Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Linnean Society of London

  1.  The Linnean Society, a charitable learned society, publishes three international scientific journals, fully peer-reviewed, the Biological, Botanical and Zoological Journals of the Linnean Society and a variety of occasional publications, including the Synopses of British Fauna, which are scientific field guides for students and others. Its Journals are used inter alia for the dissemination of data on new species. Income from the scientific journals is used in part to support less financially viable publications.

  2.   Publishing is part of the Society's charitable purpose. Its first Journal was published in 1802, but it is only in the past 40 years that publishing has provided the Society with a significant part of its income. Electronic (Internet) publishing of the Society's Journals dates back only to 1993. The income generated has allowed the Society to extend its programme of scientific meetings, support research projects at the Natural History Museum and elsewhere, and to catalogue, conserve, and increase accessibility to its unique collections of plants and animals assembled by Linnaeus and Smith (the Society's founder) during the 18th century.

  3.  The Society collaborates and competes effectively with commercial publishers. If changes to the free market in scientific publishing are made by Government to the detriment of authors and/or publishers, then not-for-profit UK organizations should at least be compensated for the loss of vital income.

  4.  The Society is aware that attempts are being made, notably in the USA, to provide open access to scientific journals to both the public and the scientific community. This is to be achieved (i) by charging authors to publish, something which has not hitherto been a feature of UK scientific publishing; and (ii) by collating and distributing copy electronically. It is claimed that this will make the results of scientific enquiry more globally accessible.

  5.  Electronic scientific publishing has advantages, notably in added features such as ease of access and distribution, electronic cross-referencing, and storage. Electronic licensing can improve the financial position of hard-pressed libraries. Currently, the Linnean Society contributes to making its Journals available free-on-line to selected eastern European, Asian and African users and hopes that such open access can be extended in future to making much of its published output available free-on-line after an appropriate interval from its first appearance.

  6.  It is important to recognize that some kinds of scientific publication have a much slower "burn rate" than others, that is to say, they are referred to regularly over many years. That is certainly the position of some of this Society's publications in taxonomy and evolutionary biology. The costs of maintaining both paper and electronic publications of this kind in print need to be recognized and paid for.

  7.  Open access publishing has other disadvantages. Firstly, the cost to authors is not cheap—several hundred US$ per paper. There remain significant areas of the world where such costs cannot readily be met. Such areas may also lack a reliable infrastructure for communication thus making electronic scientific literature less accessible[113]. Yet such areas are commonly of extreme importance for their biological diversity, for biologists and for the planet more generally. To make it more difficult to characterize and monitor biological diversity seems perverse at the present time.

  8.  Other disadvantages include the lack of any agreed electronic archiving system and limitations on photographic and print quality in electronic publications. Authors' and publishers' rights are by no means legally clear for purely electronic publishing. VAT is charged on electronic communication, but not on paper copy.

February 2004

113   See Down to Earth: Geographic Information for Sustainable Development in Africa, National Research Council of the National Academies. The National Academic Press, Washington DC, 2002. Back

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