Memorandum from BioMed Central Limited
BioMed Central Limited is an independent publishing
house committed to providing immediate free access to peer-reviewed
biomedical research. This is known as Open Access.
All the original research articles in journals
published by BioMed Central are immediately and permanently available
online without charge or any other barriers to access. This commitment
is based on the view that open access to research is central to
rapid and efficient progress in science and that subscription-based
access to research is hindering rather than helping scientific
BioMed Central is committed to ensuring efficient
and effective quality control through full and stringent peer
review of the research it publishes.
BioMed Central publishes a wide variety of journals
and other services.
BioMed Central's portfolio of over 100 journals
ranges from the highly selective, general interest Journal of
Biology, which publishes both online and in print, to a range
of specialist online only journals. BioMed Central also publishes
Faculty of 1000, the leading literature evaluation service.
Free and unrestricted availability of biomedical
(known as Open Access) is technically possible, financially viable,
and of great benefit to the advancement of research. It should
also be the right of any interested member of the public to have
free access to publications describing the results of publicly
For the avoidance of doubt, published
research findings are what is also known as primary research literature,
and does not refer to so-called secondary publications such as
literature reviews, news, commentaries, and other information
A. Present situation
1. Most scientific literature is now available
online, but the potential for universal availability with the
associated benefits for science and society at large are not realised
due to the inherently restrictive practices of economic publishing
models based on subscriptions or access licences, which are still
the prevailing norm.
2. The subscription model was well suited
to print publications, but does not do justice to the potential
of online publications, which are inappropriately `shoehorned'
into this model, severely limiting their potential.
3. As a result, the dissemination and usefulness
of scientific research literature is inadequate for the modern
and future needs of scientific discovery.
4. The traditional publishing model is the
cause of growing dissatisfaction among researchersboth
in their role of authors and of readersas well as among
librarians and university administrators, who feel the ever-increasing
squeeze of budget limitations.
5. Free and unrestricted access to research
literature increases the visibility of scientific results, whereas
the old, subscription model restricts dissemination. However,
access alone is not sufficient. When results can also be freely
used, freely re-analysed, and freely re-distributed, their usefulness
and impact is increased and scientists in their role as both authors
and readers benefit, as does anyone interested in research results,
such as teachers, students, health-related workers, patients and
their families, administrators and policy-makers, journalists,
and any other interested parties.
6. Whilst very strong economic arguments
exist for free access benefiting scholarly libraries, they are
not the most important: the future of science requires the benefits
of full availability of the science literature including the possibilities
of free and unrestricted re-distribution and use. Free availability
and usability of the full-text also ensures proper indexing by
search services such as Google and others, which greatly enhances
the ability of the material to be found.
7. A few science publishersone of
the first and largest of which is our UK-based company, BioMed
Central Limited, and another is the Public Library of Science
in the USAhave pioneered a radically new publishing model
that ensures universal, barrier-free (ie gratis and without the
requirement to register) online access, now commonly known as
B. Open Access
8. The definition
of Open Access that we use at BioMed Central has three, equally
The universal and permanent free
online availability of research articles in an easily readable
and re-usable format;
The affirmation from the author (or
copyright holder) that the material can be used, re-used, reproduced,
and disseminated freely, on condition that it is correctly cited;
Permanent secure archiving and perpetual
barrier-free access to and usability of research articles. (This
is ensured by requiring that Open Access research articles be
archived in at least one, and preferably more, widely and internationally
recognised archive committed to providing Open Access to the medical
and life science research literature, such as PubMed Central.)
9. This definition has, in essence, been
accepted and adopted by funding bodies as diverse as the Howard
Hughes Medical Institute (USA), the Wellcome Trust (UK), the Max
Planck Society (Germany), the German Research Council (DFG), the
French Scientific Research Council (CNRS) and the French National
Medical Research Institute (INSERM). It is also used by the recently
started publishing venture Public Library of Science (USA).
10. The Open Access publishing model recognises
that publishing carries a cost, but instead of paying the cost
out of subscription income, with its associated restrictive consequences,
it derives its income from `article processing charges' at the
input-side of the publishing process. This ensures that there
are no restrictions to universal dissemination, access, or usage
of the published research.
C. Open Access is beneficial for all biomedical
science, but urgently needed for medical research
11. A substantial amount of biomedical research
in the UK is publicly funded. Currently, about 30% of SET (Science
Engineering Technology) R&D is public money (£5 billion
out of a total of £17 billion), according to DTI figures.
