Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, February 12, 2007

Setting the stage for this week's EC-hosted conference

Jessica Shepherd, Open season for researchers, The Guardian, February 13, 2007.  Excerpt:

"Ours is the best of businesses: we get our raw material for free and our customers pay us a year in advance," joked the publisher of an academic journal to a university researcher.

Perhaps not for much longer. Momentum is growing for publicly funded published academic research to be available free on the internet. So-called "open access" would mean anyone could view an article in a scholarly journal shortly after it was published.

Most academic publishers are not pleased. This would sharply cut their subscriptions, the "customers who pay a year in advance". Some even fear it could make them bankrupt.

This week publishers, researchers and research funders from across Europe will debate the issue in Brussels at a conference hosted by the European commission.

"We are at tipping point," says Peter Burnhill, director of a national data centre that serves UK universities and colleges. "There is a movement towards open access and this conference...might make the difference." ...

Already more than 19,000 scholars have signed a petition to urge the European commission in favour of open access. They include Nobel laureates Harold Varmus and Richard Roberts, and the Wellcome Trust, the world's largest medical research charity.

Wellcome's head of e-strategy, Robert Kiley, says: "We believe that the dissemination of research is just part of the research process. We give an academic a grant and pay for their time, accommodation and test-tubes. It seems strange, then, that after a year or two, the outcome is an article which the academic gives to a publisher and which we then have to buy back." ...

But traditional journal publishers argue that open access would trigger a dramatic drop in subscriptions, especially for subject-specific journals published by learned societies such as the London Mathematical Society....

Susan Hezlet, publisher of the London Mathematical Society's journals, says: "If all publicly funded published research was made available free on the internet, publishers would all go bust and no one would manage the peer review, editing and distribution processes...."

Pity for the journals and their publishers has been thin on the ground. The European Research Council has argued that the high price of scientific journals was "impeding scientific progress".

And last year the European commission published an independent report showing the price of scientific journals had risen 200%-300% beyond inflation between 1975 and 1995....

Some major commercial publishers are softening to the idea of open access. Reed Elsevier, the world's largest scientific publisher, has agreed to allow contributors to post articles on their own websites....

So the daggers are drawn for this week's conference. "I think the losers need to be able to lose gracefully and feel that they have been given the chance to speak," says Burnhill.