Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the International Union of Crystallography


  1.  The real value to research of scientific literature has enormously increased in the past decade through technical innovations and the rise of the Web.

  2.  The IUCr is a specialist learned-society publisher that has worked especially hard to provide such added value in the field of crystallography.

  3.  Such improvements do not come cheaply. However, we have succeeded by exploiting the full benefits of new technology in keeping our production costs down.

  4.  Despite this, pressure on finite acquisitions budgets may leave libraries unable to afford our journals in spite of their high intrinsic value.

  5.  The open-access funding model helps in this respect because it removes the cost burden from the end user, as well as making the results of scientific research available to the widest possible audience.

  6.  Assessment, selection and improvement of the content of scientific articles by peer review must remain paramount in future developments of scientific journals.

  7.  Of equal importance for the growing numbers of journals that are available only in electronic format is the need to ensure their availability to future generations.

  8.  Any economic restructuring of the scientific journals market (eg to promote open access) must guarantee the quality and longevity referred to in (6) and (7)).

  9.  Learned-society publishers have an especially important role to play in defining and maintaining the standards of academic research, and in promoting and distributing the research literature in their own fields of interest.


  1.  The survival of small and learned-society publishers must be encouraged to sustain the diversity of producers of scientific journals.

  2.  Adequate funding must be made available to allow an orderly transition towards open-access provision.

  3.  Government should actively support measures that ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of electronic-only contributions to the literature.


  1.  The International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) has operated as a learned-society publisher in the UK for over half a century. Over the last decade we have embraced the opportunities presented by electronic publishing, and have pioneered novel methods of data handling and analysis as part of our quality control and content delivery. We welcome the opportunity to present to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee the views of a particular learned-society publisher on the present state of scientific publications.

  2.  We are members of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), and are aware of the submission presented by that Association to this Committee. This document was prepared independently of the ALPSP submission, and we feel that it complements the Association's overview by illustrating the concerns, opinions and practices of just one among the many diverse societies it represents. We shall make reference in this document to the ALPSP submission where we feel that it particularly well reflects our own position.

  3.  In this document we explain who we are, and describe our purpose and mission. We explain our economic basis, as a scientific organisation committed to maximising the accessibility and usefulness of research literature at the lowest attainable cost consistent with maintaining the highest academic standards, and we describe in some detail the considerable value that we add to the articles we publish. We discuss our position regarding the adoption of new funding models for scientific journals, and we consider some of the financial and technical implications associated with the new players who might take part in scientific publishing activities through open-access or self-publication initiatives. Throughout, we shall try to present our own response to these initiatives. We shall then present our own thoughts on the specific questions raised in the Committee's press release announcing the scope of this inquiry.


  4.  The International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) is an international scientific union incorporated in Geneva. It was formed from an International Crystallographic Committee in 1946, and was admitted in 1947 to the International Council of Scientific Unions. Its primary objectives are laid down in its statutes as


    to promote international cooperation in crystallography;


    to contribute to the advancement of crystallography in all its aspects, including related topics concerning the non-crystalline states;


    to facilitate international standardization of methods, of units, of nomenclature and of symbols used in crystallography;


    to form a focus for the relations of crystallography to other sciences.

  5.  From its outset the Union decided to undertake the publication of the results of primary crystallographic research in a journal of international reach. It first published Acta Crystallographica in 1948 under an arrangement with Cambridge University Press; publishing arrangements were transferred to the Danish publisher Munksgaard in 1951 and publication has continued in collaboration with Munksgaard (now part of Blackwell Scientific Publishing) under the Blackwell Munksgaard imprint.

  6.  To keep pace with the growth of crystallography as a scientific field, the IUCr now publishes seven titles and is considering launching an eighth. Details of the current journals publishing programme are given in the Annex. All of the titles are available online. One is published only in that format (Acta Crystallographica Section E: Structure Reports Online). It is likely that new journals will be published only in online form.

  7.  The partnership with Blackwell Scientific Publishing is unusual among learned-society publishers. The IUCr is fully responsible for the editorial management of the journals and for their production and typesetting, and it publishes the online editions on its own server. Blackwell provides services for managing subscriptions, distribution of hard-copy editions, and selling online access through large-scale consortial packages. Since the beginning of 2004 it also provides a second platform for online access. However, the IUCr online server provides richer content to the target scientific readership of the journal than is available from the Blackwell Synergy online platform.

