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
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
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?
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.