Jimmy Wales Backs Government Scheme To Free Academic Research

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Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will help get government-backed research freely available online

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is to help the government in its initiative to make all academic research funded by the taxpayer, freely available online.

Wales only joined forces with the government last month, when it was announced that he would be unpaid adviser across all government departments to help civil servants develop “innovative” new technology.

Government Initiative

Essentially the role of Wales is to help with “open government” initiatives, i.e. instructing civil servants on how to harness the power of the Internet to make UK democracy more transparent.

Wales is to take a key part the government inititative, announced Wednesday by the universities and science minister, David Willetts, in a speech to the Publishers Association on Wednesday.

The move responds to a growing campaign within academic circles for open access in academic publishing. According to the Guardian newspaper, academics want to stop journals controlled by publishing companies, who charge expensive fees to allow access to valuable research. Eleven thousand researchers have signed up to a boycott of journals owned by the huge academic publisher Elsevier.

“Giving people the right to roam freely over publicly funded research will usher in a new era of academic discovery and collaboration, and will put the UK at the very forefront of open research,” Willetts wrote in the Guardian.

According to the newspaper, Willetts said he recognised the value that academic publishers brought to the research process. “But, as the world changes, both cultural and technological change, their business model is going to change. I want to work with the Publishers Association as we move to the new model.”

Open Access

Wales is of course a very vocal supporter of open access. In January for example, Wikipedia voluntarily shut down for 24 hours in protest against the US government’s proposed (and later defeated) SOPA anti-piracy legislation, which is similar to the UK’s controversial Digital Economy Act.

According to the Guardian, Wales will assist the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the UK Research Councils to develop new ways to store and distribute research data and articles. He will initially advise the research councils on its £2m Gateway to Research project, a website that will act as a portal, linking to publicly funded UK research all over the web.

“Jimmy Wales can make sure that we maximise the collaborative potential, the added value from that portal,” Willetts said. “Wikipedia has become a crucial part of our cultural landscape and having the advice from the person who created Wikipedia as we embark on this big project will be incredibly helpful.”

Wales will also contribute ideas to former vice-chancellor of Keele University,  Dame Janet Finch, who was tasked by Willetts to work out how an open-access scheme for publicly funded research might work in the UK. Her recommendations are expected in June.

A government source told the Guardian that, in the longer term, Wales would help to set up the next generation of open-access platforms for British researchers.

“He’s also going to be advising us on the format in which academic papers should be published and data standards. One of the big opportunities is, right now, a journal article might be published but the underlying data isn’t and we want to move into a world where the data is published alongside an article in an open format, available free of charge.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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