Wikipedia founder to advise UK government on open access research

The Guardian reports today that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been called upon by the UK’s coalition government to help make all taxpayer-funded research openly accessible. Universities minister, David Willetts, wants Wales to advise on the Research Councils’ Gateway to Research, previewed in the Innovation and Research strategy last year. Wales, a strong advocate of openly accessible knowledge, will also advise on the format of research papers and recent moves to make underlying research data openly accessible.

This latest development comes in the context of a grass-roots campaign by academics to boycott large research publishers such as Elsevier on the grounds that they charge high prices for access to publicly funded research. Some of these large companies are even encouraging students to buy essays online. Campaigners also claim that their business practices force libraries into buying “bundles” of journals, some of which they don’t want.

Harvard University has also sent a memo to all teaching and research staff describing the “untenable situation” wherein large journal publishers have made “the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive”. Alongside the announcement by Wellcome Trust requiring all of their funded research to be made publicly available, this adds to the growing sense that there could be a seismic shift in the academic publishing landscape sooner rather than later.

*UPDATE* 03/05/2012: Research Professional reports that, in Willetts’ speech, he suggests that open access may become an excellence criterion in the next REF: Full text of Willetts’ speech on open access [PDF].