Memorandum from the Institute of Food
IFR is the UK's only integrated basic science
provider focussed on food and is sponsored by the Biotechnology
and Biological Sciences Research Council. We offer the following
comments in response to the questions raised in this Inquiry.
Researchers and research institutions require
straightforward, open and flexible access to the scientific literature
relevant to their work, and robust and transparent mechanisms
for manuscript submission, refereeing and publication. The present
system of scientific publishing has its origins in a science culture
and a technology environment very different from those of today
and critical reappraisal is timely and justified.
"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 do not necessarily serve the best
interests of their customers. The goals of the commercial publisher
are not always easily reconcilable with the interests of a research
institution and indeed some publishers appear to recognise few
of the normal obligations to paying customers. "Big deal"
schemes may impose choices on the institutional purchaser, who
may be forced to subscribe to a "bundle" of journal
titles, some of which may be unwanted or irrelevant to institutional
needs, in order to obtain the key journals that are really required.
To cite just one simple example: it is not possible to subscribe
to the journal "Biopolymers" alone; the sister titles
must be bought too.
Complicated deals and lack of customer support
from publishers lead to many non-productive working-hours in libraries,
from the senior negotiating level right through to day-to-day
administration. For example, the European Molecular Biology Organisation
(EMBO) has combined "EMBO Journal" and "EMBO Reports"
and dramatically increased the subscription price to fund schemes
for the candidate EC countries. Librarians have had to consult
with their own customers before daring to cancel such a key subscription.
Many UK libraries have still to receive a print copy of "Nature"
this year (as at 5 Feb 2004) and the "Nature" website
has been unreliable for much of 2004 so far. There is often substantial,
unnecessary work involved in maintaining the links to commercial
e-journals because publishers will not necessarily advise customers
when their servers change.
It is our view that mechanisms of access to
the primary scientific literature can be improved substantially.
The limitations and restrictions outlined above have the following
(i) Researchers may not be aware of work
they cannot easily find and read. This will have an impact on
research programmes and publications (though impossible to quantify),
if researchers are unaware of other relevant work. Anecdotal evidence
already suggests that literature pre-1995, which falls outside
the NESLI deal for ScienceDirect, is accessed disproportionately
less frequently than literature post-1995.
(ii) More generally, anyone or any institution
that does not have a personal journal subscription or access to
a well-resourced science and technology library cannot at present
benefit most effectively from the wealth of scientific information
that could be available to them. This includes not only schools
and colleges, with clear (though unquantifiable) implications
for science education, but also industry, especially SMEs, with
implications for science and technology awareness and uptake in
"What action should Government, academic
institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive
market in scientific publications?"
Until relatively recently, and in particular
until the advent of electronic publishing, the majority of researchers
and research institutions took little interest in publication
mechanisms. IFR's view is that the following changes should now
be encouraged by academic institutions and by Government, but
that careful consideration should be given to the potentially
serious impact on learned societies, where publication activities
generate important revenue in pursuit of scientific and educational
(i) Researchers / research organisations
should retain copyright for all their written output, irrespective
of whether these are primary papers, reviews or book chapters.
(Copyright in illustrations, diagrams and component parts of publications
is potentially lucrative to publishers, but time-wasting and irritating
to researchers and their organisations, who may have to seek permission
to reproduce material they generated in the first place.)
(ii) Researchers should be encouraged to
pay-to-publish rather than pay-to-read. This would create a direct
economic relationship between researchers and publishers and allow
open reading access for all. Mechanisms will need to be put in
place for publication costs to be met (for example from research
grants); these costs could in the long run be met in part (on
an organisation-wide basis) through savings in journal subscriptions.
We recognise that a drawback of this system is the disincentive
to publish that may affect those (for example, in developing countries)
who cannot afford the costs, or to whom publications are not a
primary output; appropriate mechanisms need to be evolved to deal
with this issue.
The VAT rates applied to electronic information
should not be higher than for print.
(iii) Funding bodies should insist that publications
arising out of funded work are properly peer-reviewed and archived
on an open-access server. Robust mechanisms need to be established
to ensure that the status of publications (in particular, whether
or not they are refereed) is clear.
These developments would act towards redressing
the present monopoly position occupied by scientific publishers,
which the existing copyright arrangements and subject hierarchy
of journals essentially guarantee. The traditional publishing
model does not satisfy current needs. It is the article itself
that mattersits quality, trustworthiness, timeliness and
its availability. To complement traditional scientific papers,
researchers also need good, broad, full-text databases with sophisticated
search engines. If a scientist needs a mass spectrum but cannot
remember where he saw it, then it is a database that will help
"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?"
At a formal level, impact factors have already
been removed from the Research Assessment Exercise. At the informal
level individual researchers still perceive the `quality' of the
journal in which they publish as the benchmark for their success
and consequently assume that their assessors will too. Not all
researchers are sufficiently aware of the limitations of impact
factors or of the data on which they are based and the Institute
for Scientific Information (ISI), which calculates the impact
factors, itself warns against overemphasis on citation data.
Open-access journals may well have a beneficial
effect on the assessment process. The volatility that they bring
to the journals market may end the perception that science is
judged by its book cover.
"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?"
IFR supports fully the policies of the Funding
Councils' Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and of the
British Library in respect of the deposit of non-print scientific
publications and their ready availability to the research community.
"What impact will trends in academic journal
publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?"
We see no obvious reason for open-access, electronic
publishing to introduce any greater risk of scientific fraud than
conventional publishing, provided that the usual standards of
security applied to electronic information transmission are applied
and that there are no loopholes by which manuscripts can bypass
elements of the refereeing or acceptance process. In principle,
plagiarism could be easier to detect electronically than in print.
The correction of errata is also more straightforward. An appropriate
editorial policy needs to be adopted in cases where serious error
or fraud is uncovered; this might take the form of "flagging"
the paper in the database, rather than outright removal from the