Memorandum from the Royal College of Psychiatrists
1.1 The Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomes
this opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee. Descriptions
of the workings of scientific journals and detailed comments on
the various questions put by the Committee will be amply covered
by other submissions (such as that from ALPSP), and so this memorandum
will address itself to several points of specific concern to the
College that seem either not to have been widely considered or
to have been misrepresented in much of the recent public discussion
on the matter:
Some observations about the College's
subscription-based business model, which we don't believe is as
dysfunctional as advocates of open access publishing tend to make
The role of the STM publisher, and
in particular the value added by the copy-editing process.
Ways in which access to journal papers
under the subscription model has already been extended.
Some specific concerns we have about
the open access model.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists
2.1 The Royal College of Psychiatrists is
the representative professional and educational body for psychiatrists
in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Its aims are
advance the science and practice
of psychiatry and related subjects;
further public education in psychiatry
and related subjects; and
promote study and research work in
psychiatry and all sciences and disciplines connected with the
understanding and treatment of mental disorder in all its forms
and aspects and related subjects and publish the results of all
such study and research.
2.2 As well as running its membership examination
(MRCPsych), and visiting and approving hospitals for training
purposes, the College organises scientific and clinical conferences
and lectures and continuing professional development activities.
The publications programme includes books, reports and educational
material for professionals and the general public, and three learned
journals. The College has just over 10,000 members, of whom about
8,000 are in the UK.
The College's journals
2.3 The British Journal of Psychiatry
(BJP) is an internationally renowned primary research journal,
with a good citation index and a wide circulation. It is free
to members of the College (in both print and online forms), and
in addition has about 3,400 subscribers, mostly institutional.
The subscription income covers the cost of members' copies and
furthermore provides a surplus which is used to help fund the
College's other activities.
2.4 The Psychiatric Bulletin is also
concerned with primary research, principally on service delivery
issues. Again, it is free to all members. The paid subscriptions
(about 280) come nowhere near covering the publication costs,
so in effect the journal is subsidised by the British Journal
2.5 Advances in Psychiatric Treatment
is a secondary journal concerned with continuing professional
2.6 The online versions of the journals
are hosted at HighWire Press.
3. THE COLLEGE'S
3.1 The College's business model differs
in at least one important aspect from that of commercial publishers.
Although papers from anyone are welcome, and all papers are considered
for publication equally on their merits, in practice the majority
of published papers are by members of the College. As noted above,
members receive free print copies of the journal, and have free
access to the online versions. We therefore have a system where
our authors are not charged for publishing in our journals, and
they and their colleagues are not charged to read the journals
either. Costs are covered and income generated to a large extent
by sales of subscriptions to libraries serving other groups of
professionals who on the whole read our journals but don't publish
3.2 If we were to move to an open access
model, our position as regards members would be made very difficult.
If we wished to continue to supply them with free print copies,
our author charges would have to be uncompetitively high, and
the quality of the journal would drop as submissions tailed off.
Those author charges would be imposed mainly on members, who would
be entitled to ask why they now had to pay to publish in their
own journal. If we were to cancel the print copies for members,
this would be a substantial reduction in the benefits of membership;
if we were to lose members as a result either of cancellation
of free print or of provision of universal open access to the
journals, this would have a negative impact on the other work
of the College.
3.3 As regards your Committee's question
of whether the Government should actively support a move towards
open access publishing, it should be noted that in our case, 75%
of our subscription income comes from overseas. However, 66% of
our published papers come from the UK. If we were simply to transfer
our charges from our readers to our authors, the UK medical establishment
would pick up a much greater proportion of the bill.
4. ACCESS TO
4.1 There are many ways in which journal
publishers work, either singly or together, to provide access
to the information they publish, and the options are not limited
to open access and access by subscription. For example, we have
taken the following steps:
All issues of our journals are made
available free online to everyone 12 months after publication,
on a rolling basis.
The College's primary journals (print
and online) are available to all College members at no cost.
Journal papers accessed via a reference
in other journals on the HighWire system (such as the BMJ or the
American Journal of Psychiatry) can be viewed free of charge,
regardless of whether the user has a subscription.
We allow free access to the journal
from 75 low-income countries, using a system which recognises
the country of origin of the user's IP address.
