Wellcome Trust joins ‘academic spring’ to open up science

April 11, 2012 | Source: The Guardian

One of the world’s largest funders of science  the Wellcome Trust, the largest non-governmental funder of medical research after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is now behind a growing campaign to break the stranglehold of academic journals and allow all research papers to be shared online.

Nearly 9,000 researchers have already signed up to a boycott of journals that restrict free sharing as part of a campaign dubbed the “academic spring” by supporters due to its potential for revolutionising the spread of knowledge.

Sir Mark Walport, the director of Wellcome Trust, said that his organization is in the final stages of launching a high-caliber but free scientific journal called eLife that would compete directly with top-tier publications such as Nature and Science, seen by scientists as the premier locations for publishing.

The majority of the world’s scientific research, estimated at around 1.5million new articles each year, is published in journals owned by a small number of large publishing companies including Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.

To force more scientists into submitting their work into open-access journals, Walport said the Wellcome Trust was considering sanctions for researchers and universities if Wellcome-funded research is not made freely available. One option under examination is to make grant renewals contingent on open access compliance, so that new money would be released only once a scientist’s previous Trust-supported work is fully accessible.

Another proposal is to require universities to confirm that papers produced with a Wellcome grant are accessible before the final installment of that grant is paid.