  8.  The IUCr remains unique among scientific unions in operating as an active learned-society journals publisher. It is a member in the UK of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers. As an organisation it also has wider roles in representing the interests of scientists and determining science policy: within its own scientific field, through a structure of Committees and Scientific Commissions; and between scientific disciplines, through its membership of the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Council for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI), and the Committee for Scientific Data (CODATA).


  9.  Crystallography is the branch of science dedicated to the study of molecular and crystalline structure. Its fundamental theories are based on atomic physics and mathematics. Applications of crystallographic research cross the boundaries of all conventional scientific disciplines. Research based on or using crystallography is today of immense importance in such diverse fields as biotechnology, pharmaceutics, genomics, semiconductor research, nanotechnology, materials science, metallurgy, mineralogy. The elucidation by X-ray crystallography of the structure of DNA is acknowledged as one of the milestones of 20th-century science; more recently, fullerene chemistry, high-temperature superconductors and the design of antiviral AIDS medication are among the topics in which crystallography has played a vital role.

  10.  The cross-disciplinary nature of crystallography ensures that our journals have potential reach to a very wide readership. Certainly we have no difficulty in attracting papers, and the existing seven titles each have their own specialised topic area, so that individual titles may appeal to specific research communities. However, the cross-disciplinary nature of the subject has its drawbacks. Relatively few universities support formal full crystallography departments. Our journals may be purchased by or on behalf of departments of chemistry or physics, and be vulnerable when budget restraints cause departmental librarians to focus on "chemistry" or "physics" journals and consider crystallography to be an ancillary or merely "related" subject. Typical print runs for the journals have been around 1,000 copies (there is some variation by title). In common with all scientific publishers, we have been seeing a continuing erosion in the number of subscriptions, with a persistent annual downward trend of 3-4% (although this is less severe than for many other journals).

  11.  With its particular focus on the international dissemination of scientific knowledge, the IUCr wishes to see its journals widely read throughout the world. Traditionally its main subscriber base has been in Europe and North America, but the World Directory of Crystallographers lists active scientists on every continent and in many developing or small nations. Penetration of the journals into Asia, South America and Africa remains below what we would like to see. The IUCr maintains a Journals Grants Fund for subsidising institutions unable to meet the full cost of subscriptions. This still places a financial burden on the qualifying institutions to meet the residual cost (which can be up to 75% of the list price); and since it is administered from the IUCr's central funds it is both limited in extent and carries an administrative overhead.

  12.  We perceive the attractiveness of online delivery of content to the user's desktop. This is especially beneficial in remote countries where the cost and delivery time of hard-copy distribution are both high. Additionally, we have carried out a complete digitization of the back-catalogue of our printed journal content to 1948. Delivery of this material online benefits new institutional subscribers, and is perhaps especially important again in offering access to archival material in developing nations.


  13.  In seeking to further the cause of its science, the IUCr is not motivated by profit maximization. However, it does need to operate at a surplus to ensure

    —  the health and resilience of its commercial operation (including the employment of its 20 staff members in the UK)

    —  research and development of its publishing activities

    —  investment for future growth

    —  support of educational activities

  14.  The IUCr, as a scientific union, obtains a modest income from fees paid by National Adhering Bodies (typically crystallographic associations or professional science bodies with national standing). The Adhering Bodies form the membership of the IUCr; we do not have individual memberships, and consequently there is no income from individual membership fees.

  15.  The major part of our income comes from our publishing programme (the seven journal titles described in the Annex and a small number of reference books and monographs). The journals are sold on the basis of annual subscriptions, mostly to institutions such as university libraries, science departments, government and industrial laboratories. A small proportion is sold at reduced price to individuals. Since the beginning of 2004 we have introduced a hybrid open-access model in which individual articles may be made available to non-subscribers via the Internet, where the costs of production of such articles have been met voluntarily by the authors.

  16.  Electronic editions offer great benefits in terms of delivery costs, but only very modest savings in production costs. We therefore price subscriptions for the electronic editions only of our journals at 90% of the cost of print subscriptions to reflect this. (On the other hand, print subscriptions automatically include access rights to the online content at no additional cost.) The bulk of the cost of producing the journals remains in the labour-intensive addition of value to the author's submission (as detailed in paragraphs 18-41 below).

