Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport


  This submission contains detailed answers to the questions asked by the Select Committee. It also contains additional background material provided by the DTI.

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?

  1.  Institutions, such as libraries, universities and PSREs are spending an increasing amount of money on subscriptions to journals. As the cost is increasing many institutions are struggling to cope. However, the volume of scientific publications produced each year is also increasing and publishers argue that the cost per article is actually falling.

  2.  Another issue that many institutions are unhappy with is the fact that they feel they have become "locked in" to deals with major publishers by which a range of titles (including on-line access) are bought for a set period of time—some institutions complained that as prices of these subscriptions rose, they had no choice but to cancel subscriptions to journals produced by smaller publishing houses. This was often very unpopular within the institution and was felt to be difficult to justify to the researchers affected. In addition, e-access to journals can then create a VAT liability—VAT liability for electronic works but not for printed works is an issue that has been raised by all sides.

  3.  In addition, researchers demand constant access to their journals—arrangements can not be put in place on a "when needed" basis and so libraries are often forced to take out long term subscriptions to a large number of journals.

  4.  However, many institutions are combining together to use their combined economic muscle to negotiate more cost effective deals for themselves, for example the NESTLI2 agreement. These are usually bought through a third party portal rather than from publishers directly. Many areas of Government still negotiate individual deals with publishers but discussions are underway to negotiate a similar economic deal for Government. Overall, Government needs to organize effectively to reduce the total purchasing costs and should actively ensure that other public bodies do so as well.

  5.  Nevertheless, we note that such deals are only possible to large organisations or consortiums to provide the critical mass to negotiate such a deal, and the current options such as this may not be possible to ensure wider public access, which is an important consideration for publicly funded research.

  6.  In addition, if greater public access is also desired the means by which the research is accessed needs to be considered, some members of the public may not have internet access whereas others may not be able to easily access a public or institutional library.

  7.  Consequently, accessibility of publications is a key issue, there is a strong possibility that as access to electronic journals, and the associated search engine technology becomes more and more common, a form of electronic distribution will improve both speeds with which new ideas can be disseminated and also increase the potential audience for each publication. Effective use of search engine technologies could have important implications as increasing amounts of research are becoming multi-disciplinary in nature. "Smart" search engine technology could search through large archives and identify potential areas of interest that may not be found through current search methods. For example, investigation of online access has found that papers that are available online are much more likely to be cited than papers which are classified as offline[339].

  8.  It is essential however that accessibility is not increased at the expense of the quality of the material. The choice of online or printed versions increases the accessibility to the information, and access should not be solely restricted to online. In addition access to commercially published information through libraries, with schemes such as those providing free or low cost access to Scientific Technical and Medical (STM) data in underdeveloped countries is an important factor. Under programs such as HINARI (Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative) and AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture) forty six publishers provide STM data to over one hundred such countries

  9.  Free Access to research papers via the internet would be particularly useful for key groups such as women taking career breaks. Constant developments within many subjects mean that people on career breaks may often lose touch with the major developments in their subject. For people taking long term career breaks, this can prove a major obstacle to re-entering their chosen subject. Access would not need to be immediate, for example, many journals allow full access of their publication archive after short periods of six months or so.

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

  10.  It is important that new models do not degrade the value of full peer group analysis or result in a fall in quality of published research. The provision of quality scientific information requires the widest range of contributors. Peer Group analysis is a vital component of the process and is required to verify that the material has merit and that the research is not flawed. The editing of text and establishing links to and from other articles by the publisher improves the quality and visibility of the article

  11.  The business model is under question with the traditional paid-for journal approach being challenged by Open Access where journals are available free to users, but authors have to pay a fee. Interaction between the scientific/academic community and the market will eventually work this out and there may well be room for both models or hybrid models. The high-risk period is the transition stage where we must take care that new models do not make traditional models unviable before we are sure that the new models are sustainable and capable of serving the best interests of the research and the scientific community.

  12.  There is some doubt that Open Access Models with their current pricing structure can be sustainable in the long term. Commercial Publishers argue that the current average cost of publishing one article is at least £2,000. This cost is increased even further by the number of articles that are rejected. Journals such as `Nature' can typically have a rejection rate of 85%, which increases the costs of publishing to a cost around £4,000.

