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UK Report Urges 'Fundamental Shift' to New Open-Access Policy

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK is considering moving to an open-access system for publication of the results of government-funded science, and a new report out this week proposes that science funders, publishers, and government prepare for a "fundamental shift" in how research is published.

The new report recommends a number of steps the UK should take to embrace an open-access culture and accelerate its adoption, with the biggest change being that government science funders would pay a cost for publication to the researchers as part of their grant.

Tasked with finding new ways to improve access to research publications, the independent Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, also called the Finch Commission, found that while there will be risks and costs in moving to open access the change will make it possible for society to more fully reap the economic and social benefits of the science it funds.

The central proposal from the panel of experts who wrote the report, which is also called the Finch Report after sociologist Janet Finch, who chaired the working group, have recommended that UK funders find ways to meet the costs of publication in open-access journals and minimize restrictions on the use and re-use of research results.

Currently, subscription-based journals are published by companies, scientific societies, and non-profits and are the predominant outlet for research results, the Finch group found, although there also are open-access journals and repositories that provide some access to articles.

The Finch group's proposal is to move to what is referred to as a 'gold' open-access policy, which means that science funders pay for the costs of publication and articles are then licensed in such a way that other parties may reuse the works so long as they provide adequate attribution to the original authors and publisher.

The report recommends that particular care should be taken to avoid causing undue harm to subscription-based journals "during what is likely to be a lengthy transition to open-access," and that an ongoing review be conducted of the effects of these new policies on publishers.

"The balanced program we recommend will accelerate the progress towards a fully open-access environment both in the UK and in the rest of the world. It will bring substantial benefits both for researchers, and everyone who has an interest in the results of their work. This report shows how representatives of the different stakeholder groups can work together to that end," Janet Finch said in a statement this week.

The Wellcome Trust, which as GenomeWeb Daily News reported in early May is already moving toward its own open-access publication policy, along with the Research Councils UK, came out in support of the report, and its recommendation to move to a 'gold' policy.

"Open access is the only way to ensure that important research is made freely accessible to all. It will help drive forward innovation and breakthroughs in medical research," Wellcome Trust Director Mark Walport said in a statement.

Walport said the effort to shift to a 'gold' policy will require "the support of all of those that fund and support research, who will need to put into place effective and flexible arrangements to meet these costs, which we anticipate being only 1-1.5 percent of research costs."

UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said in a statement that the report will be "vital" to the government's development of an open-access policy.

"Opening up access to publicly-funded research findings is a key commitment for this government. Proposed initiatives like providing access to findings for research-intensive small companies and making peer-reviewed journals available for free at public libraries would foster innovation, drive growth and open up a new area of academic discovery," Willetts said.

According to the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills, the UK's funding agencies and groups are expected to favor the 'gold' policy.