  17.  We perceive from our current subscription renewals that there is still active demand for print subscriptions, either because of conservatism or fears about long-term preservation. New journals in electronic-only format are popular, but existing print subscriptions have not collapsed. We currently exercise a policy of bundling new titles (which are available in electronic form only) with subscriptions to existing titles. This means that print production is still a factor in subsidising the pricing of new titles. However, in spite of this apparent conservatism, there is an obvious concern that if we were to provide all our electronic editions as fully open-access (that is, free of charge to the recipient), there would be an immediate collapse of print production and income from subscriptions.


  18.  Scientific publishers believe that they add value to the scientific articles in their journals through many services they provide. In this section we itemise the ways in which publication in our journals enhances the value of the reported research.

  19.  First and foremost, the Editorial Boards of the journals ensure that each article undergoes a detailed and exhaustive peer review. It is generally accepted that scrutiny and moderation by fellow scientists of experience and expertise helps eliminate gross errors, misinterpretations and misrepresentations in the scientific literature. The first recommendation of the 1996 ICSU Press/UNESCO Conference on Electronic Publishing in Science[53] was that:

    The Conference overwhelmingly recommends that strict peer review should be applied to all scientific material submitted for publication in electronic journals.

  For the journals of the IUCr, each article is handled by a Co-editor who is responsible for appointing referees, collecting reviews and liaising with the author to determine the appropriate response to the referees' recommendations and suggestions. A substantial number of submitted articles are rejected (or voluntarily withdrawn by authors) as a result of such scrutiny; nearly all accepted articles are subject to some measure of revision based on the referees' comments. Co-editors receive a small honorarium to compensate for the heavy burden of administration involved; referees provide their services voluntarily. Editorial policy for each title is determined by the journal Editor and the board of Co-editors. The editorial boards collectively form the IUCr Commission on Journals, which reports through its Chair, currently Professor John Helliwell of the University of Manchester, to the IUCr Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is ultimately answerable to the IUCr General Assembly, which is formed of National delegates from the countries represented within the Union. In this way the authority of the peer review process is guaranteed through the consensus of practising professional scientists within the discipline.

  20.  Copy-editing of the submitted articles by a skilled professional editorial staff improves the linguistic and grammatical presentation of many articles. The IUCr editorial staff are all science graduates, many with higher degrees, and all with English as a mother tongue. Together with voluntary help freely given by Co-editors, they provide an important service in clarifying the language of technical articles. This of course is especially important for authors whose mother tongue is not English, but is often helpful even for native English speakers. (In fact the IUCr also permits publication in French, German and Russian, and has in-house expertise in these languages; but in common with most scientific literature English is overwhelmingly the main language of communication.)

  21.  Improvements are also made to graphs and illustrations in such ways as relabelling or redrawing of diagrams, correcting annotations, scaling, cropping or adjusting the resolution of photographic images.

  22.  Traditionally, journal publication has been held to improve accessibility through the adoption of standard formats of presentation. In the modern world where there are so many different formats, especially online, this is perhaps of less importance. Nevertheless, care is still taken in the choice of a design style for the journals, both in print and online, to enhance the readability and ease of use of the content. In print, this is achieved through a clean, open layout and typography. Online, much effort has gone into designing an easily navigable browser-independent web site. This included a great deal of labour in creating very readable images of complex mathematical equations within articles. The standard of these is higher than is found on the web sites of many other scientific publishers.

  23.  Crystallography is a data-rich science, and many articles that we publish report the results of the determination of a crystal structure, based on the data from a scientific experiment. For many years Co-editors or referees have laboured to check the consistency of the reported results. Now we have successfully automated the in-depth checking of structural data to provide the Co-editor with a very detailed analysis of the internal consistency and correctness of the data. While the results rarely of themselves are decisive in determining the acceptability or otherwise of an article, they provide an exhaustive analysis that allows the Co-editor to judge the extent to which the scientific arguments in the paper are consistent with the result of the experiment. We are not aware of any other journals that scrutinise the experimental data so closely as a matter of routine.

  24.  Part of the editorial procedure for each article describing a structural study involves checking for prior publication or database deposition of the same or related structures. While this is properly the responsibility of the author, some authors may not have ready access to all the relevant databases, and others may not use sufficiently thorough search strategies. We have established relationships with the major curators of databases of structural studies that allow these searches to be routinely undertaken.

