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U.K. Government Enlists Wikipedia Founder for Open Access Policy

Jimmy Wales

Manuel Archain, Wikimedia

The British government has enlisted the help of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to figure out how to make research information more easily accessible. U.K. science minister David Willetts announced Wales's role as an unpaid adviser today in a speech at the annual meeting of the Publishers Association in London.

Wales, a vocal supporter of open access to information on the Web, will initially advise the government on how to set up a new £2 million "Gateway to Research" portal, a database of British researchers that links to their funding sources, information about their findings, and publications. The database should offer entrepreneurs and others the opportunity to find information and even seek collaboration with scientists, Willett said today.

Later, Wales will also advise on the next generation of open-access publication systems, which would include improved peer review and tools to give post-publication feedback. "With Jimmy Wales's help, I'm confident that we can achieve all this and much more," Willetts said.

Willetts is a strong advocate of open access. When he announced a new science policy in December 2011, he said the results of research paid for by British taxpayers should become freely available as soon as possible; he also charged a working group chaired by Janet Finch, a sociologist and former vice chancellor of Keele University, to study the issue. Finch's report is expected in June.

Until then, the government won't make decisions on its publication policies. But in his speech today to the country's publishers, Willett made no secret of where he would like to go. Charging readers for research papers is no longer tenable, he said, and he urged publishers to give up their resistance to change. "To try to preserve the old model is the wrong battle to fight," Willetts said.

At the same time, he acknowledged the important role of the publishing industry to the U.K. economy and said that academic publishing adds value to papers. But, he said, publishers can make money in an open access environment as well, for instance by charging authors' fees to have their papers edited and published. "It would be deeply irresponsible to get rid of one business model and not put anything in its place," Willetts said.