  13.  The current average price for publishing an Open Access article is approximately £800 per article. The most successful of the current models (Public Library Of Science, Biomed Central), are currently heavily subsidized by charitable organizations. In addition the cost of rejecting articles will also need to be borne by Open Access publishers, but it is unclear how the current pricing models will accommodate this factor.

  14.  The true cost of any STM publication model should include the revenue spent on peer group evaluation, formatting, linking, profiling, and archiving the information.

  15.  Consequently, the DTI believes that there needs to be considerable more research into the long term stability and financial viability of the Open Access Business Model. The risk of distorting the market through short-term subsidies requires further consideration.

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?

  16.  The DfES does not have a specific policy on scientific publications, but institutions receive some support for access through funding made available to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). However, it would encourage HEIs and all partners to adopt a holistic approach and work together towards more open access to science research publications.

  17.  The DTI will be working closely with Research Councils UK (RCUK) on this issue.

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?

  18.  The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) sponsors the British Library but has no sponsor responsibilities for other Legal Deposit Libraries. The role of DCMS is necessarily limited and this answer relates solely to legally deposited material.

  19.  It is not yet a legal requirement for non-print material to be deposited. However, the Legal Deposit Act 2003, passed on 31 October 2003, gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations requiring the deposit of non-print material (such as CD-roms and e-journals) with a deposit library. This allows future forms of publications to be incorporated and ensures that the complexity of the non-print publishing industry is fully recognised.

  20.  DCMS will be responsible for drafting the regulations. Each set of regulations will be subject to a public consultation.

  21.  During the passage of the Act, DCMS Ministers gave assurances to the publishing community. One of these was that DCMS would set up a Legal Deposit Advisory Panel comprising members of the library and publishing communities, as well as independent experts. It would advise the Secretary of State on timing and drafting of regulations. It was made clear that no regulations would be made until such a Panel had been set up.

  22.  DCMS is consulting on setting up the Advisory Panel and aims to have it in place by the end of 2004. Work on regulations can begin then and legal deposit of non-print material is likely to start in 2005.

  23.  DCMS is not in a position, at present, to comment on the likely wording or detail of any regulations relating to the legal deposit of non-print material nor on what access arrangements will be made following the laying of those regulations. However, the regulations will cover access to legally deposited non-print material. Access arrangements will have to achieve an acceptable balance between the need for the libraries to store and preserve the material and the economic interests of the publishing community. For these reasons access will, inevitably, have to be limited in some cases. The availability to the research community of such legally deposited non-print material will be dependent on two factors:

    —  the wording of the relevant regulations; and within those constraints

    —  the policy of the deposit library

  24.  The establishment of a secure network between the deposit libraries is one of the proposals for maximising access. This would allow access to non-print material from any of the deposit libraries, following the deposit of just one copy. The details of how such a network may operate (eg. how many users would be allowed to access this material at any one time) would be subject to consultation and be covered in the regulations.

  25.  Our expectation is that the British Library's services will, as now, be priced to recover costs in accordance with the requirements of the Government's Fees and Charges Guide.

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

  26.  The overall level of scientific fraud and malpractice is difficult to judge. There have been major cases recently (for example, at Bell Laboratories) and less major cases have also been reported[340]. However, the crucial aspect is that these cases were picked up within the scientific community. As the publications process is a key part of research, any scientist suspected of malpractice may effectively find that his/her research career comes to an end. Certainly, the standing of any scientist amongst his/her peers would plummet. It is difficult to estimate any potential level of plagiarism within the publications process, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is rare. There is no evidence that we have seen which suggests that a switch to open access methods of publishing would have any impact on the level of plagiarism within science.

  27.  Software has been developed, and is continuing to be improved, which can be used to detect cases of scientific malpractice[341] and thus it is possible that a move to a publishing model whereby all papers are published electronically could actually reduce any such malpractice.


  28.  This background represents the combined views of the Office of Science and Technology and the Business Relations Unit of the DTI, which represents both the commercial and the not-for-profit publication sector.

