Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  It is discouraging that the Government does not yet appear to have given much consideration to balancing the needs of the research community, the taxpayer and the commercial sectors for which it has responsibility. (Paragraph 22)

2.  We are convinced that the amount of public money invested in scientific research and its outputs is sufficient to merit Government involvement in the publishing process. Indeed, we would be very surprised if Government did not itself feel the need to account for its investment in the publishing process. We were disappointed by how little thought has been given to the issues within Government thus far and hope that this Report will prove to be a catalyst for change. (Paragraph 24)

3.  The backdrop of international interest and momentum for change sets the scene for the UK Government to take a lead in establishing an efficient and sustainable environment for the publication of research findings. (Paragraph 25)

4.  We will give a copy of this Report to the UK delegates to the Culture, Science and Education Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. We hope that the Committee will pursue the issues raised here, both within the Council of Europe and on a wider international stage. (Paragraph 28)

5.  The British Library's Document Supply Service is an efficient and cost-effective method of providing access to articles in scientific journals. The decline in demand for Document Supply notwithstanding, we are persuaded that the service provides a valuable alternative route for users who would not otherwise have access to the journals that they needed. We recommend that the Government takes steps to protect the service. (Paragraph 31)

6.  We are not convinced that the publisher practice of granting each subscriber access to a set number of digital "copies" of a journal is either effective or necessary. We recommend that the Joint Information Systems Committee strongly argues the case against such restrictive practices when it negotiates the terms for the next national site licence with publishers. (Paragraph 32)

7.  We congratulate the Medical Research Council on its support of the principle that primary research data should be made available to the scientific community for subsequent research. We recommend that the Research Councils consider providing funds to enable researchers to publish their primary data alongside their research findings, where appropriate. (Paragraph 33)

8.  All researchers, regardless of the nature of their institution, should be granted access to the scientific journals they need to carry out their work effectively. (Paragraph 35)

9.  We recommend that the Joint Information Systems Committee and the NHS work together to implement joint procurement procedures that reflect the close working patterns of NHS and the higher education sector and represent value for money for both. (Paragraph 36)

10.  Teaching is a crucial university function. Universities should be permitted, within reason, to derive maximum value from the digital journals to which they subscribe by using them for legitimate teaching purposes. We recommend that future licensing deals negotiated by the Joint Information Systems Committee explicitly include provisions to enable journal articles, whether print or digital, to be used for teaching purposes. (Paragraph 38)

11.  It is not for either publishers or academics to decide who should, and who should not, be allowed to read scientific journal articles. We are encouraged by the growing interest in research findings shown by the public. It is in society's interest that public understanding of science should increase. Increased public access to research findings should be encouraged by publishers, academics and Government alike. (Paragraph 40)

12.  We are not convinced that journal articles are consistently available to members of the public through public libraries. (Paragraph 42)

13.  Digitisation should facilitate, not restrict access. We recommend that the next national site licence negotiated by the Joint Information Systems Committee explicitly provides for all library users without an Athens password to access the digital journals stocked by their library. (Paragraph 44)

14.  Publishers are to be commended for signing up to laudable schemes such as HINARI, AGORA and INASP-PERI. We hope that the provision of free and low-cost access to scientific publications for institutions and researchers in developing countries will continue to be a significant aspect of the way that they conduct their businesses. (Paragraph 47)

15.  The digitisation of journals has the potential to greatly increase access to research findings for researchers in the developing world. (Paragraph 48)

16.  We recommend that the Joint Information Systems Committee develop an independent set of measures, agreed by subscribers and publishers alike, to monitor trends in journal pricing. This will help exert pressure on the publishing industry to self-regulate more effectively and will give libraries and other users greater knowledge when they are deciding which subscriptions to take. (Paragraph 53)

17.  It is not for us to pronounce on the acceptability of the profit margins secured by private sector companies. Nonetheless, high publisher profit margins need to be set against the context of faltering library budgets and an impending crisis in STM journals provision. Cancelled journal subscriptions due to pressures on library budgets will have a negative impact on publishers. It is thus in everybody's interest for profit margins to be kept at a reasonable and sustainable level. We urge publishers to act on the recommendations of this Report to address these issues. (Paragraph 54)

