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EU and World Bank step up pressure to make research available for free
Three significant blows were struck this week for the international cause of achieving open access to scientific research.
Neelie Kroes ..., vice-president of the European Commission, who is responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, has confirmed that the commission is drawing up a proposal to open up access to the results of research funded under its proposed €85 billion (US$111 billion) Horizon 2020 research programme.
The World Bank announced that it is to make findings of research that it funds freely available under Creative Commons licensing.
And the Wellcome Trust, one of the world's largest biomedical charities, announced that it will launch its own free online publication to compete with subscription-based journals and enable scientists to make their research findings freely available.
The Wellcome Trust, which provides £400 million (US$636 million) a year in funds for research on human and animal health, announced on 10 April that it too would throw its weight behind efforts by scientists to make their work freely available to all.
It said it would launch its own free online publication to compete with existing academic journals in an effort to force publishers to increase free access. Currently most scientific journals are only available by subscription.
Sir Mark Walport, head of the Wellcome Trust, said: "One of the important things is that up until now if I submit a paper to a journal I've been signing away the copyright, and that's actually ridiculous.
"What we need to do is make sure the research is available to anyone to use for any purpose."
He said the peer review system would operate in the same way on open access sites as subscription journals.
Speaking to BBC Radio's Today programme, he said the paradox was that peer review was one of the biggest costs of publishing papers: scientists do it for free and then the fruits of their review work are "locked behind a paywall".
This week's moves will be welcomed by nearly 9,000 researchers who signed up to a boycott of journals that restrict free sharing, initiated by Tim Gowers, the British mathematician. It is part of a campaign that supporters call the 'academic spring', due to its aim to revolutionise the spread of knowledge.
Kroes said the EC was working with international partners – the G8 but also major emerging economies – to come up with a global approach, to make the world's scientific resources inter-operate and open to discovery.
Alongside that, the commission is working with the US, Canada and Australia to create a global coordination mechanism that puts scientific communities in the lead to define the global web of knowledge.
"With these initiatives, we can create a resource to link up researchers and their data wherever they are, whatever their field," she said.
The UK government has already signalled its intention to press for increased access to public knowledge or data created by publicly funded research and universities. In its December 2011 Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "We believe publicly funded research should be freely available."
Independent groups of academics and publishers have been commissioned to review the availability of published research, and to develop action plans for making it freely available.
In the long run there is a huge potential cost saving to make, since British universities spend £200 million a year on subscriptions to electronic databases and journals and many of Britain's big universities spend around £1 million a year with publishers, according to a report in the Guardian.