  29.  The UK is a major contributor to the provision of Scientific Technical Medical (STM) publications. UK based, global publishers include Reed Elsevier, Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Blackwell and Taylor & Francis. A significant percentage of their revenue is generated from outside the UK, making them a major contributor to the UK knowledge economy.

  30.  Provision of Scientific information plays a major role in the success of UK Plc and the information provided is of high value to the academic community. The number of articles and users of scientific information has increased significantly over the last five years. There are a number of key issues that must be considered.


  31.  The whole journal process as it stands is a very effective way of ensuring quality control through the traditional peer review process. Not all research materials which are freely available on the Internet may have been reviewed by this peer review process, for example, many institutions publish "work in progress", or technical reports which will in all probability not have undergone such a comprehensive peer review process as would occur in a journal publication. However, the peer review process is still viewed as the best method of ensuring quality control. At least in the near future, any publishing process would have to ensure that this quality control aspect (most likely through peer review) was explicit. Current new open access publishers still maintain a strict quality control and effective peer review is still seen as a key part of the publishing process.

  32.  Traditional print publishing journals claim to offer additional customer support. For example, the most obvious example is that many journals allow both print and electronic version of the same journal or provide news and commentary within the journal. It is claimed that this "added value" offered is a secondary, but important aspect of any publishing model

  33.  If an archive includes both formally, peer-reviewed material and less formally reviewed work ("work in progress" or internal technical reports) then it is important that such distinctions are made clear. It is not clear the extent to which the importance to which peer-review is held within the scholarly community is appreciated amongst the wider public. For example, a recent poll commissioned by the Science Media Centre and Nature found that the majority of those people asked did not fully understand the nature of peer review in scientific publications[342].

  34.  It is imperative that the quality of research articles is maintained and not compromised by financial considerations. The leading journals have significant rejection rates and it is this that drives up the quality of the articles.

  35.  Government must be explicit that it sees the peer review process as crucial for the publishing process in the foreseeable future, whether in "traditional" print format or in an electronic journal.


  36.  It is important that the output of research, published in journals, is archived and will be available for the foreseeable future. Through traditional print methods a physical archive exists as part of the process, although it is noted that this process itself can be very expensive and may nevertheless lead to large deposits of physical information that are very difficult to effectively retrieve.

  37.  The requirement for the author to pay for publication could discriminate against those authors who cannot afford to have their work published. Authoring of research articles is a global activity and the burden of finding the additional funds required to publish could inhibit the breadth of contributors and thereby impact on the quality of research produced. Safeguards must be maintained so that the willingness to pay to have your work published should not be the deciding factor


  38.  A key component of any successful and wide-ranging Open Access strategy will be the quality of its technical standards—good technical standards mean that data can be searched and accessed in novel ways and must also ensure that articles and data can be archived in a way which is as "future proof" as possible. This issue is vital, particularly if the article is no longer available in the traditional printed format.

  39.  The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) promotes the use of standard metadata and produces software to help institutions to produce their own OAI compliant archives.

  40.  The STM segment of professional publishing has been one of the early adopters of Internet based technologies and business models. Substantial investments over a number of years have facilitated the migration of revenue streams from traditional channels to e-commerce. Further value added services that should emerge to facilitate research will require considerable investment and this will need to be included in the business models of both traditional and Open Access publishers.

  41.  A clear agreement on common standards which includes both the open access sector and the commercial publishing sector would be very useful to drive forward the development of knowledge management techniques to handle scientific research and which will have a major impact regardless of the future development of open access.

  42.  Government can play an important role in ensuring that all parties agree suitable technical standards. Along with the OAI, a number of other organisations are committed to ensuring common standards (such as, Dublin Core, MARC standards and even e-GIF, the government interoperability framework). Many of the technical standards being considered have developed over many years as standards for data classification, and are applicable to areas outside the open access debate such as knowledge management.

  43.  A proportion of the work on common standards is funded through Government funding through the Research Councils and Government can actively encourage such work to develop a clear set of standards which will have great benefits for the way papers can be accessed and used


  44.  This issue has been covered in detail in the response to the specific questions above.


  45.  Authors may lose the right to distribute their paper in electronic format (for example, by placing on a personal web site as a pdf file). Loss of copyright can also prevent the documents being placed on institutional or subject archival sites. However, Author's copyright is an issue that may not be fully understood by Authors, and an aura of misinformation often surrounds the process.