  25.  Alongside the published article, we collate and present supporting materials. These include experimental data sets, supplementary explanations or illustrations, and dynamic or multimedia files that can only be of use in the electronic medium. This allows researchers with a particular interest in the work reported in an article to study and obtain the data they need for their own researches with the minimum of effort. While our journals have for a long time made such supplementary materials available (in the past by deposition of supporting documents at the British Library Document Supply Centre), the one-click access made possible by the web has become a very effective research tool in its own right.

  26.  Because of the durability of the print medium, hard-copy publication has often been relied upon as an authoritative record. In the electronic environment, files are easy to modify, and although technology is developing for digital certification and validation of documents, practice still lags behind what is possible. At present, therefore, established publishers can contribute towards the authority of a file on their web sites through their existing reputation and the technical mechanisms they have in place for the production and storage of articles.

  27.  Related to the authenticity of an article of record is the ability to track authorised modifications. We establish and maintain web links between a published article and subsequent corrigenda or addenda. This allows a reader who has discovered an article to know of any formal changes made after the initial publication date. In principle the existing technology could be extended to permit access to different revisions of a published article. However, we believe that at present the readers of our journals value the permanence of the published article as a statement of record, and that the existing linking to corrigenda is sufficient.


  28.  The publisher can add value to a single article through its publication in a journal that caters for a particular audience. The organisation and aggregation of related articles in issues of journals with different titles and prospectuses remains an effective tool for discovery through association. We produce regular (monthly or bi-monthly) issues of our journals, with associated email alerting of tables of contents to anyone who signs up for this service (it need not be a paying subscriber). We provide RSS feeds for users with software news aggregators who wish to have new issues brought to their attention. This is in addition to the facility for anyone (again, not only paying subscribers) to browse the journals contents listings on the web. In addition, the web table of contents of some of the journals carries a personal selection by the Editor-in-Chief of links to papers of related interest in our other journals.

  29.  One of the most welcomed features of web publication is the ability to provide hyperlinks from the article reference list to cited documents, where they are also available on the web. The IUCr provides links: to articles in its own journals; to articles in the PubMed database of the US National Library of Medicine; to articles in the Chemical Abstracts database. It is a member of CrossRef, an association of over 270 publishers that contribute to a centralised link resolver and citations database. Through these services we have the potential to link to more than 10 million articles.

  30.  We are also working actively to provide links from our articles to relevant information in chemical, molecular and structural databases. We provide direct links to macromolecular structures in the Protein Data Bank and Nucleic Acid Data Bank, and we provide links to molecular structures in the Cambridge Structural Database. We are actively working with the Inorganic Crystal Structure Database to provide direct web links to inorganic structures.

  31.  We provide full-text searching of the content of our own journals, and explicit links to related papers and papers by the same authors.

  32.  We are participating with certain other CrossRef publishers in the full-text indexing by Google of our journal content. This will make our content fully searchable by any web user. Collaboration with CrossRef allows the search to be restricted, if the user so desires, to material belonging to the CrossRef publishers (that is, in effect, to the traditional peer-reviewed formal scientific publications of those publishers).

  33.  We feel that access to all published scientific literature is an ultimate goal, and we have therefore undertaken the digitisation of our back catalogue of published journal articles since 1948. This was a substantial project, involving the scanning to PDF format, optical character recognition and text indexing of over 50,000 articles in 200,000 pages, together with metadata generation and database loading.

  34.  Equally essential for the health of future scientific research is the long-term preservation of, and access to, material in electronic format. We have published a policy on our approach to long-term digital preservation, and are investigating strategies for making our material secure for future generations.

  35.  A novel feature of the distribution of literature via the Web is the ability to log accesses and create usage statistics for the material we publish. This allows analysis of patterns and volume of access to individual articles and to the collections. We provide aggregated statistical summaries of their access to subscribers upon request; this is a service that librarians in particular find helpful in assessing the usage of their holdings.


  36.  Although it is convenient to retrieve page images of published articles from the Internet (typically in PDF format), the content of scientific articles is increasingly prepared by the publisher using a structured markup language such as SGML or one of its variants, eg XML or HTML. Such markup adds functionality to the document, and allows it to be stored in databases, re-ordered, incorporated in different document collections, and delivered in different formats and representations. The more structured markup that is added to the document, the more potential there is for its re-use in different contexts.

