Memorandum from the London Mathematical
The London Mathematical Society
(LMS) is (together with the Institute for Mathematics and its
and the Royal Statistical Society)
one of the three principal learned societies for the mathematical
sciences in the UK.
It was founded in 1865, and has registered charity
The LMS publishes (either independently or in
collaboration with other organisations) a total of six journals,
four book series, and four English language translations of Russian
journals. This activity furthers the charitable aims of the Society
in two distinct ways. The process of disseminating the results
of mathematical research, as well as other scholarly works in
the mathematical sciences, is an essential part of the basic charitable
aim of promoting the subject. In addition, the modest surplus
generated by the Society's publications activity (despite a deliberate
policy of keeping prices and subscription charges low for the
benefit of readers) is ploughed back into the support of a variety
of mathematical activities. Less than 10% of the subscription
income on LMS journals comes from UK institutions, most of whom
benefit from very generous discounts to institutional members.
The LMS is therefore a net exporter, and uses the income received
from overseas to support UK mathematics through its programmes.
The LMS thus has, as a society, two fundamental
interests in the future of scientific publishing.
(1) That small publishers, in particular
learned societies, will continue to be able to publish research
articles and other scholarly works.
(2) That publishing activity by learned societies
can continue to generate sufficient income, not just to cover
its own costs, but to support other legitimate scientific activities
of these societies.
In addition, the LMS represents the interests
of its members, most of whom are actively engaged in mathematical
research, and rely on the system both as authors and as readers.
1. The nature of scientific publication
The international dimension seems
to be missing from the terms of reference of the inquiry. Scientific
publishing is a fully international business, and the UK has one
of the largest publishing industries. For example, the LMS handles
scientific papers from 83 countries, and uses peer-reviewers from
around the world. Fewer than a quarter of papers published in
LMS journals come from authors with addresses in the UK. Issues
relating to scientific publishing cannot be addressed at a national
level, and no one country can change the system on its own. Any
serious attempt to influence the world of scientific publications
will have to be done by international collaboration.
Researchers are an integral part
of the production process of scientific articles, as authors and
referees (peer-reviewers), not just "consumers". Any
assessment of the system, and any proposal to change it, must
recognise these complexities.
2. The role of learned society publishers
Learned society publishers such as
the LMS have a particular role to play in the support of science.
They can use any surplus generated by scientific publishing to
support their subjects in other ways. In the case of the LMS this
takes a number of forms: small research grants; a regular lecture
programme and the support of conferences; funds to promote the
participation of women in mathematics; funds to promote mathematical
educational projects. In general, the form of support that societies
such as the LMS can offer is complementary to that of the primary
funding bodies such as the research councils. It is not clear
where such support for mathematics would come from, should significant
changes in scientific publications prevent the society from generating
an income stream through publication.
We agree, in general, with the majority
of the views expressed by the Association of Learned and Professional
in its response to the inquiry.
3. Special features of mathematics research
and mathematics publishing
Mathematics differs from other sciences
in a number of respects, which introduce different dimensions
into the publishing debate.
The funding of mathematical research
in the UK under the dual support system differs from that for
other sciences, in that a lower proportion comes through direct
research grants, as opposed to the funding of infrastructure such
as libraries. A proportion of libraries' journal subscription
costs is currently recycled into further support for mathematics
via the LMS and similar organisations. The potential savings to
libraries from an open-access publishing system could be redirected
to support research in other ways, but achieving this would require
positive action at a high level. The individual mathematician
in the UK, who typically operates with little direct research
council grant support, has no obvious access to sources of funds
to cover extensive page-charges. Open-access regimes that do not
recognise this would endanger the future of mathematical research.
Peer-review is a very important part
of the process in mathematics. Referees often invest significant
time and energy into reviewing an article (on average, over a
period of 80 days for articles in LMS journals). While this does
not lead to an absolute guarantee of the mathematical correctness
of published articles, it does mean that, by and large, articles
accepted for publication in reputable journals carry a valuable
stamp of authority. Thus a great deal of unpaid work by anonymous
peer-reviewers adds value to published mathematical research under
the existing system. Any change to the system that caused this
aspect to be lost would be detrimental.
What impact do publishers' current policies on
pricing and provision of scientific journals, particularly "big
deal schemes", have on libraries and the teaching and research
communities they serve?
Publishers' pricing policies vary,
leading to wide ranges of journal prices within a single discipline.
The LMS policy is to achieve wide distribution through prices
that are easily affordable by institutional libraries, while still
ensuring a modest surplus that can be used to support mathematical
The fast increasing prices of many
scientific journals is a big issue for libraries and universities.
The response of many institutions is to maintain their budgets
by buying fewer titles, to the detriment of authors, readers and
"Big deal" schemes, whereby
publishers sell electronic access to bundles of journals on favourable
terms, can greatly increase the number of journals to which individual
researchers in institutions have access. But these schemes also
have some disadvantages, some of which are more marked in mathematics
due to the special nature of scientific research and publishing
in that subject.
(a) A lot of mathematical journals are published
by small publishers or learned societies who do not have the commercial
muscle or breadth of material and so get excluded from such schemes.
(b) Mathematical publications tend to have
a longer shelf-life than in some other subjects; since many "big
deal" schemes only offer access to a limited number of years
of back numbers of the journals, mathematical researchers can
(c) These schemes lock institutions into
deals for fixed sets of journals from a given publisher. Changing
research interests within an institution cannot be easily catered
for in this model, again to the detriment of researchers.