  46.  Currently publishers of scientific information are responsible for monitoring, investigating and resolving issues of copyright infringement or plagiarism. This essential function will still need to be performed by either publishers or authors under the Open Access system. This would involve additional cost and needs to be factored into the financial model. For copyright protection it is essential to ensure that mechanisms are in place to monitor and resolve occurrences of infringement or plagiarism that may occur.

  47.  We note that the Public Access to Science Act was introduced into the US House of Representatives by Representative Martin Sabo. This act would require that papers describing scientific research substantially funded by the US government would be excluded from copyright protection. This legislation has proved controversial.


  48.  For most academics, publication is the key process by which they can be judged by their peers and by which promotion (and future grants) are judged. Impact is crucial. Consequently, the whole issue around publishing content and its accessibility cannot be considered on purely economic terms (eg, the cost or business models) or even in terms solely of content (eg, peer review). As publishing is so fundamental to the research process, at its heart it may touch issues that cannot be argued or assessed in a totally rational, "economic" way. Given a proposed publishing model, it may turn out to be very difficult to predict what the outcome of its implementation will actually be. For example, the effect of seeing ones own work in a major print journal, rather than simply appearing on the web, may constrain some of the proposed business models that move to an electronic only content. Clearly, different authors will probably prefer different models and many feel very strongly that access to publicly funded scientific research should be available to all.

  49.  Often, it is found that added publishing value comes from Peer review, selecting relevant and quality controlled content, improving the language and presentation of that content in journals and maximizing its visibility. It is these activities that may contribute a large proportion of the costs of journal publishing. These costs will still exist if the current peer review and journal process is continued and electronic production and distribution will also have a cost associated with them. Consequently, the extent of cost savings when moving to wider open access publishing may not become apparent for some years.

  50.  Currently, the true cost of running an institutional archive may be masked with the operating overheads of an organisation compared with the clear up front costs of journal subscription. It is also most effective with sophisticated search and archiving software which can be expensive to develop, although software is available through open access organisations which in turn can heavily reduce costs (for example, managing the peer review process electronically).

  51.  The Journals model has developed in recent years. In particular, there have been major changes to respond to online availability giving rise to, for example, the site licence approach whereby access is available to all on-line publications for a group of users. There is already considerable flexibility in subscription costs which provide greater value for the user.

  52.  One possible business model is often described as the Hybrid Economic model[343]. Articles will be available only to subscribers unless the author chooses to pay, in which case it will be freely available on the web. This model could enable a transition from payment for access to payment for publication without endangering the viability of the journal itself.


  53.  The archiving and preservation of scientific information for future generations is an important factor. It is the responsibility of all publishers to continue to preserve information for the long term.

  54.  The risk of poorly kept archives or of information being lost following the failure of a publisher should be considered.

  55.  A key feature of open access is that researchers will deposit a copy of their journal paper into an institutional or subject archive. Control of copyright is often raised as a key issue preventing this happening on a wide scale. As discussed above, agreement on a common set of standards will be vital to maximize the impact of such an approach.

  56.  However, some disciplines have a highly effective approach to archiving, for example, the initiation but the use of institutional archiving is patchy. As awareness of open access issues grow, more educational and research establishments will encourage authors to deposit their article into an institutional archive. However, for this practice to become widespread, the issues surrounding copyright will need to be clarified and institutions, publishers and government should all play an important and active role in ensuring that this is widely understood[344].

February 2004

339   Free online availability substantially increases a paper's impact. Steve Lawrence, Nature, v 411, (6837) p521. Back

340   Nature, vol 427, 1 Jan 2004, page 3. Back

341   for examples, see The Times Higher, January 16, 2004, page 11. Back

342   Science Media Centre, Press Release, 2 February 2004. Back

343    For example, see the article by David Prosser from SPARC "From here to there: a proposed mechanism for transforming journals from closed to open access," Learned Publishing (2003) 16, 163-166". Back

344    The initiative archives physics, maths and computer science articles, but has received funding from the US National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, Cornell University and Los Alamos laboratory. Back

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