  37.  The key to reusability is the adoption of extensible open standards for content markup and management. This ensures that different sources can mark up content in the same way, unrestricted by commercial or platform-specific constraints. In our production process we use open and documented standards such as SGML[54] for document markup, TEX[55] for mathematics, TIFF[56] for illustrations, and PostScript[57] or PDF[58] for page images. Despite the popularity with authors of word-processing tools such as Microsoft Word, these generally use proprietary formats, poorly documented and unsuitable for standard interchange and long-term access.

  38.  We also track the development of new technologies such as MathML[59] and SVG[60] which have potential for embedding meaning (in mathematics or graphics respectively) as well as presentation.

  39.  Crucial to crystallography is the ready availability and interchange of scientific data sets, and the IUCr has been instrumental in establishing its own standard for crystallographic data interchange, known as the crystallographic information file (CIF) [61]. This format has revolutionised the handling of crystallographic data. For small-molecule crystallography it is now the universal way to store raw and processed experimental data, and to output the structural models from the computer programs that analyse such data. It is sufficiently rich that it is the mandatory and sole acceptable format for submitting articles reporting crystal structures to two of our journals, and it is the preferred format for depositing data with the major public structural databases. It is also an important vehicle for storing and exchanging macromolecular structural data. The CIF format predates the development of XML, but is formally equivalent and can be converted into XML representations as needed.

  40.  The IUCr also cooperates with other scientific unions and learned societies in the development of related information-handling technologies, such as Chemical Markup Language (CML, an application of XML) [62] and IChI, the universal chemical identifier under development by the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry[63].

  41.  An issue of importance in the actual reuse of scholarly material is copyright in the source material. For some time it has been the practice of authors of scientific articles to transfer copyright to the publisher. Such a practice makes it easier for publishers to reuse material in different collections. However, there is an increasing trend for authors to retain copyright, or in the case of US federally-funded research, to waive copyright altogether and place materials openly in the public domain. The issues are complex[64], but the IUCr takes the view that it publishes under licence, whether implicitly given by a full transfer of copyright, or as otherwise agreed with the authors. We believe that it is quite possible to safeguard the rights of the author and to promote the dissemination and proper use of the fruits of research in this way. We do note, however, that the need to negotiate with individual authors for specific types of reuse of published material may hamper the potential for repurposing that is inherent in the electronic form of a publication.


  42.  As explained in paragraph 15, the IUCr, like most scientific publishers, currently relies on annual subscriptions to its periodicals as its main source of income. A small amount comes from individuals, but most comes from academic and industrial libraries whose subscription in effect buys the right of access to the material for their community of users. In the traditional print media, access is moderated by the availability of the single physical copy of a journal issue. In the electronic era, multiple simultaneous access is possible. In common with most other publishers, we do not place restrictions on such simultaneous access within an institution; instead we license full institutional access, controlled by the Internet addresses available to the subscribing institution.

  43.  It is a truism that the money available for institutional library budgets, especially in the academic world, is increasingly constrained, while the volume of material available for subscription and the unit costs of subscriptions to individual titles continue to increase. However, publishers find themselves obliged to increase unit subscription costs to offset declining circulations. It is of interest to note that the IUCr's total income per page published in 2002 was almost exactly the same as the corresponding figure in 1993 (a period during which the retail price index rose by over 25%). It may also be of interest to note that during this period the IUCr's production cost per page has actually fallen, by some 10%, in spite of the great increase in value made possible by electronic publication.

  44.  A superficially attractive response to declining library budgets has been the offering by large publishers of "packages" of journals to individual libraries or consortia in the so-called "Big Deal". The typical model for such offers is that the library pays a small surcharge on top of its existing subscription to the publisher's titles, and in return is granted access to a large number of extra titles. There are usually conditions which restrict the library's freedom to cancel existing subscriptions. The effect is to increase the publisher's income, while greatly increasing the amount of material to which the library has access. There is ample evidence to suggest that academic user bases will take advantage of greater access, and so there is a real contribution towards scholarship. Against this, however, the available funds are still finite, and librarians must then choose between the broader access to a particular publisher's offerings and the cancellation of existing titles to make up any budget shortfall. While the surcharge is generally small as a proportion of the library's total budget, in absolute terms it will be the equivalent of subscriptions to a number of other titles which become candidates for cancellation. We feel that while this is an effective strategy for a publisher with a large catalogue, it distorts the market in favour of those who already dominate the library budgets, and leaves especially vulnerable the small publisher of specialised periodicals like the IUCr. There must also be concerns for the participating libraries over how long such attractive deals will last.

