Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from ICSTI


  ICSTI, The International Council for Scientific and Technical Information is the only international organisation representing all interests in STI. It was founded in 1952 as a grouping within the then International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), now known as the International Council for Science.

  In 1984 ICSTI became a scientific associate of ICSU, a change of status, not of effect, to enable ICSTI to welcome private sector organisations in Membership.

  Today ICSTI has over 50 Member organisations spread throughout the world, the majority of whom are themselves representative organisations, so the effective influence of ICSTI is much wider than the number of Members.

  As befits an organisation founded in 1952 ICSTI has been present during all the changes that have affected STI for over 50 years.

  The full details of ICSTI's activities and a complete list of Members can be found at the ICSTI web site


  ICSTI would like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that scientific publishing, like scientific activity itself, is a global activity, of which UK production and consumption are a significant part. Although the language of Science is increasingly coincident with English, there is substantial activity in other languages and substantial investment by national authorities and commercial publishers in local language publication. The global nature of science publication will influence the amount of specific activity that the UK might undertake to support the area but, as a major player, the UK can certainly influence developments if a coherent policy is adopted.

  There can be no doubt of the ease and efficiency brought to scientific publication by developments in ICT (information and communication technologies). Scientists have been in the forefront of ICT development, the Internet was originally created by and for scientists and they have been quick to realise the potential for communication and co-operation. It was also a scientist that created the World Wide Web. The object of both of these efforts was to use ICT to enhance scientific communication, the foundation of scientific progress.

  It is easy to be distracted by the potential of technology. Despite the rapid changes brought about by technology, scientific information is more than just creation and diffusion, there is a significant and highly important element of quality to be considered. Added to this is the competitive pressure brought about by the increasingly important relationship between scientific progress and economic development. Jointly these requirements have increased the pressure on the participants, the scientific authors, the publishers of journals and other publications, the administrators of research, to marry the technology, the economics and the quality in the creation of and in providing permanent access to the record. There is also the responsibility of the developed world, of which the UK is part, to ensure the availability of the record of science to less developed regions.


  A startling and often overlooked fact of scientific publishing is that, in economic terms, the supply and demand communities overlap considerably. The two ends of the "value chain" are connected as authors consume and build upon results in the record. It is easy to concentrate only on the supply side of the economic equation. The data available on the number of articles published, the turnover of the publishers, the number of scientists, the relationship between citation count and impact factor and other elements make it possible to perform studies which concentrate on those aspects. In fact the demand side is where many of the major issues reside. Authors, as the creators of the record, libraries as the suppliers of the record to authors and administrators as the primary funders of both authors and libraries in academic research are fundamental to the whole process. The requirements of these groups as demand side players and their opinions on the developments, in this capacity, are essential inputs to any analysis.

  A further important element of the economic analysis is that the availability of the product, scientific information, is not exhausted by its consumption. In fact its value can be enhanced by its use.

  Perhaps the most influential change taking place in scientific information is the move from the long established sequence of:

    writing > submission to a journal > peer refereeing > commentary > re-writing > re-submission and finally publication in a [subscription based] journal.

  Increasingly the journal is available only in electronic form on a network.

  This sequence is prolonged by the cycle of citation and use of the published results.

  It is being progressively altered to a looser sequence of:

    writing > loading on a local or subject based server > peer commentary and perhaps use of the results > re-working of the initial writing > submission to peer review (which may be an "open" review, in effect part of the commentary process) and finally loading on a server as a refereed product or published in an Open Access or other form of publication.

  These two processes are not mutually exclusive, they exist in parallel, with many authors using both channels. The development of the "alternative" route has given rise to claims such as returning the publication cycle to the authors and extending the concept of open source being included in the discussion. Overlaid on these are questions concerning intellectual property, the rights to re-use, long term preservation of non-paper materials, availability to non-subscribers and the quality of "non-conventional" publishing. Another change is that many of the newer publication vehicles are financed, at least in part, by author fees, a change in revenue source but not necessarily new income in the publishing cycle. A further effect of the recent changes is to make the identification of the "final" product of research more difficult. The process has become more of a continuum, which shortens the former cycle of more formal publishing and substitutes more "work in progress" type publication.

