Memorandum from Professor John C Fry,
1. I am a Professor of Microbial Ecology
in Cardiff University and have been a University academic for
over 35 years. Throughout this time I have carried out research,
held research grants, published scientific papers, taught both
undergraduates and postgraduates and played my part contributing
to science in a more general way. I am currently Publications
Manager for the Federation of European Microbiology Societies
(FEMS) and so am responsible to the FEMS Executive Committee and
Council for all the FEMS publications. I have also been Editorial
Board Member, Editor and then Chief Editor of the journal FEMS
Microbiology Ecology. I have been on the Editorial Boards of three
other journals and served on the Council and Publications Committee
for the Society for General Microbiology.
2. FEMS owns five journals namely FEMS Microbiology
Letters (started 1977), FEMS Microbiology Reviews, FEMS Microbiology
Ecology (both started 1985), FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology
(started 1988) and FEMS Yeast Research (started 2001). Elsevier
publishes these journals for FEMS under a formal contract between
us; FEMS and Elsevier are in regular and close contact over a
wide range of publication matters. In 2002 the FEMS journals comprised
798 articles in 7,350 pages. Each journal is led by a Chief Editor
who, with a team of Editors and/or Editorial Board members, is
responsible for the scientific quality of the articles published
in his/her journal. We operate an online submission, peer review
and manuscript tracking system supported by a Publications Division
within our central Office in Delft, The Netherlands. All articles
are peer reviewed confidentially by FEMS and appropriate, helpful
feedback provided to authors, whether or not the paper is published.
Our journals are available on subscription in hard copy via normal
access channels and electronically via Elsevier's online access
tool Science Direct. More details can be found on the FEMS website
(www.fems-microbiology.org) and via that on the Elsevier website.
3. FEMS is a charity registered in England
and Wales (No. 1072117). Its remit is to "Support Microbiology
in Europe" and it does this in a variety of ways through,
for example, grants, fellowships, supporting meetings, a Congress
and through its scientific publications. This support is provided
by income generated mainly through its publications (87% of total
income in 2002). Its members are over 40 microbiological societies
in Europe who pay subscriptions.
4. The above three paragraphs provide the
general background against which I provide this written evidence
to the Science and Technology Committee. I write below under the
five bullet points the committee seeks written evidence against
(here numbered 6-10).
5. 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?
5.1 Types of Journals. The single term publishers
is used in this question but in reality there are many different
ways journals are published. Briefly these are as follows.
(a) Commercial publishers own journals which
can be viewed as entirely for profit.
(b) Scientific society journals published
by a learned society, which contribute to their objectives.
(c) Journals owned at least in part by a
learned society and published for them by a commercial publisher,
here some profits go back to the society which are used for their
5.1.1. Commercial journals ((a) above) are
often the most expensive and have been the cause of attack recently.
However many of these are of very high scientific merit (eg Nature)
and of great use to the scientific community.
5.1.2 Society journals ((b) above) are often
the cheapest and are vital to support the societies objectives.
Such objectives help science in may ways and these activities
have become an integral part of the UK science system. If these
journals were driven out of the market place UK science would
be greatly poorer for it.
5.1.3 Joint journals ((c) above) offer a
mixture of the two points mentioned above. They vary in price
according to publisher's past and present policy. It is very hard
to quickly reduce the price of a journal as markets change.
5.2 Pricing, the Market Place and Electronic
Journals. As mentioned above prices between journal vary greatly
for print subscriptions. This price variation does not just reflect
the number of papers but the publishers and societies pricing
policies. There is a very active market place for journals and
academic libraries in Universities and research institutes have
not had enough money to buy print copies of all the journals they
would ideally like for many years now, as real budgets have declined.
All publishers and societies have been concerned about how to
react to electronic access for several years and have been trying
to find models by which they can make money to support their aims
(profit for shareholders and supporting science) over this period.
This is the climate that has resulted in large publishers making
"big deal schemes" with large groups of libraries in
various ways. Most publishers and societies link print subscriptions
with online access charges in some way, to protect income. Whether
or not a journal survives in the market place depends on both
scientific value and price. There are examples of both high price/excellent
science journals and low price/poorer science journals doing well.
Electronic online access has been a great benefit to scientists
and over the last four years or so most researchers and students
use electronic access as their primary means of accessing the
literature. Online searching tools like the ISI Web of Science
make it much easier to find relevant literature than when print
copies and abstracting journals were the main access route. The
big deals have allowed a much wider access to journals and the
scientific literature. Such wide access is so valuable that most
scientists would agree that it must be maintained. The perceived
problem is that small numbers of large companies could hold science
to ransom and this must be avoided at all costs. The problem is
similar to the difficulties over monopolies in other market places
and so perhaps it could be addressed in similar ways.
6. What action should Government, academic
institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive
market in scientific publications?
