Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Mammal Society

  This submission concentrates on the problems that recent trends in publishing have caused for amateur researchers and those working in small, independent institutes, who make a disproportionate contribution to the knowledge-base required (by government and others) for addressing environmental policy issues.


  The Mammal Society is a membership-based charity whose aim is to investigate the status and conservation of all mammal species in Britain, through the collaborative fieldwork of members and volunteers, who may be amateur or professional mammalogists. It has a small staff, but relies upon the academic members for much of the analytical work. It has about 2,500 members, and rather more participants in its surveys. Its income comes from a variety of sources, mainly contracts (especially from government departments and agencies), membership donations, and grants from charitable trusts.

  The Society publishes a scientific journal, Mammal Review, in collaboration with Blackwell's, and has published a number of booklets, guides and some major books. We thus have some experience of both sides of the scientific publishing world. Our journal is available on-line, thanks to Blackwell's, but most members take a printed copy, which for amateurs and isolated professionals (eg in Environmental Consultancies) remains the most useful format. It is mainly as readers and authors of the literature that our interest in current debates over scientific publishing arises: essentially, we are reiterating and supporting the arguments already put to you by the BTO.


The problem

  The increasing availability of journals on-line makes them more available to professional academics in large institutes. Paradoxically, the opposite applies to those who work in small, independent institutes (with more limited funds available for library subscriptions) and to amateurs, especially. The problem is that, while such people can readily become external readers at university libraries by paying a subscription, this does not allow them access to electronic holdings. This means that they have no access to journals that are available only electronically. This is increasingly frequent, either because print versions are not produced or because (for space reasons) they are no longer kept by the libraries which subscribe to them. This is particularly a problem with the historical archives, which tend to be more important to those working on environmental matters, who are less obsessed with the latest research results, but more concerned with archival material In earlier times, such extra-mural scholars had access to everything available to the members of the university.

Potential solutions

1.  Access through an academic friend

  This is probably the most widely used method at present. Its drawbacks are:

    —  In most cases it represents breach of copyright.

    —  It is not conducive to browsing.

    —  Unless the friend is a very good one, it is not a possible route when large numbers of papers need to be consulted.

2.  Paying to access individual articles

  This is an expensive way of accessing the literature, which makes it particularly unsuitable for small institutes and amateurs. It is only practicable when the precise research paper is already known, but again of little help for browsing.

3.  Publishers changing their rules

  The number of external readers at university libraries is very small in relation to the number of internal readers. The proportion of them who can afford individual subscriptions to a wide range of journals is also small.

  It seems to us, therefore, that it would cost the publishers very little to allow libraries to extend to external readers their access to e-journals, so long as the number to whom that was extended did not exceed some (small) percentage of the total readership of the library.

4.  Open access publication

  This solves this problem completely. It does, however, bring other problems in its wake for those who work in small institutions and amateurs (see below).


  The introduction of the Web of Knowledge has provided researchers with their most powerful tool to date to search for and access information, revolutionising the way in which they work. Access to the Web of Knowledge is restricted in the same way as access to e-journals and thus small independent institutions and academics are at a disadvantage. A similar solution seems appropriate.


  Scientific publishing has become concentrated in a few hands. This disadvantages many taxon-based publications because they are generally not of interest to the major publishers, as a result of their small circulations and the restricted potential for increasing their subscription rates (because they cover poorly-funded fields and a significant proportion of their subscribers are often amateurs or from small institutes). Most local societies and research groups publish their own journals, but these are increasingly likely to be overlooked (ignored) by major publishers and libraries. Thus they are left in the hands of small publishers who are often incapable of protecting their market against aggressive marketing by the large publishers. "Bundling" of numbers of e-subscriptions by the larger publishers has severely exacerbated this competition.



  These are a major break-through in accessibility for all readers, though most on-line journals have failed so far to produce designs that make it as easy to scan and browse their content as with print journals.


  Open access publication creates problems for authors in terms of paying the publication fee that most such journals have to charge. Should there be official support for the development of open access publication, it is important that it is comprehensive. That is to say, all government departments and agencies should routinely provide funding to meet publication costs in the grants and contracts they issue. For such funding to be provided only through research councils (for example) would disadvantage those whose main sources of funding are elsewhere. (The small, independent institutes undertaking so much of the taxon-based and environmental research that is fundamental for national policies on the environment get most of their funding from sources other than the research councils).

  Systems of support that minimize the need for authors to be charged need to be strongly encouraged. We strongly support the suggestion, made by the BTO, that Copyright Libraries be given similar access to on-line as to printed works.

Down-side for the amateurs

  Amateur authors will be unable to publish in open access journals that do not operate waivers of charges for those without funds. We would therefore suggest that those promoting open access publishing strongly support the establishment of waiver policies.

February 2004

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 20 July 2004