February 23, 2003
Moving academic publishing from expensive paper journals to the internet

On the day that I posted a piece here about how university teaching materials ought to be on the internet, independent.co.uk published a piece about how academics are trying to move academia away from their dependence on the cumbersome and above all ludicrously expensive apparatus of academic paper (in both senses) publishing, and onto the internet. Until recently, academic publishing, if you could only break into it, has been a licence to print not only academic articles but also money. And the price of subscribing to these journals has kept untold thousands of potential students in ignorance of their contents. But all this may now be changing.

Now, however, there are the first whiffs of angry rebellion across the labs, common rooms and book-lined studies of academe. Many academics are quietly supporting moves to publish research on the internet, where it can be accessed free of charge and yet still be subject to the all-important peer-review process.

Led in Britain by Professor Stevan Harnad of Southampton University, many lecturers and researchers are supporting the Budapest Open Access Initiative, an international effort to bypass the "greedy" publishers and provide a low-cost or free alternative on the internet, backed by, of all people, George Soros.

Another conference of academics from countries as diverse as Belarus and the Netherlands met in the Hungarian capital again last month to discuss how best to "accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet".

Here, the Research Support Libraries Group – a committee set up by universities and other research facilities such as the British Library – has also been investigating the best means of disseminating academic research on the net.

About time too. I was speaking this afternoon with Alice Bachini about what the historical impact of the internet is going to consist of. This kind of thing is definitely part of that story.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:14 AM
Category: Technology