6.1 Value of Scientific Journals. Journals
are absolutely central to how science works. They provide the
main source of information flow between scientists, which is especially
true for the rigorously peer reviewed journals, which tend to
be the most successful anyway. Science could not operate as effectively
as it does without journals. Furthermore, institutions running
undergraduate and postgraduate courses could not teach students
science without access to journals.
6.2 Who pays? Scientific articles are difficult
to read especially for students learning science, but they are
an efficient and well tried and tested means of communication.
This means that their content is only accessible if they are well
presented, as in a print journaltypescripts mounted on
the web would not do. Most scientists still print out papers accessed
electronically. It is also vital that papers are peer reviewed
and editedwhich is an activity supported freely by scientists,
at no charge, for the benefit of science. Even with this free
peer reviewing and editing it has been estimated that it still
costs at least £3,000 to produce a scientific paper. Even
for a scientific society publishing its own journals the cost
is at least £1,500 per article. The cost of printing and
distribution is a small part of these overall costs and so electronic
journals do not mean cheap journalssomeone still has to
6.2.1. In Europe it is predominately libraries
that pay these costs in the charges they pay for both print subscriptions
and electronic access.
6.2.2. For the main microbiology journals
in the USA a page charge system is used. However, charges are
only about £400 for a 10 page article and so page charges
only fund part of the full costs.
6.2.3. Another suggested model is that research
funding agencies should pay the costs. This would mean adding
say £3,500 per paper produced to the value of a grant. So
assuming that three papers are produced on average from a three
year grant for a postdoctoral researcher this would add about
8% to the grant costs. I believe this model will be problematic
for the following reasons.
126.96.36.199. It is hard to predict at the grant
application stage how many papers will be published.
188.8.131.52. Money cannot be spent after the
grant has ended and most papers are published after grants have
184.108.40.206. How would PhD students get money
to publish papers?
220.127.116.11. Winning grant funding is just as
competitive as publishing, perhaps more so and budget is often
one consideration as grant funds are squeezed. This occurs despite
the more flexible rules that are supposed to operate for UK Research
18.104.22.168. Charities will not even fund overheads,
so are they likely to fund publication?
6.3. What should be done? This is very hard
to decide as the issue is so complex. In the UK most science is
government funded in one way or another. However, the scientific
publication market place is thoroughly international and so it
is hard for the UK to act alone.
6.3.1. One very important problem is that
as print subscriptions decrease, and in my view this will continue
to occur as electronic access is used more and more, society journals
publishing on their own will find it very difficult to make money
out of online access and so may well be forced to move to publishers
for support. If this happens then the market place will get more
dependant on commercial publishers who by offering big deals could
hold science to ransom. I do not believe that free electronic
journals are the answer because I cannot see an acceptable funding
model to support their production.
6.3.2. Academic institutions cannot do much
because they are the purchasers and rely on publications to support
science. Academics withholding labour for peer reviewing and editing
for all but free access journals has been suggested. However,
without a funding model that is internationally agreed it is hard
to see how this will work. Furthermore, current evidence does
not suggest the community could hold together in this way, especially
when science is so dependent of learned societies. So many scientists
have split loyalties between wanting free access in a utopian
world and wanting to support their scientific societies which
are vital to how science functions.
6.3.3. Publishers are there to make profits
in our capitalist society and provide vital employment through
their activities. They are also working in an international competitive
marketplace. So I do not hold much hope for them doing a lot to
help the situation.
6.3.4. Governments could help restrict the
power that publishers have over science spending on journals,
and the following suggestions are perhaps possibilities.
22.214.171.124. Operate a system like the monopolies
commission to restrict the power of big deals.
126.96.36.199. Support scientific societies and
their publishing activities by special support grants or by buying
online access from them for say all UK Universities at reasonable
188.8.131.52. Help the Universities and Research
institutions in the negotiations for big deals for electronic
7. 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?
7.1. In biology open access journals are
not an important part of the current market place. I cannot see
them expanding much further without a solid funding model.
7.2. To be taken seriously and attract UK
scientists to publish they must gain high esteem amongst scientists.
To do this they must attract good papers from the best scientists,
they must be easily accessible through article searching interfaces
and probably gain access to the ISI impact factor listings. The
progress in the development of electronic only publications has
been relatively slow. In the mid 1990s it was predicted that print
journals would vanish in five yearsthis has not happened.
I believe that progress will remain slow as the vested interests
discussed above are too powerful.
7.3. The government should only support
this trend if it can (a) identify a strong, viable funding model
and (b) find a way to support learned scientific societies and/or
8. 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
8.1. No response as I have no direct experience
of this issue.
9. What impact will trends in academic journal
publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?
9.1. Scientific fraud and malpractice can
never be completely irradiated. The major checks and balances
on this are provided by the use of scientists as Editors and our
peer reviewing system. As long as scientists still give their
time to these activities the incidence of fraud and malpractice
should not increase. So the proliferation of non peer reviewed
electronic journals would increase malpractice. As long as peer
reviewing is maintained and scientists manage the science in journals
good honest science is likely to be the norm.