I work a lot with scientific papers. When I’m not writing manuscripts for a client, I’m reading papers to write articles and posts for my blog. I sometimes read papers just because they are interesting. However, accessing scientific papers at some journals can be reaaaallly hard work (other methods are available). So, when David Willetts announced this week that all UK publicly funded research should be published in open access journals, I had a little party.

Accessing scientific literature is a piece of cake if you happen to work at a University or your institution pays fees for your accessing pleasure. Since going freelance last year I have seen how frustratingly difficult it is for everyone else. Faced with massive paywalls, I tend now to ignore papers that I might be interested in for the blog that require me to pay a fee. $86 for 24 hours access to 10 bits of paper is not good for business (looking at you, Informa Healthcare and the journal “Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy”). If I were the authors of that paper, I would be skipping mad right now.

George Monbiot has blissfully deconstructed this issue saying that “big academic publishing houses make Ruport Murdoch look like a socialist” (think paywalls at some of News International’s outlets). His analysis is one of many calling for publicly funded research to be freely accessible. We pay via tax for the work to be done. We then have to pay again to read the results? It’s a bit like saying the flight costs $100 but if you want to actually fly with us you have to pay $50 to access the airport. It’s a recipe designed to just p*ss your customers off.

This announcement of Willetts is extremely important then for anyone with a remote interest in science. Leaving the scientists aside for a moment, it means that if you want to access results of UK funded research projects, you can… for free (or at least you will be able to). That has to be excellent news for business, journalists, writers and in fact the general public. Even in terms of science being reported in the media, it means that you, yes YOU can go and check the validity of a story if you want. You don’t have to believe the journalistic spin because you can validate the message yourself and make your own mind up.

Willetts himself is quoted in the Guardian as saying: “We set out very clearly in the document today our commitment to open access. We want to move to open access, but in a way that ensures that peer review and publishing continues as a function. It needs to be paid for somehow. One of the clear options is to shift to a system from which university libraries pay for journals to one in which the academics pay to publish. But then you need to shift the funding so that the academics could afford to pay to publish.”

So, it will not be an overnight process but change is on its way.

You can read the full report here.

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