18.  Government invests a significant amount of money in scientific research, the outputs of which are expressed in terms of journal articles. It is accountable for this expenditure to the public. We were dismayed that the Government showed so little concern about where public money ended up. (Paragraph 55)

19.   We recommend that the Joint Information Systems Committee ensure that provision for continuing access in the event of cancellation to articles published during the subscription period is written into its next national licensing deal. (Paragraph 61)

20.  Increasing usage rates do not equate to an increased ability for libraries to pay for journal bundles. The recent availability of usage statistics should not be used as a justification for publishers to raise their prices. (Paragraph 66)

21.  Although libraries may aspire to provide access to every scientific journal, they cannot afford to do this. It is inevitable that difficult choices between a number of journals with lower usage rates and impact factors will have to be made. Nonetheless, these decisions should be made in response to local user needs rather than as a side effect of bundling. (Paragraph 67)

22.   Current levels of flexibility within the journal bundle do not present libraries with value for money. Whilst we accept that unbundling STM information carries risks for the main commercial publishers, only when flexible bundled deals are made available will libraries achieve value for money on their subscriptions. Furthermore, although we recognise that bundled deals may be advantageous to libraries in certain circumstances, we are concerned about the potential impact bundling may have on competition, given limited library budgets and sustained STM journal price growth. (Paragraph 68)

23.  Publishers should publicly acknowledge the contribution of unpaid peer reviewers to the publishing process. We recommend that they provide modest financial rewards to the departments in which the reviewers are based. These rewards could be fed back into the system, helping to fund seminars or further research. (Paragraph 70)

24.  We do not doubt the central importance of peer review to the STM publishing process. Nonetheless, we note a tendency for publishers to inflate the cost to them of peer review in order to justify charging high prices. This lack of transparency about actual costs hampers informed debate about scientific publishing. (Paragraph 76)

25.  We applaud the development by publishers of new technologies for digital journals. Innovative products such as ScienceDirect have brought increased functionality to researchers and users, making journals a more valuable research tool. (Paragraph 78)

26.  We are persuaded that the costs to publishers associated with digitisation will reduce over time. Consequently, we would no longer expect these costs to be used as a justification for steep increases in prices. In the meantime we are concerned that financially powerful STM publishers may be using their strength during this digital transition period to make excessive profits whilst the going is good (Paragraph 79)

27.  We believe that publishers should make it clear to subscribers what services and costs are and are not covered by the overall subscription price, enabling libraries and other users to weigh up the costs and benefits of taking out the subscription. We urge the Joint Information Systems Committee and other buying bodies to press for greater transparency in this area. (Paragraph 80)

28.  Like the Office of Fair Trading, we are not entirely convinced by the cost-justification argument employed by publishers to explain rising prices. Publishers undoubtedly add value to the scientific process, but they also profit from it. (Paragraph 83)

29.  It is not enough for the Government departments involved to declare themselves to be aware of the problems surrounding the imposition of VAT on digital, but not print, publications. As the issue is so critical to the adequate provision of scientific publications and to reaping the full anticipated benefits from digitisation, we recommend that DTI, DfES and DCMS all make a strong case to HM Customs and Excise for a change to the existing VAT regime. (Paragraph 86)

30.  We recommend that HM Customs and Excise make strong and immediate representations within the European Commission to bring about the introduction of a zero rate VAT relief for digital journals, in line with the zero rate currently charged on print journals. (Paragraph 88)

31.   We recommend that HM Customs and Excise exempt libraries from the VAT currently payable on digital publications whilst it negotiates for a more permanent solution within the EU. (Paragraph 89)

32.  Because library budgets generally have a fixed ceiling, by increasing prices, the publisher with the largest share of the budget can gain an even greater share and may also force other publishers out of the budget altogether. (Paragraph 93)

33.  We recommend that the Government Response to this Report provides information on the measures being taken by the Office of Fair Trading to monitor the market for STM journals. We urge the Office of Fair Trading to commit to biennial public reporting on the state of the market, including how STM publication prices are developing; how prices change following mergers and acquisitions in the sector and the impact of bundling deals upon competition. (Paragraph 94)

