My research is funded by NERC, who have announced that from April 2013, any research that they fund must be available, free of charge, to the public who indirectly funded said research. This is great, as many researchers will no doubt feel, as I do, that if research is funded by tax payers, it should be accessible by tax payers. Further, many feel that information should be accessible. That research is something that could benefit a much wider audience than currently has access it it. However, this new regulation does pose a practical problem for researchers, who want to publish in the most respected, high profile peer reviewed journals. These are nearly all behind a paywall (quite an expensive one, at that).
There are an increasing number of journals which are open access, (that is to say, free to the reader), which is a very pleasing trend, but they are often accompanied by hefty publication fees. Similarly, some major journal publishers have introduced a flat rate fee, paid by the author, to make their article freely available to readers (this is an even heftier fee). In effect what this does is moves the cost (i.e. the source of profit for the journal) from the knowledge consumer at point of consumption to the researcher at point of knowledge creation/dissemination. Arguably this is progress, but I’m not really sure how much of an improvement it is.
The alternative to this appears to be that many journals allow the author to privately distribute a post-review, but pre-publication copy of their article, through their establishment or website. Which journals allow this, and at what stage, is a problem being solved by Sherpa/Romeo – a brilliant resource for checking easily what the restrictions for any particular journal are, and whether they comply with your particular funding body.
This is hardly a new problem (the limitations of the academic publishing system are well known and so I won’t recount them here). But I’m really glad to see an impetus coming from the funding bodies – who hold the purse strings and therefore the influence – to bring about some (albeit possibly limited) change.