Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 40

Memorandum from the Engineers Professors Council

1.  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?

  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 SHOULD GOVERNMENT, ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS AND PUBLISHERS BE TAKING TO PROMOTE A COMPETITIVE MARKET IN SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS?

  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 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?

  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 appropriate quality.

  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 ARE THE LEGAL DEPOSIT LIBRARIES MAKING AVAILABLE NON-PRINT SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS TO THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY, AND WHAT STEPS SHOULD THEY BE TAKING IN THIS RESPECT?

  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 WILL TRENDS IN ACADEMIC JOURNAL PUBLISHING HAVE ON THE RISKS OF SCIENTIFIC FRAUD AND MALPRACTICE?

  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 defined—this is perhaps an area where the government can do more.

February 2004



 
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