Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich

  The John Innes Centre is a Plant and Microbial Research Institute, core funded by the BBSRC


  1.1  JIG urges the S&T committee to welcome the general principles behind the new open-access models of science publishing, and to endorse the recent experiments for funding them through an "author pays" mechanism.

  1.2  JIC encourages the committee to recommend that RCUK, and other publicly-funded grant-awarding bodies, should adopt a policy that will, over time, require publicly-funded research results to be freely available to both scientists and society at large. They should also be urged to recognize that the costs of disseminating scientific results are an intrinsic part of the cost of doing the research.

  1.3  JIG recommends that the committee strongly reinforce the shift, in RAE/IAE exercises and in appointment, promotion and tenure reviews, away from attention to the box, or journal, in which a paper is placed and towards the individual article as the appropriate unit of merit. RCUK and charities will need to be encouraged to allocate resources for training, awareness and the shifting of entrenched attitudes in this area.


  2.1  John Innes Centre (JIG), in line with its sister institutes, considers that neither the scientific community, nor society at large, are well served by the current model of scholarly publishing. JIG believes that the structure of current journal practices and publishers, and "reader pays" access, although well established have led to major emerging problems.

  The appetite of the public for easy access to the results of publicly funded primary scientific research eg in relation to BSE, BMO, stem cells, cancer breakthroughs, HRT, is frustrated by the "reader pays" model.

  Journal prices have seen unsustainable growth. In the decade from 1990 to 2000, the cost of medical journals has increased by 250%. This is 5 times the retail price index inflation figure[325].

  There has been major consolidation in the STM publishing world. The Office of Fair Trading has indicated, "There is evidence to suggest that the market for STM journals may not be working well". Reed Elsevier has just announced record profits this year of more than £lbn (on journal sales off2.2bn) [326] JIG, along with many comparable scientific institutions, cannot sustain the corresponding library budget increases and is thus forced to reduce easy access to scholarship.

  2.2  JIG strongly supports the various recent initiatives to test alternative scientific communication models. We endorse the position outlined in the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, 2003[327] and the Berlin Declaration[328] and the position of the Welcome Foundation, Howard Hughes Foundation, National Institute of Health, JISC and the Max Planck Society in relation to these.


  Our evidence is submitted within the context outlined above in Section 2. Our comments relate directly to the questions posed by the committee and are endorsed by the Heads of the JIG Science Departments, the JIG Library Steering Group, the two Senior Scientists of the Sainsbury Laboratory (Prof JDG Jones FRS and Prof. DG Baulcombe FRS) and by the JIG Centre Management Board.

3.1  What impact do publishers' current policies and provision of scientific journals, particularly "big deal schemes" have on libraries and the teaching and research communities they serve?

  3.1.1  The higher-than-inflation increase in STM journals prices has resulted in large scale cancellations of titles at JIG over the last decade. Policy on electronic versions varies greatly, in some cases to the detriment of our library users (a recent example is the EMBO Journal/EMBO reports' price hike of 100 per cent on obligatory electronic access).

  3.1.2  Consolidation in the numbers of STM publishers has led to dominant market leaders with little effective competition. This has encouraged the use of "big deals", which are not helpful to the consumer. JIG had to purchase access to 1300 journals in an Elsevier/Science Direct bundle, when we only make use of about 200 titles. We note with some disquiet that the University of California library system and Cornell University have still not been able to reach an acceptable agreement on access to the Cell bundle of journals from Elsevier.

  3.1.3  JIG believes that the charging of VAT on electronic access to journals but not on hard copy is a major disincentive to the general broadening of the use of the scientific literature through electronic access.

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

  3.2.1  JIG, along with its sister institutes, recognizes the economic pressures on its library that have resulted from the continued consolidation of STM publishers. While the Office of Fair Trading may be preparing to reopen its 2002 review, we also believe that the Open Access model will eventually bring welcome competition, particularly at the top end of the market. Flagship journals like J. Biology (BMG) and Biology (PLoS) are providing new outlets for the very best research papers produced.

  3.3  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?

  3.3.1  JIG considers that the increasing number of journals that adhere to open-access principles is good for scientists, good for science publishing and good for the general public. We welcome not only the new open access only publishers such as BioMed Central (BMG) and Public Library of Science (PLoS), but also the recent moves by established journals such as Development (Company of Biologists) and Nucleic Acid Research (Oxford University Press) to experiment with the open-access model.

  3.3.2  JIG firmly believes that the conventional allocation of copyright to the publisher is no longer in the interest of effective science communication. Copyright is rarely exploited or enforced, and many journals (eg Nature) now allow authors to post PDF files of papers on their web site, making copyright ineffectual. We believe authors' retention of copyright in the open-access model is a more desirable situation. This, together with multiple electronic depositories will increase the opportunities for effective data mining and will increase the chance that important papers will be noticed and cited.

  3.3.3.  JIG shares the concerns of many scientific institutions that the potential superficial use of journal impact factors in RAE/IAE exercises and promotion, appointment and tenure reviews could be both misleading and bad for science. We welcome the focus that the open-access model puts on the individual paper rather than the box or journal, in which it is placed. As citation rates for papers are not related to the impact factor of the journals that house them (4), this means that more attention must be paid to the paper as the unit of scientific merit, along with its potential associated trail of citations, downloads, Faculty of 1000 rating etc. We do not desire a situation in which students and postdocs are put-off by the fear that open access might mean lack of due recognition.

  3.3.4  The emerging financial model for open-access journals is that of "author pays". JIG urges that such a "dissemination fee" is recognized and built into the costs of research. There must, however, be some provision for allowing amateurs, researchers with no grants, and third world research scientists who cannot afford to pay, to still publish in open access journals. (see Recommendations 1-3 above)

3.4  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?

  3.4.1  JIG considers that its access to electronic document delivery is hampered by current licensing restrictions. Open-access models will mean increased focus on efficient electronic deposit libraries. JIG shares concerns about the permanency of open-access journals, and about electronic access to the older literature, and we urge that national depositories eg the British Library are adequately funded.

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

  JIG does not consider that the chances of fraud and malpractice are increased by the specific mechanics of open-access journals, as long as effective peer-review systems are retained. If anything, the open availability of articles may well make fraud more easily detectable and therefore less likely.

February 2004

325   BMJ. 382 (2004) 1-3. Back

326   Richard Wray in the Guardian 19 Feb 2004. Back

327 Back

328   Nature (2003) 426; 495 Back

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