34.  We agree that universities should be able to allocate their budgets locally in response to the needs of their teaching and research communities. (Paragraph 96)

35.  It is unacceptable that HEFCE has shown so little interest in library budgets. We recommend that it commission a study from HEPI to ascertain both current library funding levels and library funding needs. The results of this study could be used to inform the allocation of the block grant. (Paragraph 97)

36.  HEFCE has a valuable role to play in advising universities on library funding requirements. We recommend that HEFCE establish a code of good practice for library funding that universities can draw upon when allocating their budgets. (Paragraph 98)

37.  Pressure on library journal acquisitions budgets has resulted in cancelled subscriptions and has contributed to a decline in book purchasing. This compromises the library's ability to provide the full range of services required by its user community. (Paragraph 99)

38.  There is undoubtedly some scope for libraries to make efficiency savings, as there is for most organisations. Nonetheless, the valuable services provided by the library are expensive and staff-intensive. It is unlikely that libraries will have more to spend on acquisitions until they see an increase in budgets. (Paragraph 101)

39.  Whilst we accept that it is important that libraries are responsive to local needs, opting out of national licensing deals negotiated with those needs in mind only makes the situation faced by libraries worse. (Paragraph 104)

40.  We recommend that the Joint Information Systems Committee negotiate with libraries, regional purchasing consortia and other national bodies responsible for procurement to agree a common strategy. Only by combining their resources will they be able to negotiate a licensing deal that secures national support and brings real benefits. (Paragraph 105)

41.   It is disappointing that many academics are content to ignore the significant difficulties faced by libraries. Until they start to see the provision of journals as, in part, their problem, the situation will not improve. (Paragraph 107)

42.  Elsevier is no sudden convert to Open Access. The company has seen the direction of trends in publishing and has acted accordingly to minimise criticism of its current policies. We are in little doubt that Elsevier timed the announcement of its new policy on self-archiving to pre-empt the publication of this Report. It is good news that our inquiry has prompted such a high profile endorsement of increased access to research papers. Nonetheless, there are a number of serious constraints to self-archiving in the model proposed by Elsevier. (Paragraph 112)

43.  Institutions need an incentive to set up repositories. We recommend that the requirement for universities to disseminate their research as widely as possible be written into their charters. In addition, SHERPA should be funded by DfES to allow it to make grants available to all research institutions for the establishment and maintenance of repositories. (Paragraph 115)

44.  Academic authors currently lack sufficient motivation to self-archive in institutional repositories. We recommend that the Research Councils and other Government funders mandate their funded researchers to deposit a copy of all their articles in their institution's repository within one month of publication or a reasonable period to be agreed following publication, as a condition of their research grant. An exception would need to be made for research findings that are deemed to be commercially sensitive. (Paragraph 117)

45.  We recommend that institutional repositories are able to accept charitably- and privately-funded research articles from authors within the institution, providing that the funder has given their consent for the author to self-archive in this way. (Paragraph 118)

46.  We recommend that DCMS provide adequate funds for the British Library to establish and maintain a central online repository for all UK research articles that are not housed in other institutional repositories. (Paragraph 118)

47.  Institutional repositories should accept for archiving articles based on negative results, even when publication of the article in a journal is unlikely. This accumulated body of material would be a useful resource for the scientific community. It could help to prevent duplication of research and, particularly in the field of clinical research, would be in the public interest. Articles containing negative findings should be stored within a dedicated section of the repository to distinguish them from other articles. (Paragraph 118)

48.  In order for institutional repositories to achieve maximum effectiveness, Government must adopt a joined-up approach. DTI, OST, DfES and DCMS should work together to create a strategy for the implementation of institutional repositories, with clearly defined aims and a realistic timetable. (Paragraph 120)

49.  A greater degree of consistency is desirable in copyright agreements, from publishers, but also from Government, institutions and academics, who have the power to influence the terms on which copyright agreements are established. (Paragraph 121)

50.  The issue of copyright is crucial to the success of self-archiving. We recommend that, as part of its strategy for the implementation of institutional repositories, Government ascertain what impact a UK-based policy of author copyright retention would have on UK authors. Providing that it can be established that such a policy would not have a disproportionately negative impact, Research Councils and other Government funders should mandate their funded researchers to retain the copyright on their research articles, licensing it to publishers for the purposes of publication. The Government would also need to be active in raising the issue of copyright at an international level. (Paragraph 126)