  45.  We have attempted to provide enhanced access to libraries and consortia by offering discounted electronic subscriptions as supplements to existing print subscriptions. An interactive form on our web site allows individual librarians and members of consortia (existing or potential) to obtain quotes for any combination of our journals in which they are interested. We have found that there has been relatively little interest in this offer. The reasons must remain speculative, but we believe that they are twofold. (1) Since we have a small catalogue of products to offer, we are not in a position to offer very high discounts for the uptake of one or two further titles by a single purchaser. (2) The package is rarely attractive to large library consortia who may not have a specific need for the specialist coverage offered by our titles. Such consortia expend much effort in lengthy negotiations with the large publishers offering hundreds or thousands of titles, and have little awareness of what we offer, or can spend little time in investigating it. We, for our part, do not have the staff resources to lobby for and negotiate individual deals.

  46.  By way of addressing this problem, we have since the start of 2004 made available our electronic editions through the Blackwell Synergy service. In this way, our titles can be sold as part of the package offered by Blackwell. However, the Synergy service, although it offers many of the features demanded of an online journals site, cannot provide the full range of services available from our own web site, and so we have had to work with Blackwell to ensure that their consortial subscribers are able to gain the full benefits of our online editions by redirection to our web site when appropriate.


  47.  There is a movement towards the open-access model of publishing, where the reader does not pay for access to electronic editions of scientific articles. We feel that such a goal is highly desirable, and have already begun to take steps towards introducing such a model into our own business.

  48.  Since the beginning of 2004 we have invited authors to contribute a fixed sum per article if they wish their published article to be freely available to any reader. The charge is $800 (about £450) per article, and is based on the average cost for the IUCr to produce the "first copy" of the article. That is, we take into account the editorial and production costs of editing, markup, hyperlinking, validation and assembly of an article and any associated supplementary materials, including business overheads, but without any of the costs of printing or distribution of the paper edition. Although our published articles are of variable length, so that a length-based cost model may be better in the long run, this is designed to give us a feeling for how popular such a model will prove to be with our authors.

  49.  In February 2004 we responded to the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) invitation to tender for open access funding[65]. We welcome the initiative taken by JISC to support moves in the direction of open-access publishing. We believe that it is a good investment at this stage in seeking to determine the economic viability of the open-access model. It will also greatly enhance the visibility of the content made available in this way, and an analysis of the usage and citation of these articles will also have relevance to an assessment of the true value of open access.

  50.  One barrier to a rapid migration to open-access publishing is the need to sustain print editions of existing titles. While there is a general feeling that scientific, technical and medical publishing is moving towards acceptance of the electronic medium as the most efficient mechanism in the future, our subscriptions for printed editions are still holding up, and there is no evidence that libraries are yet ready to abandon their print holdings wholesale. This is undoubtedly tied to concerns about the long-term preservation of digital-only content, and it is important that print be abandoned as a medium for scholarly publication only when there are sufficient assurances about the availability to posterity of electronic materials. While we take this issue seriously and have already taken steps to secure the long-term future of our digital holdings (see paragraph 34 above) we understand and respect the need for caution here.

  51.  However, so long as print and electronic editions are maintained in parallel, publishers must balance income from print subscriptions against income for open-access online publication. Initially, if open-access-based income is small, it will not affect print subscription prices, but will instead appear as an additional charge burden on the funding bodies. On the other hand, if open-access publishing takes off rapidly, the financial basis for continuing with print subscriptions will seem very poor, and publishers may be faced with the collapse of their print-based business.

  52.  As illustrated by the lengthy discussion above, the current publication process has the potential to add great value to scientific publications, but at great real cost. Where the real costs are transferred to the funding agencies, there will be a more direct relationship between the costs incurred and the extent to which funded authors contribute. Journals that may once have cost relatively little by subscription in the UK, for example, may cost more through open-access charges if they have a disproportionately high number of contributing UK authors. Of course the opposite will hold true for other journals, but, as publishers of journals with truly international author and readership bases, we foresee shifting patterns of publication based on such considerations.

  53.  Another effect that will be particularly apparent to international journals is the difficulty that authors in small or developing countries, or who are not publicly funded, may find in meeting a substantial open-access charge. Our initial flat-rate fee of $800 per article is likely to be impossible for many of our international authors to meet. So long as we are providing open-access on a per-article basis, we shall argue that inability to pay does not preclude the publication of such articles, although they will be seen only by paying subscribers. Eventually, however, if the open-access model predominates, it will be difficult in fairness to leave access barriers to contributions from developing nations.