(d) Where the costs of such deals are apportioned
across all departments then even those departmental libraries
that would prefer not to take part still find that their relatively
small library budgets end up being used to pay for journals that
they would not necessarily wish to take.
It is possibly not irrelevant that several American
universities have recently rethought their agreements with Elsevier.
At the same time, groups of libraries
have formed consortia to share resources and reduce the overall
cost of journal purchases. While this is not, of itself, directly
disadvantageous to mathematics, the relatively small size of mathematical
publishers makes it difficult for them to negotiate with large
Both from the point of view of a
small publisher, and that of a learned society whose members are
active mathematical researchers, therefore, the LMS has concerns
about both these types of "big deal" schemes.
What action should Government, academic institutions
and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific
The scientific publishing market
is fundamentally international. A typical scientific journaleven
if its title identifies it with a specific geographic locationwill
have an international editorial board, publish papers written
by authors from many countries, use peer reviewers from different
countries, and sell the finished product to libraries and individuals
all over the world. There is therefore a limit to which this market
can be influenced by the UK Government, except in collaboration
with other countries. A similar remark applies to the UK academic
All the recent changes in the scientific
publishing market, such as the acquisition of Bertelsmann Springer
and then Kluwer Academic by Cinven and Candover, and the growth
in consortia arrangements, have in fact had the effect of reducing
competition. The trend is towards a small number of large, powerful,
commercial publishers selling to academic libraries grouped together
into large, powerful consortia.
One mechanism we would support is
the recent invitation to tender by JISC to enable established
journals to become freely accessible. We would point out, however,
that the amount on offer under this scheme is too low to have
a substantial effect.
What are the consequences of increasing numbers
of open-access journals, for example for the operation of the
Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes? Should
the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?
In the short term at least, many
researchers will be cautious of submitting their best work to
new open-access journals unless they are confident that RAE panels
and promotion panels will recognise the journals as being of high
quality. This concern does not apply to established open-access
journals. Ultimately, the RAE will not distinguish between journals
on type of accessmerely on perceived quality and standard
of peer-review. In time, open-access journals should have an edge,
in that citation rates should improve for papers that can be read
more easily and so are more likely to be cited.
In principle Open Access will bring
clear benefit to authors and to research funding bodies, through
having their research freely available, and to researchers, through
having free access to large numbers of journals. A growth in open-access
publication is inevitable, therefore, irrespective of moves taken
by Government or other interested parties. It is already the case
that researchers can get hold of many papers on the web, through
a rather ad hoc sequence of searches. Researchers in Germany have
access to an electronic version of inter-library loan scheme in
which a researcher who requests an article is emailed out a scanned
electronic copy. Within a few years most research material will
be available free in some web form despite any efforts of publishers
to prevent it.
However, no viable business model
for a high quality open access journal yet exists. Most current
open-access journals are supported by explicit or hidden subsidies.
For example, some are managed and archived entirely by full-time
academics employed by institutions. The model proposed by the
Public Library of Science
in which the costs are entirely covered by the author, would involve
page-charges of a magnitude far higher than any practising mathematician
in the world would be able to meet under current funding models.
If the Government wishes to promote open-access publishing, the
first step must be to develop sustainable models that can operate
over all subject areas.
It is arguably a role for Government,
working internationally, to ensure that the growth of open-access
publishing occurs in a way that maintains the crucial features
that the current publishing model brings to scientific research.
Free market anarchy will not necessarily work to improve scientific
publication, so some sort of systematic development should be
sought. Government agencies such as the research councils can,
by their policies, affect the quality control system (peer review);
other agencies have a role in ensuring secure archiving for access
in future centuries (a real necessity in mathematics).
How effectively are the Legal Deposit Libraries
making available non-print scientific publications to the research
community, and what steps should they be taking in this respect?
Document delivery by legal deposit
libraries works well and recent discussions with the British Library
suggest it is streamlining its service and promoting it more actively
than in the past. At present the Society charges a very small
amount through the CLA for reproduction rights fees, which are
collected by libraries. However, if electronic document delivery
by the legal deposit libraries were to become a serious alternative
to our own electronic journals, then we would need to reconsider
What impact will trends in academic journal publishing
have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?
Within mathematics, fraud and malpractice
are fairly uncommon, except possibly occasional charges of plagiarism.
It is very important that we preserve the structure of peer review
to retain this position. Learned societies are uniquely placed
to do this, being able to call upon high quality assistance from
internationally renowned researchers.
The standards of peer review within
mathematics are still well regarded and provide a good inhibitor
to anyone considering conducting a fraud or plagiarism in their
research publication. Learned society publishing sets a high standard
and in doing so, it provides a benefit to authors and research
funding bodies that they could not easily or cheaply replace.
There is a danger that a rapid expansion in open-access mathematical
publication would compromise these high standards of peer review.
The traditional international system
of publication in mathematics works well and is valued by the
Learned society publishers such as
the LMS play a dual role in the support of science, both by publishing
scientific material and by recycling the proceeds of their publishing
The advance of technology will inevitably
bring changes such as the advent, to some degree and in some form,
of open-access publishing. Indeed to some extent these changes
are already beginning to appear.
Scientific publication is by its
very nature an international activity, thus limiting the potential
influence of the Government if it is not to disadvantage UK-based
publishers and researchers.
To the extent that Government can
influence the future development of scientific publication, this
should be directed towards preserving as many as possible of the
positive aspects of the traditional system, while aiming to maximise
the accessibility of published research.
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