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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 00:03 GMT
Boost for research paper access
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Campaigners want free access to research results
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By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble
line
Plans to extend free access to scientific and academic research papers have received a boost with the announcement of a $3m grant from financier and philanthropist George Soros' Open Society Institute.


The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment

Budapest Open Access Initiative
Open access advocate Professor Stevan Harnad of the University of Southampton, UK, says the money could make it easier for academics wanting to set up their own alternatives to commercially run journals.

"The vast potential benefits of open access to research and researchers are already there... but the subsidy lowers the entry barriers for would-be open-access initiatives," he said.

Critics of commercial journals say their subscription charges hamper research at institutes and in countries where research budgets are tight.

They say that researchers write and review papers for free, so the journals should not charge to read them.

"They don't want to get paid, what they want is that other researchers should read and use their work," Professor Harnad told BBC News Online.

"The fact that their literature is treated for trade is anathema," he said.

Budapest declaration

Some commercial journals have extended the amount of literature they make available for free in response to a boycott campaign by scientists calling themselves the Public Library of Science.

But journal publishers defend their charges as necessary to finance their operations.

The new money for open alternatives comes as part of a new declaration called the Budapest Open Access Initiative, signed by dozens of institutions and hundreds of researchers.

They say they are not opposed to commercial journals, but want to see an alternative system of free access journals and self-archiving set up in parallel.

"The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment," reads the declaration.

It calls for "free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose".

Seed money

Professor Harnad's colleagues Chris Gutteridge and Rob Tansley developed a piece of software called Eprints, which, they hope, makes the process of publishing easier and therefore cheaper.

He says the Soros money could be used to "seed" schemes where academics will pay a small fee to have their papers reviewed but users will pay nothing to read them.

"To start up and fill an institutional Eprint Archive costs less than $10,000; to start up and fill an alternative journal costs less than $50,000; so $3m can do a lot of good in three years," he says.

More important though than the money, he adds, is for there to be a critical mass of research available from free archives online.

"It's a question of when the dominos start falling," he said.

See also:

01 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Scientists call for online library
26 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Scientists threaten journal protest
16 Nov 99 | Features
Setting research papers free
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