  54.  Apart from open access to formal refereed articles, we continue with our existing practice of granting open access to all supplementary materials and deposited data sets associated with an article.


  55.  Another movement apparent among academic authors is "self-publication", where a scholarly contribution is posted on an author's or institution's web site, or is made available from a preprint server. These differ in scale, and to some extent in accountability, but all take advantage of the ease with which material can be distributed over the Web.

  56.  The preprint server is a database of articles submitted for open inspection and comment. Some, but not all, of these articles may subsequently be published in a conventional journal. The most successful model for this is the arXiv server at Cornell University (, which contains many contributions in astrophysics, high-energy physics, condensed-matter physics, computer science, mathematics and some other disciplines. It is apparent that the popularity of such arrangements differs from discipline to discipline. While the arXiv server has accumulated over a quarter of a million contributions in 12 years[66], the Chemistry Preprint Server ( has collected 835 articles in four years[67]. We have conducted informal polls among crystallographers and find that there is neither much participation in the existing preprint servers, nor desire for a specific server for crystallography. One reason appears to be suspicion of systems that do not go through the conventional journal peer review procedures. Another is that authors are less sure of obtaining credit for work that is not published in the "traditional" journals. There is also confusion over the editorial policies of journals which may decline to consider an article for publication if it has previously appeared on a preprint server.

  57.  The IUCr retains an open mind on the utility of preprint servers. We are prepared to investigate the establishment and maintenance of such a service for the crystallographic community if there is a demonstrable need. We do not exclude articles from our journals if they have previously been submitted to a preprint server. We do, however, reinforce the importance attached to an article that has been subjected to formal refereeing by requesting that the version of the article on a preprint server is amended to make reference to the published version.

  58.  A relatively new development is the use of institutional servers to collect and disseminate contributions from their academic staff. At present this is largely concerned with collections of theses, lecture notes and informal communications—the type of material commonly referred to as "grey literature". The cultural reliance on recognition through publication in peer-reviewed journals is still very strong within the scientific community, and we do not see an immediate shift in this convention. Nevertheless, new technologies for information mining (such as open full-text indexing by search engines such as Google, and distribution of article metadata by the Open Access Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting[68] can allow such institutional repositories to play an important role in the future dissemination of scholarly publications.

  59.  The IUCr sees its role in interacting with such institutional repositories as providing a subject-specific view of the available materials—for example by providing indexes of crystallographic theses, or critical and selective portals to the distributed informal literature. In the IUCr view, "literature" includes the primary data sets on which the scientific research is based. There are at present a number of proposals concerning preservation of and access to X-ray diffraction data sets (eg the EPSRC-funded National Crystallography Service[69], which is involved in the JISC-supported e-Bank project[70]); it would be extremely useful, and is technically feasible, to link to such deposited sets from journal articles describing related structures.

  60.  Despite the attraction to institutions of creating their own distribution servers for more or less informal publications and data sets, there will in the long run be high costs associated with the proper maintenance of such sites, and—again—with the commitment to make the material available in perpetuity. Despite our enthusiasm for collaborating with such institutional servers in broadening the compass of scientific publication, we warn again of the need to ensure that proper attention is given to preservation aspects of any such sites.

  61.  These concerns are especially felt in the case where authors choose to make their publications available from private or unsupported web sites. We feel that these cannot be trusted as repositories of lasting value. We do, however, support the desire of individual authors to make collections of their own publications available from their web sites, and we permit our authors to redistribute electronic offprints of their articles from our journals under an appropriate licence.


  62.   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?

  Our own policy is to maintain the price of our journals as low as we can, consistent with the need to remain economically viable: in short, to provide the best achievable value for money. Since we already operate close to our financial margins we have little scope for price reductions. Our experience with offering consortial discounts suggests that there is limited scope for increasing access to the small stable of specialised titles we manage, which already occupy a well-defined market niche. The danger to us of widespread uptake of "big deals" from large publishers is that consequent shortfalls in finite library budgets can have the effect of edging out individual titles from specialist learned-society publishers like ourselves.

