Memorandum from the Engineers Professors
1. WHAT IMPACT
It should be understood that "big deal
schemes" really means the selling of a full collection of
Journals, or possibly all of a publisher's output for little more
than was previously spent to subscribe to just a few of them.
This clearly significantly increases access, but it has the contrary
effect that individual Journal suppliers might be priced out of
the market. In addition, libraries are sometimes thereby tied
into a multi-year agreement which can produce problems in subsequent
years for financing.
This clearly has impact on the teaching and
the research communities since there is a growing divergence between
the amount of research seeking publication and the money available
to buy it. It is unlikely that library funding will be increased
significantly in the near future.
2. WHAT ACTION
Competition in this market is not too easy to
define inasmuch as, in one sense, there is no competition for
the Journal market. It is unlikely, for example, that one Journal
could be substituted for another. There is, however, the cognate
point that publishers are undoubtedly competing for libraries'
limited funds. The `big deals' referred to above undoubtedly favour
the largest publishers for understandable reasons. Perhaps the
most positive step that could be taken is to try to level the
playing field between large and small publishers, with encouragement,
and perhaps even support, being given to small publishers by way
of helping them to undertake this assignment.
3. WHAT ARE
It should be understood that `open access' Journals
are those where the author pays to have his article published.
It does not, however, abandon the traditional processes of peer
review and editing. It is simply an alternative publishing model.
There can be no doubt that it is desirable that any assessment
process or evaluation exercise should consider equally papers
published in all peer review journals regardless of the medium
or business model, provided only that they are of adequate and
The government should be wary about supporting
such a trend, however, because as indicated in a recent Times
Higher Education Supplement letter, "open access is in danger
of applying the most invidious and insidious form of academic
censorship: the rich get published and the poor don't". This
has, of course, implications for funding by the research councils
and if they were prepared to give money for open access publications
in their grants then this of course would be an added advantage.
4. HOW EFFECTIVELY
It appears that legal deposit libraries are
already subscribing to electronic Journals. There does seem, however,
to be a number of problems arising in this area and a great deal
of discussion and collaborative work is being undertaken with
publishers and, for example, the British Library.
The problem is that of adequate funding to permit
storage access provision and long term preservation of the deposited
material. If, however, that could be assured, it is likely that
publishers would readily licence the libraries to do more with
the deposited material than current legislation allows.
5. WHAT IMPACT
It appears that peer review in the past, while
not a perfect medium of assessment, has proved robust in detecting
unsound research results. Since open access Journals maintain
the same processes of peer review it is likely that this would
continue even in this area. Proposals to reform the current peer
review system have not received enthusiastic support from the
academic community. The internet seems to permit a more rigorous
checking for textual plagiarism.
Of course, if unreviewed preprints are posted
on the internet then appropriate controls are no longer in place.
Legal liability in cases like this are not well definedthis
is perhaps an area where the government can do more.