  All of these activities should be seen as progress, a valuable and useful process, but in science publication the changes must be seen in the context of the importance of the creation, diffusion and use of the record of Science, a more important process of potentially wider benefit.

  At this point in time the technologies which have already influenced change in scientific publishing are reaching a point where they can alter the whole format of "publication" Increasingly teaching and research are using the power of networks to provide live and interactive presentation and discussion forums. The proceedings of these are then made available as part of the scientific record. Identifying, indexing and avoiding quality problems with such products present significant challenges. In addition, scientific data, which forms a significant part of scientific publishing, is being created in interactive form with co-loaded programs allowing manipulation and re-use of the materials.

  The economic framework for Scientific publishing has changed rapidly. In order to make better use of limited resources, libraries have increasingly used consortia purchasing arrangements for their journal requirements. This has had the effect of creating shortfalls in publisher revenues, especially for the professional societies who's raison d'etre was publishing their members work. This has led to more co-operation amongst publishers of this kind to ensure the exposure of their materials to the audience of other scientists. There has also been "package deal" marketing which requires institutions to lease access to the complete range of a publishers offer in order to get special discounts. These deals have been criticised because they include, in some cases, a built in price increase over the period of the arrangement. In addition, these arrangements can inhibit the level of services the libraries can provide.

  In the commercial sector there have been mergers and acquisitions, to the point where the UK Office of Fair Trading felt it necessary to examine the sector and to conclude "there is evidence to suggest that the market for STM journals may not be working well" The Office goes on to say: "Journals are the principal means by which new scientific knowledge is disseminated. Their purchase and content is supported to a large extent by public funding to higher education and research institutions. Such funding is appropriate given the "public good" aspect of libraries and the important wider public benefit relating to the publishing of research findings. The STM journals market, however, has particular characteristics that are relevant to an assessment of whether it is working effectively to provide good value for money:"

  This statement is based on a view of a rapidly changing old model of printed publication. As we mentioned earlier we will see less and less of this type of publication because including such things as video, audio, scientific data, and computer software in articles means better communication of ideas. It also means one can not use traditional paper and ink publication methods, a change already understood by both the commercial and the non-commercial sectors. Concomitant with this are the issues of protecting intellectual property and public domain availability of scientific information. This latter issue has been the basis for much of the commentary about scientific publications in recent times, based on arguments that the results of publicly funded research should be made freely available and that publicly funded institutions should not have to pay to get access to the results of work which has been funded from the public purse.

  While these arguments are valid because more and more R&D is publicly funded, there remain the issues surrounding the impact and implied quality and value of the journals where scientists prefer to submit their results for publication. There is a delicate balance to be maintained between the choice of publication and the role of the public institutions in directing that results be freely available.


  ICSTI, as an international body, cannot presume to suggest to the Parliament of a sovereign country how they should manage their affairs. ICSTI wishes to draw the attention of the Committee to the wider role that the UK's activities in this area play in the creation, dissemination and use of the results of scientific endeavor. Specifically ICSTI would draw the attention of the committee to the following:—

    —  Scientific Publication is a world-wide activity, developed nations have a responsibility to assist the developing world to get the benefit of research;

    —  English is a de-facto language of Science, however, diversity is important and helpful to the widest dissemination of information;

    —  Technology is and increasingly will change the format, content and means of distribution of the results of research, allowance should be made for the funding of this change; and

    —  The area of scientific publication is undergoing change, this is to be expected and may not require any intervention at the level of public policy in order to achieve the overall goal of improving the quality and availability of the record of Science.

  This submission is made to alert the Committee to the context in which the enquiry takes place and in the hope and expectation that the Committee will take into account in its deliberations the wider role of Science and specifically Research and Development in the development of the world's knowledge.

February 2004

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