Print editions of the BJP, paid for
by local advertising, are circulated free of charge to readers
in India, Holland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
All contents lists (including electronic
contents alerts) and search mechanisms are available to all free
of charge. The journal is abstracted in PubMed and many other
major listings services. In addition, the full text of the journals
is indexed by Google. We are members of CrossRef, an industry-wide
system which sets up links from reference lists in journal articles
directly to the reference in question. Abstracts of all papers
are available to view free of charge.
Any article for which access by a
particular user is restricted can be viewed using the pay-per-view
system, for a fee of $8.00 (commercial publishers commonly charge
around $30). For $15.00, the entire journal can be viewed for
Access for professionals
4.2 The last two points in the list above,
taken together, mean that any interested party should be able
to easily locate an article of interest, and, if they do not already
have access, can pay for access there and then for a modest fee.
The College believes that the open access question is not an ideological
issue, pitting "open" against "closed" access,
but simply an economic one of who pays for access and at which
point in the supply chain.
4.3 It should be noted that the College
does not charge authors to publish in its journals (except for
colour reproduction, which is charged on at cost).
Access for the general public
4.4 Many of the initiatives outlined above
facilitate access for the general public. Although in general
we are happy for the public to have access to the primary research
we publish, we feel that such availability is unlikely to have
a huge benefit. We expect our members, and other professionals
reading the journals, to examine the papers with a critical eye,
to understand the limitations and implications of the work, and
to appreciate the background against which individual research
projects are set. Without this insight, it is likely that individual
papers may be opaque, or at worst misleading.
4.5 The College invests a great deal of
time and effort in producing public education materials which
are straightforward, informative and comprehensive (see http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/info/index.htm),
and we believe that this sort of approach is a better way of fulfilling
our objective of furthering public education in psychiatry than
is encouraging wider readership of primary research. The surplus
generated by sales of journal subscriptions is important in helping
to fund this work.
5. CONCERNS ABOUT
5.1 Since the College's objectives include
the publication and promotion of research in psychiatry, it might
seem that open access should be a welcome development, and its
superficial attractions are indeed undeniable. However, we have
concerns about the model (over and above the specific worries
about the impact on the College itself noted above). In particular,
it may have a negative effect on quality of scientific publications,
on the independence (actual or perceived) of journals, and on
the ability of researchers to get published.
5.2 Exploration of the model is at such
an early stage that there seems to be little agreement even about
the price per paper that would need to be charged to make the
model sustainable. While this will no doubt shake itself out,
it should be noted that many of the open access experiments currently
under way (eg PloS, Company of Biologists) are operating with
the author's fees at subsidised rates. It is hard to see what
reliance can be placed on the outcomes of such experiments if
the most important variable is deliberately manipulated in this
5.3 Of more concern to us is what the long-term
effects of this economic model might be. Some of the pressures
that might result may only show up over a long period of time.
Also, the model is yet to be adopted by any of the large commercial
publishers. No-one imagines that they will quietly go away, so
the questions arises as to what spin they would put on it, and
what effects that might have on the system as a whole.
Effects on quality
5.4 There are a couple of factors which
might adversely affect quality.
5.5 Firstly, under the present system, journals
have an incentive to restrict the number of papers they accept.
In the case of the BJP, we accept about 25% of submissions. Accepting
more papers would raise costs, without generating more income
(at least in the short term, and it seems unlikely that future
subscription rate increases to counter the increased costs would
be welcomed by subscribers). On the other hand, with the open
access model, accepting more papers would generate more income,
partly because there would be a direct surplus per paper and partly
because (since rejected papers represent costs without income)
it is beneficial to reduce the proportion of rejected papers.
As we try our hardest to only accept the best papers, any increase
in the acceptance rate would lead to a drop in overall quality
of accepted papers. Although it is to be hoped that editors would
resist this pressure, it seems unwise to deliberately introduce
such an incentive into the system.
5.6 Secondly, it is conceivable that market
forces will operate in the decisions of authors about which journals
to submit to. If it turns out in the long run that authors are
sensitive to price in such matters, there will be a pressure on
the journals to cut prices. This in turn will lead to a pressure
to cut costs, and the easiest place for journals to cut costs
is in the copy editing and peer review processes. We would consider
this to be detrimental to the literature (see "The role of
the publisher", below).
