Medical research funder the Wellcome Trust is launching a scientific journal which will make its articles free to view online as soon as they are published, fuelling the open access debate.
The development, reported in the Guardian and on BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning (10th April), follows a petition so far signed by more than 9,000 researchers boycotting journals that restrict free sharing.
Wellcome Trust director Sir Mark Walport said it was in "the final stages" of launching the journal, eLife, and that it would adopt a "more robust approach with the scientists it funds", to make sure the results of their research are freely available to the public within six months of first publication. For example, researchers who do not comply could be sanctioned in future grant applications to the charity, which spends more than £600m on scientific research a year.
Walport told the Guardian: "If a journal won't comply with our grant conditions, then we're effectively saying you can't publish in that journal. Frankly, its a bit like saying you can have the Guardian free after three weeks—the news section has little value at that stage. I would say that even six months is ultimately too long for research."
Walport also took issue with current practice over the peer review of papers before publication, which means publishing houses gain the services of the scientists for free. He said: "One of the biggest costs in the whole scientific publishing world is borne by the academic community, which is the peer review. The journals have benefitted from having free, potentially very expensive consultancy. Again, why do we do that, if the end product is going to be locked behind a paywall?"
The Wellcome Trust is working with the Max Planck Society in Germany and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US to set up the new journal. Walport said it was intended to be "a visible high-profile competitor to Nature and Science", but said: "In no sense is this a war in which we're trying to put them out of business, the thing that would be best for them [publishers] to do is to change their publishing model."
A spokesperson for Elsevier, one of the largest journal publishers, speaking to the Guardian, said the publisher was open to any "mechanism or business model, as long as they are sustainable and maintain or improve existing levels of quality control".