Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 98

Memorandum from the Institute of Food Science and Technology

1.  WHAT IMPACT DOES PUBLISHERS' CURRENT POLICIES ON PRICING AND PROVISION OF SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS, ETC?

  Pricing policies have had the effect of "biting the hand that feeds them" and many libraries have had to cut back substantially on the titles taken and the days of multiple copies of the same journal in different parts of a university are long gone. Rationalisation of the titles taken has become the norm with smaller or minority interests being squeezed out. This has limited the journals consulted by scholars and researchers and this has certainly not facilitated scientific rigour and scholarship.

  The cost of accessing scientific journals is undoubtedly high and it is also true that many scientists give their time to journals without charge, in the case of referees who play the key role in the peer-review process, or with a small honorarium, in the case of editors. Traditionally, as with the assessment of grant applications and membership of the boards of funding bodies, this has been part of the support that scientists have given to their community. Hence, the argument that publishers make considerable profits out of journals is valid. However, it must also be remembered that many journals are published by scientific societies and their publication often represents a significant proportion of the society's income, which is then recycled into the scientific community through the societies' activities. From this it is clear that there is a difference between publishers who produce journals for financial gain and publications, which are linked with professional bodies and subsidise wider scientific activities. In relation to this latter point, membership of a professional body can provide a "good deal" in relation to a beneficial subscription to the linked publication.

2.  WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF INCREASING NUMBERS OF OPEN ACCESS JOURNALS?

  The open access approach has the attraction that it would make the scientific literature more freely available to those who wished to use it. However, it would only be free at the point of access since someone would have to pay for it. In most credible models the funding would come from the authors and this, in effect, means the bodies funding the research. This creates a number of problems:

    (i)  Why should an author, who pays for the publication, readily permit the text of the paper to be criticised, changed or rejected?;

    (ii)  The pressure to accept papers would be much higher, especially as in the open access environment the web publishing of un-refereed papers would be very tempting;

    (iii)  There is likely to be a significant impact on the income of professional scientific societies that publish their own journals;

    (iv)  If author-paying journals became the norm it would tend to cut out authors from the third world who could not afford to pay for publication. The counter argument is that some authors would be allowed to publish without cost but this would either increase the costs to paying authors or limit the number of non-paying authors;

    (v)  The same problem applies to publications from the work of postgraduate students where research councils do not pay publication costs. Where would such publication costs be found since it is vital to provide postgraduate students with the satisfaction and excitement of publishing their findings? Would another class of non-paying author be created?; and

    (vi)  It is important to have a "level playing field" if future assessments of research quality continue to focus on the perceived quality of published research output.

  A very major problem with web publication is that since it is uncontrolled there is no peer review process and there can be no control of the validity of anything published through the vehicle of the Internet.

3.  WHAT IMPACT WILL TRENDS IN ACADEMIC PUBLISHING HAVE ON THE RISKS OF SCIENTIFIC FRAUD AND MALPRACTICE?

  These risks are increasing. In the same way that students can, if so minded, plagiarise material from the Internet and pass it off as their own, the same risks and opportunities occur for malpractice in the publication of scientific results. At the end of the day, any controls arise from the knowledge of the peer-reviewer and the integrity and principles of the researcher. These are personal characteristics, which would be impossible to "enforce" in a totally open system. IFST is firmly of the view that peer review is crucial and is the only appropriate quality check for scientific publication. IFST considers that there are no circumstances where authors should make public the results of their R&D without a quality check. It is also pertinent that membership of a professional scientific society encourages a professional approach in authors.

February 2004



 
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