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

  We draw attention to the comments in the ALPSP submission regarding the difficulty of characterising the scientific journals business as a competitive commodities-style market. To the extent that specialised and especially learned-society publishers provide niche journals tailored to the needs of individual scientific communities, there is in fact considerable diversity in the existing pool of publishers. We believe that attention should be concentrated on preserving this diversity. It is therefore important that Government does not follow policies that discriminate against the smaller publishers.

  64.  The investment of equipment, resources and especially intellectual capital in the migration to electronic publishing has necessarily been very high during the last decade, and may be one reason why established scientific publishers have tended to grow by aggregation and merger. Measures that help the smaller publishers to adapt to the demands of the new business media would be helpful. For example, the British Library's interest in deposit and preservation of digital materials might usefully be developed to provide direct assistance to small publishers who lack the experience or resources to undertake effective archiving of their own materials. Other practical measures directed towards the funding of small publishers' activities could include the provision of positive tax breaks and the provision of financial support to learned societies for research and development schemes identified as having particular merit.

  65.  Government should be aware of the existence and importance of the large number of independent not-for-profit publishers, and open channels of communication to them. This could be done through the appointment of officials on national bodies, such as JISC, with responsibility for liaising with small-scale publishers directly or through bodies such as ALPSP.

  66.   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?

  Provided that open-access journals exercise the same level of rigorous peer review, they should be treated no differently from subscription-based journals. Assuming that the Government accepts the desirability of delivering the results of publicly-funded research free of charge to the end user, then it should consider allowing a component of research grants for paying open-access fees. It may also consider the possibility of covering the open-access contributions of all UK scientists to individual journals through nationwide "membership" schemes.

  67.  Our feeling, which we note is shared by ALPSP, is that it is still too early to predict how widespread and popular the open-access approach to journal funding will become, and that in practice there may be wide variation by subject or by publisher. We encourage experimentation and initial funding to assess the long-term development of this movement, but suggest that developments be carefully monitored with an open mind. We again emphasise that smaller publishers may be especially vulnerable to sudden shifts in their business paradigms. Many learned-society publishers will share our feeling that open-access is a desirable end, inasmuch as it offers maximum possible exposure to research results; but, given the necessity of maintaining income within the narrow operating margins of many societies, the big question is how to get to "there" from "here".

  68.   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?

  Given the easy availability of non-print materials over the Internet, we feel that the main role in the future for the Legal Deposit Libraries will be in securing long-term access. This will be achieved not simply by providing ever-increasing amounts of hardware, but by understanding the need for portable and durable archival formats for representing and storing information, by developing expertise in the management of such materials, and by encouraging the scholarly community to use such formats in the authorship, publication and transmission of the research literature in the future. There is a genuine role for staff at the British Library and comparable institutions in research and development projects in this field.

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

  We believe that the occurrence of scientific fraud and malpractice is very low, and that the best structural safeguard is the maintenance of rigorous peer review.

  70.  The mutability of electronic documents poses a potential new threat, but we believe that the scientific publishing community will develop techniques using current and new technologies to certify, authenticate and track electronic articles that will guarantee their provenance and provide a complete audit trail for any online publication.

  71.  The progressive use of computers to test supporting data would also be a practice worth encouraging. We have described (paragraph 23) how we routinely check supporting data sets for internal consistency and consistency with the scientific argument in the primary publication. We would like to see such a practice develop in other fields of science also. The primary goal is not to combat fraud, though it would be effective in that respect; but to improve still further the quality of published scientific research.

February 2004

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54   Information processing-Text and office systems-Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) (1986). ISO 8879. Back

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60   Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) 1.1 Specification (2003). W3C. 

61   The Crystallographic Information File (CIF): A New Standard Archive File for Crystallography (1991). S R Hall, F H Allen and I D Brown. Acta Cryst, A47, 655-685. Back

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63   IUPAC Chemical Identifier (IChI) (2003).  Back

64   For example, see the Conference Copyright and Universities: from Principles to Practices (2002).  Back

65   Invitation to Tender: Open Access Publishing (2004). JISC.  Back

66 monthly submission rate statistics (2004) 

67   The Chemistry Preprint Server (2004).  Back

68   The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (2003). C Lagoze, H Van De Sompel, M Nelson and S Warner.  Back

69   EPSRC National Crystallography Service (2004).  Back

70   e-Bank UK. Proposal submitted to the JISC by UKOLN, University of Bath with the University of Southampton, and PSIgate, University of Manchester, in response to Circular 8/02 (2004).  Back

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