Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Robin A Weiss, University College London

  I am an academic research scientist, Editor-in-Chief of the British Journal of Cancer, a conventional subscription journal owned by Cancer Research UK and published by Nature Publishing Group. I also serve on the editorial board of the Journal of Biology, an open access journal published by BioMed Central. However, I am responding to the Science and Technology Committee in an individual capacity.

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?

  Academic libraries and information networks are under increasing financial strain on account of:

    (a)  increasing proliferation of journals, including review journals;

    (b)  high costs of journals; and

    (c)  "big deal schemes" that do not necessarily match the needs of the institution.

  On the other hand, the introduction of electronic format for journals and the availability of personal computers to virtually every student and academic staff member means that few hard copy volumes need to be purchased, less physical space is needed for conventional libraries, and fewer librarian staff are needed (although they need to be replaced by IT staff).

What action should Government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?

  Monopolies or oligopolies are dangerous for a competitive market. Otherwise, Government should stay clear, but should provide greater funding for university infrastructure, including libraries and access to scholarly information.

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?

  Open access journals are neutral in terms of the RAE and other selection processes. All new journals take time to acquire impact factors, but that applies equally to new conventional journals. RAE assessors are enjoined to judge the content of the individual 4 publications submitted per researcher, but the prestige of the journal inevitably influences the assessment.

  The Government should support the trend for open access journals to the extent of encouraging Research Councils and other funding agencies to recognise fees for publishing as a proper component of research grants.

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?

  No comment.

What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

  Provided open access journals follow similar guidelines of peer review as do conventional journals (which is currently the case in biomedical sciences), the quality of scientific publications and the avoidance, as far as possible, of plagiarism and theft of data should remain much the same or possibly be reduced because of the open access. Publications generally have little impact on other kinds of fraud or malpractice.


  Many publications produced by learned societies appear to be half way between conventional journals and open access. They are available on inexpensive subscription to members rather than being wholly open; they frequently have page charges per publication in addition to subscription. Many of them are highly regarded in their specialist fields. This type of journal should not be ignored by the Inquiry.

February 2004

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