51.  We recommend that higher education institutions are funded to enable them to assume control of copyright arising from their research. In order to carry out this function they will need in-house expertise and dedicated staff. (Paragraph 127)

52.  The cost to the taxpayer of establishing and maintaining an infrastructure of institutional repositories across UK higher education would be minimal, particularly in proportion to the current total UK higher education spend. When the cost is weighed against the benefits they would bring, institutional repositories plainly represent value for money. (Paragraph 130)

53.  Having taken the step of funding and supporting institutional repositories, the UK Government would need to become an advocate for them at a global level. If all countries archived their research findings in this way, access to scientific publications would increase dramatically. We see this as a great opportunity for the UK to lead the way in broadening access to publicly-funded research findings and making available software tools and resources for accomplishing this work. (Paragraph 131)

54.  Peer review is a key element in the publishing process and should be a pillar of institutional repositories. We recommend that SHERPA agree a "kite mark" with publishers that can be used to denote articles that have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Upon publication, articles in repositories should be allocated the kitemark and marked with the date and journal of publication by the staff member responsible for populating the repository. Authors depositing articles in institutional repositories should also be required to declare their funding sources in order to reduce the risk of conflicts of interest occurring. (Paragraph 135)

55.  We recommend that the Government appoints and funds a central body, based on SHERPA, to co-ordinate the implementation of a network of institutional repositories. (Paragraph 136)

56.  A Government-established central body would play a major role in implementing technical standards across institutional repositories to ensure maximum functionality and interoperability. (Paragraph 137)

57.  We recommend that DTI works with UK publishers to establish how the industry might evolve in an environment where other business models flourished alongside the subscriber-pays model. Government also needs to become an intelligent procurer, outsourcing some of the technical work involved in establishing and maintaining institutional repositories to publishers who already have the relevant infrastructure and expertise in place. (Paragraph 140)

58.   We see institutional repositories as operating alongside the publishing industry. In the immediate term they will enable readers to gain free access to journal articles whilst the publishing industry experiments with new publishing models, such as the author-pays model. (Paragraph 143)

59.  For the Government either to endorse or dismiss the new publishing model would be too simplistic. Without any Government action, some authors are already choosing to publish in journals that use author payments to recover costs. Author-pays publishing is a phenomenon that has already arrived: it is for the Government and others to decide how best to respond. (Paragraph 144)

60.  The evidence produced so far suggests that the author-pays model could be viable. We recommend that Government mobilise the different interest groups to support a comprehensive independent study into the costs associated with author-pays publishing. The study could be used to inform Government policy and strategy. (Paragraph 150)

61.  Encouraging a public that is more scientifically literate and assisting women in their pursuit of successful careers in scientific research have been two of the Committee's longstanding concerns. We support, in principle, any measure that seeks to further these aims. (Paragraph 156)

62.  Although early indications are positive, it is too early to assess the impact that author-pays publishing has had on access to scientific publications. (Paragraph 159)

63.  The author-pays publishing model would be extremely advantageous to researchers in developing countries, enabling them to keep abreast of research conducted elsewhere. Financially, author charges would be less burdensome to researchers in the developing world than current subscription rates. If the author-pays model were to prevail, publishers, Government agencies and other donors would need to adapt existing schemes, such as HINARI, AGORA and INASP-PERI, to meet the demands of the altered cost recovery model. (Paragraph 162)

64.  We recommend that the Research Councils each establish a fund to which their funded researchers can apply should they wish to publish their articles using the author-pays model. The Research Councils will need to be funded by OST to take account of this increase in costs. We hope that industry, charity and other Government funders will consider similar measures. (Paragraph 165)

65.  Research Councils for disciplines that require only limited funding should be funded to enable them to pay for publication costs where necessary. (Paragraph 166)

