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John Simkin

Scientific Publishing and the Web

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A group of UK academics including Sir Tim Berners Lee, the creator of the world wide web, has called on the government and public bodies to ensure anybody can view publicly funded research for free on the internet. Berners Lee of course established the web in order that physicists could communicate with each other about their scientific research. He is now a member of the association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP).

This is not only a subject that interests scientists. All fields of academic study would benefit from research being made immediately available on the web. Currently, the UK government has not responded favourably to these suggestions about free access to the latest research. The reason for this is that they are responded to pressure from the highly profitable academic publishing industry.

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I'm editor of a scientific journal. We've just gone through a discussion about making papers that appear in our journal available on the web. Our conclusion was that we will make them available one year after publication. It is a matter of "self-interest" in a sense, because members of our society receive these publications as a large part of their dues - and why would they join the society if they could get our publications for free? So, it's not just the academic publishing industry that has some qualms about this. In principle, having papers immediately available seems like a good idea; but it also seems like a good idea to have viable scientific societies and there is often a conflict between those two ideas.

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