birmingham University and member of Finch group that advocated open-access, added: “If the EU and the US go in for open access in a big way, then we’ll move into this open access world with no doubt at all, and I strongly believe that in a decade that’s where we’ll be.”