17 April 2009

Is The Closed Source Publication Model Charitable?

Will closed source publishing fall foul of the Charities Act 2006?

Charities Act 2006

Consider the Wellcome Trust (Charity No 210183) who has as one of its charitable heads, "TO ADVANCE AND PROMOTE KNOWLEDGE AND EDUCATION".

An impressive example of this work can be seen here,

"Blocking BRAF: developing enzyme inhibitors as cancer drugs"

Watch the video. It gives a good overview of their work. Further, follow the blog, KinasePro for other examples of important work done in this field.

So, what's the problem?

After viewing the video, scroll down the page and have a look at the publications,

Searching for the last one, J Med Chem 2008;51(11):3261-3274 takes us to ...

... and this is where the problem can be found.

Substantial numbers of people cannot get to this vital information.

The charity is transferring substantial amounts of wealth to a publishing house to the detriment of its charitable status. The charity even needs to pay to access the information that it generated!

I think that this process of publication is in breach of the Charities Act 2006.

The Act has to be interpreted within the current factual matrix; providing education for the few is not within the public interest.

Obviously, curing cancer is within the public interest but there's more to it than that. A lot of drug companies are trying to cure cancer but they don't try and claim charitable status.

Watch this space for the Charity Commission's opinion and perhaps a subsequent judicial review.

Bear in mind that if this process of publication is found not to be charitable, pressure will fall upon other funding agencies, ie government, not to fund institutions that publish research in closed access journals; the resulting domino effect could end pay for content scientific journals as we know them.

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