Accessibility to authors
5.7 It is hard to see how a move to open
access publishing could fail to favour more senior researchers
from large, well-funded institutions. Even assuming that free
publication is offered to researchers in the developing countries,
there is bound to be a tier of authors from countries which don't
quite fall into that category but for whom nonetheless the fees
would present a significant deterrent to submission. The system
might also present problems for authors with small research projects,
with studies based on one or just a few cases, those based in
organisations without a strong research ethos, and so on.
5.8 Even within a specialty such as psychiatry,
there are distinct subspecialties with large variations in funding.
We believe that an "author pays" approach would discriminate
against subspecialties such as psychotherapy, where research budgets
are typically small, in favour of better funded areas such as
psychopharmacology. A bias in the literature would inevitably
5.9 It seems reasonable to presume that,
if market conditions apply, journals will eventually offer premium
services at extra cost. The most obvious candidate would be accelerated
publication. Most journals will currently offer accelerated publication
for papers they consider particularly important; it may be in
future that it will be on basis of the wealth of the funding body
rather than the quality of the paper that such decisions are made.
Independence of journals
5.10 There is already considerable concern
and discussion in the medical publishing world about the publication
practices of the major pharmaceutical companies. Any system whereby
pharma companies pay directly to have their work published cannot
be good for editorial independence, and even if everything is
completely above board the mere appearances are enough to generate
concern. It seems likely that pharma companies would be prime
customers for any "premium services" (accelerated publication,
specific positioning within an issue, etc) that might be offered
by the journal, and this too could be regarded as unfortunate.
5.11 Similarly, where a significant proportion
of a journal's articles are funded by a single organisation (eg
the NHS), that organisation would be in a position to put pressure,
if it chose to do so, on the journal in respect of acceptance
policies, direction, price, and so on. This could easily compromise
the editorial freedom of the journal.
6. THE ROLE
6.1 Publishers perform a number of functions
in the process of producing a journal. Some of these, such as
managing subscriptions and marketing, would become irrelevant
in an open access world. Some are core to the publications process
regardless of the business model. In much of the recent discussion
on the subject it seems to have been assumed that the peer review
process is the only irreducible publisher's task, and that everything
else is an optional extra. We would strongly contend that publishers
have another absolutely essential task: copy-editing the manuscripts
6.2 Good copy-editing is a service to both
the author and the reader. A good copy-editor will polish prose,
check arguments, tally numbers, locate references, elucidate acronyms,
and in many other ways will remove the barriers to understanding
that can prevent the reader from fully understanding the author's
message. A reader should be able to approach a journal paper in
the confidence not just that the research described is good, but
that it has been described accurately and well.
6.3 This is relevant to the question of
access. A paper may be freely available on a researchers' own
website, but if it is written in turgid, indigestible English,
if the percentages don't add up to 100%, if Figure 3 is inexplicably
missing, if the references aren't all there, and if it is full
of obscure acronyms unheard of outside the NHS, then availability
is not the same as accessibility for a student in Tanzania, or
for a Japanese professor trying to make sense of it 15 years from
6.4 We are concerned that the value added
by conscientious publishers to published papers in this manner
is in danger of being overlooked, and even lost. For example,
it is easy to see how a large specialist research institute could
set up its own peer review system, and publish papers on the open
access model. However, without the tradition and experience of
careful copy-editing behind it, and unless professional staff
are employed to take on the role, there is no guarantee that the
papers will get anything more than a cursory glance from the editing
point of view.
7.1 The College is concerned that there
is a potential for research funders to push authors towards open
access journals, resulting in an irresistible drive for us and
other major journals to change our business model accordingly.
We are worried that this may have worrying implications in the
long term for the quality and financial health of our journals,
and that this may have adverse effects on the rest of the College's
work. We are also concerned that there is potential for negative
effects on scientific publishing as a whole
7.2 We recognise that there are problems
with aspects of the existing model for scientific publishing,
particularly in the pricing policies of some of the larger commercial
companies. However, we do not see the open access route as necessarily
a panacea for these problems. There are many unknowns, and some
clear drawbacks to open access publishing. We would recommend
that the Committee should support further evaluation of open access
publishing, but should stop short of actively encouraging the