Open, free access to academic research? This will be a seismic shift | David Willetts

The challenge is how we get there without ruining the value added by academic publishers. The controversy about the status and reliability of reviews on TripAdvisor is a reminder of how precious genuine, objective peer review is. We still need to pay for such functions, which is why one attractive model – known as gold – has the funders of research covering the costs. Another approach, known as green, includes a closed period before wider release during which journals can earn revenues.

While opening up the fruits of research is a seismic shift for academic publishing, it is not a leap into the unknown. There are many good examples in medicine. For instance, the Wellcome Trust requires all the research it funds to be made freely available online. A report this year from the U.S. Committee for Economic Development has concluded that the US National Institute of Health’s policy of open access has accelerated the transition from basic research to commercialisation, generated more follow-on research and reduced duplicate or dead-end lines of inquiry – so increasing the US government’s return on its investment in research. And the researcher Philip Davis has found that, when publishers randomly make articles open access on journal websites, readership increases by up to 250%.