A little while ago I wrote about the great ruse that is scientific publishing, whereby the public must pay three times to get new science from the lab to the page. First there is funding of the science itself. Then the scientists must pay the publishers to publish their work. this is usually paid for by grant money which comes from the taxpayer anyway. And thirdly you have to pay the publisher to read the papers once they are published. It is a state of affairs that leaves a lot of money in the hands of the publishers and not enough science in the hands of the public.
But this model is about to change, at least in the United Kingdom, where proposals for new legislation may see access to UK taxpayer funded science made available free of charge.
Outcry over publishers methods seemed to reach a head earlier in the year when prominent mathematicians lead a largely successful boycott of Elsevier, one the largest scientific publishers. While the boycott may not have directly changed how Elsevier operates, it at least brought the issue to the authorities and to the wider public.
Now, new proposals will see the UK government pay a fee to the publishers each time a taxpayer funded research paper is published. The paper will then be made freely available online. The subsidy is expected to cost 50million pounds a year and will come from the science research budget.
So its not all great news; money is coming from the science budget which could be used elsewhere. The fee will effectively still be paid, just through taxes instead. But free at the point of use is one of the things the UK does quite well. And it will open up scientific literature to the general public, not just those in the scientific industry.
There are downsides, as always, to such proposals, but the overall benefits are great, and if other countries begin to follow suit, then the model of publishing will be changed for good, for the better.
Full story at the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18860276