Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor A Neil Barclay, University of Oxford


  I have been working in full time research for the Medical Research Council in Oxford for 25 years and have published widely in scientific journals in my speciality Immunology. I will comment on some of the areas requested.


  I would like to see scientific journals freely available on the Internet. Journals should still be divided into interests and peer review is essential. This trend is occurring. I envisage halting the print versions of most journals (except the magazine type such as Nature). This should lead to large-scale savings in printing, binding, storage, postage. Copyright should reside with the authors and they should be free to send out PDF files of their work.


    (a)  How can we provide a more competitive market in scientific publications? One of the problems is that certain journals have very high profile, are oversubscribed in terms of submissions and can be selective on various grounds including perceived trendiness and not just scientific quality. If journals went only to on-line then some of the pressures of space would be decreased and some of the arbitrariness removed. Paying a charge on publication would help to equate costs with number of papers published.

    (b)  Open access journals and the RAE? I fully support open access journals. Government funds much of the research and it is better value to make it available to the greatest audience. The current process restricts access on the basis of the commercial interests of publishers. The RAE provides pressure for scientists to publish in the most highly rated journals. This is extremely wasteful as a high percentage of papers are rejected because of space on the grounds of specific interest according to selection of editors. These then get resubmitted, re-reviewed etc. The RAE should be encouraged to ask referees to look at some of the publications instead of where they are published as long as they are in mainline reputable and refereed journals. Similarly the Research Councils should be encouraged to encourage referees to look beyond where the papers are publihsed.

    (c )  How to change the culture? Given that scientists write the papers, submit them in a form almost ready for publication, referee them and then pay for them, we are not getting good value out of many of our publishers. I think the way forward is for the open access journals to be encouraged. Further pressure can be maintained if scientists refuse to referee for journals that charge excessively but this is difficult to orchestrate. It seems that charges vary dramatically between journals.

    (d)  Fraud and malpractice? The key is to ensure peer review. One might imagine it would be easier to copy from on line papers but I think this will be offset by the ease in which one can check against the published papers.

    (e)  One important element is to maintain the journals on line in the long term. If open access occurs and subscription income disappears then a different source of funds will be required to maintain and develop long term storage. The storage of the genome sequences worked well as a joint venture between Japan, Europe (EMBL) and the US (NCBI). I would like to see literature storage shared in the same way and I suggest that joint ventures with the US National Library of Medicine are instigated as they have been the leaders in on-line access to scientific literature through the excellent PUBMED database.

February 2004

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