U.K. Throws Down Open Access Gauntlet, Will Challenge U.S. For Global Leadership

Earlier today, David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, spoke before the Publishers Association annual meeting (H/T @Stephen_Curry).  His focus was the growing momentum in the U.K. government to increase open access to government-sponsored research results.  This continues a trend in the U.K. over the last few weeks and months.  Recently the Wellcome Trust, the second largest global funder of medical research, indicated it would adopt a more expansive open access policy for the research it funds.  In March a draft policy of the Research Councils U.K. indicated they would consider an open access policy similar to that of the National Institutes of Health, except they were looking at a six month window rather than a full year.

Willetts cited, among other reasons, a serious economic incentive to open the doors to U.K. government-funded research.  U.S. readers should be familiar with his examples.

“For example, publicly funded and freely available information from the Human Genome Project led to greater take up of knowledge and commercialisation than from earlier protected data. To date, in fact, every dollar of federal investment in the Human Genome Project has helped generate $141 for the US economy. Separately, a report this year from the US Committee for Economic Development has concluded that the US National Institute of Health’s policy of open access after one year has accelerated scientific progress and the transition from basic research to commercialisation; generated more follow-on research and more citations; and reduced duplicate or dead-end lines of inquiry – so increasing the US government’s return on its investment in research.”

Supposedly the official policies are not yet finalized, pending the delivery of an expert committee report expected in the next few weeks.  But Willetts’ remarks suggest the coalition government is interested in doing something.  They have scheduled meetings with European Union officials, with an eye towards developing a continent-wide open access policy.  The government is working on an electronic research portal to connect research awards to research results.

Now, while the legislative open access activity has risen (dropped?) to the standard level of Congressional achievement, the U.S. has not been idle on open access for federally funded research.  But the speech from Minister Willetts suggests that this country may lack the fire of its ally across the Atlantic.  It is possible, however, that this race might end up resembling the fable of the tortoise and the hare.  We just don’t know yet which country represents which animal.