66.  In order to succeed, most author-pays publishers, like everyone else, will have to publish articles of a high quality. It is not, therefore, within the interest of journals at the higher end of the market to lessen the rigour of peer review. Nonetheless, there is a risk that lower quality journals might seek to reduce their quality threshold in order to generate profit. Were the author-pays publishing model to prevail it would be vital to ensure that peer review was not compromised in order to retain confidence in the integrity of the publishing process. (Paragraph 172)

67.  The introduction of a submission fee would be an important step towards ensuring the quality of scientific publications and we strongly recommend that author-pays publishers introduce this system. (Paragraph 174)

68.  The commercial and industrial sectors currently contribute significant funds to the publishing process through payments for journal subscriptions. Much of this money would be lost to the system if an author-pays model were to prevail. This is one of the key issues that needs to be addressed before the wholescale transition to an author-pays model can be supported. Government, publishers and industry need to work together to identify a solution to this problem in order to avoid a disproportionate increase in the amount of money that Government invests directly or indirectly in the publishing process. (Paragraph 177)

69.  Learned societies are greatly valued by the academic and wider research community. It is of concern to us that learned societies could stand to lose a substantial portion of their income in a move to the author-pays publishing model. This is another key issue that proponents of the author-pays model need to address. (Paragraph 180)

70.  We strongly support further experimentation with the author-pays publishing model. In the short term Government may need to provide limited financial assistance to encourage publishers and institutions to take part in what, for them, may be an expensive process. We applaud the Joint Information Systems Committee for providing funding for this purpose so far and hope that it will continue to do so. (Paragraph 184)

71.  Author-pays publishing is a growing phenomenon. Its implementation on any scale will have important consequences for current funding structures and the UK publishing industry. So far the Government has shown little inclination to address this issue. (Paragraph 185)

72.  Government has not shown much evidence of a joined-up approach to the challenges posed by changes to the model for scientific publishing. Whilst the central departments have been slow to respond to the author-pays publishing model, at least two Government-funded bodies have given public support to it. This creates unnecessary confusion. We recommend that it formulate a coherent strategy as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 186)

73.  We are satisfied that, by scaling publication with research costs, the author-pays publishing model would ensure a fairer global distribution of the costs of publishing research findings. (Paragraph 188)

74.  The UK would put itself at a financial disadvantage internationally if it were to act alone in mandating publicly-funded researchers to publish in author-pays journals. (Paragraph 189)

75.  Institutional repositories should be a key component of any long-term strategy to ensure the preservation of digital publications. (Paragraph 193)

76.  The British Library has a crucial role to play in the preservation of digital publications, both strategically and practically. This is an expensive process. Whilst the publication of this Report is too late to have any influence on funding decisions made as part of the 2004 Spending Review, we strongly support the British Library's call for extra funding in recognition of the work that it has carried out in this capacity. Failure of the Government to give adequate funding to the British Library could result in the loss of a substantial proportion of the UK's scientific record. (Paragraph 196)

77.  It is vital that work on regulations for the legal deposit of non-print publications begins as soon as possible. We cannot understand why DCMS has not yet established the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel. We recommend that they appoint the panel and begin preliminary work on the regulations at official level immediately. (Paragraph 199)

78.  We recommend that the first task of the Advisory Panel is to establish definitions of a digital publication and a UK publication that are flexible enough to capture material from a range of sources in a range of formats. (Paragraph 200)

79.  The existence of a secure network between the legal deposit libraries would create greater efficiencies in the deposit system and would have the potential to increase access to deposited material. We recommend that provisions for such a network are made in the regulations with these two aims in mind. The deposit libraries should be funded to establish the network. (Paragraph 201)

80.  We recommend that the regulations make provision for the deposit libraries to deliver digital articles remotely to desktops on the same payment basis as Document Supply. (Paragraph 202)

81.  Gaps of up to 60% in the deposit of electronically-delivered publications, including STM journals, represent a significant breach in the intellectual record. It is imperative that work on recovering and purchasing the missing items begins immediately. The six deposit libraries will need additional funding to do this. (Paragraph 203)

82.  As is the case with any process, peer review is not an infallible system and to a large extent depends on the integrity and competence of the people involved and the degree of editorial oversight and quality assurance of the peer review process itself. Nonetheless we are satisfied that publishers are taking reasonable measures to main high standards of peer review. (Paragraph 207)

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