12. Results from this research are likely
to have a substantial impact on the quality, ease and efficiency
of providing medical care, and on facilitating further biomedical
13. Results of a significant proportion
of this research are currently never published, because journals
(or researchers themselves) are unwilling or not interested in
14. There are strong arguments that all
citizens should have unrestricted access to the published results
of publicly funded biomedical research:
Clinicians will be able to provide better care;
Researchers will be able to speed up research and
Patients will be better and more fully informed about
the medical options available to them.
15. Currently, most of the results that
are published appear in journals that severely restrict access
to this information to those who have paid a subscription or access
licence. Significant segments of the interested community and
of the intended audience do not have easy access to this information,
including teachers, students, patients and their families, health-related
workers, administrators and policy-makers, journalists, and frequently
also researchers in institutions without subscriptions to all
the relevant literature.
16. Scientists, science administrators and
funding bodies have been aware for some time of the flaws in the
current system and are beginning to act to change the situation.
Many would support the introduction of a requirement that a) all
sound publicly funded (biomedical) research must be published;
and b) all this research must be published under the Open Access
rules which guarantee free and unrestricted access, the right
to redistribute and to use the information contained in the published
results for any other legitimate purpose.
17. All Open Access proponents agree that
research findings should not be published without having undergone
proper peer-review in order to ensure that the information is
presented correctly, fully and without exaggeration.
D. Government intervention
18. Government intervention is needed because
of the benefits of Open Access to science and society at large.
The tools and infrastructure exist (internet) and the cost is
likely to be considerably lower than with the traditional publishing
model. Yet the widespread adoption of Open Access is hampered
by the usual objections to change and the deeply ingrained system
of judging publications, for the purpose of grants or careers,
by the Impact Factor of the journals they appear in. Whilst we
believe that, given time, the benefits of Open Access are strong
enough that they would on their own win over the academic community,
obtaining the benefits for science and society in the short term
requires additional stimuli for the development and growth of
19. Because we believe that unrestricted
access to findings of publicly funded medical research is a right
of all citizens, we urge the UK Government to mandate that research
results obtained from publicly funded medical research (most urgently
those from clinical trials) are published under Open Access rules.
Note that this requirement does not restrict publication to Open
Access journals, but would require any journal publishing such
research findings to accept the Open Access rules for the article
in question. Many subscription journals are in fact already operating
or considering operating a mixed publishing model, allowing some
papers to be published under Open Access rules.
E. The specific points on which the Committee
is inviting written evidence
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?
20. The current policies, based around a
subscription or access-fee publishing model for research literature,
have a severely limiting effect on the dissemination and efficient
use and re-use of the scientific literature and as a result also
on the spread and usefulness of knowledge. They harm the teaching
and research communities they are meant to serve.
21. The economics of the current scholarly
subscription-based journal-publishing model are unsustainable.
It already harms the ability of libraries to provide substantial
and balanced information services to their constituencies. BigDeal
bundling schemes and the prevalence of very high prices for science
journals have led to a budget crisis in libraries in both the
sciences and the humanities. Taming price inflation is not enough.
Unless the current model is changed, academic libraries and universities
will be unable to continue providing researchers, students, and
teaching staff with the access they require to the world's scholarship
and knowledge. Scholars will be unable to make the results of
their research widely available.
22. There are four separate (but related)
policies that, particularly when operated jointly, exacerbate
the impediments to teaching and research communities' access to
science literature to such an extent that the academic community
should no longer support them.
23. The first problematic publishing policy
is charging for access (be it via subscriptions, licences, document-delivery,
or pay-per-view). For academic scientists, publishing their actual
research results is a necessity, unlike publishing many other
kinds of information, which is optional. A research publication
is unique, only published once, and not interchangeable. A system
in which there are barriers to access compromises the very basic
need of optimal dissemination of scientific knowledge.
24. The second problematic policy is a necessity
for the payment-for-access model, but throws up a barrier in its
own right as well. This is the policy of requiring the author
to transfer either all copyrights, or, sometimes, the exclusive
dissemination rights to the publisher. Whilst this may be necessary
for the subscription model to operate properly, it makes subsequent
re-use of research material very cumbersome and sub-optimal, due
to the need to obtain prior permission for many forms of re-use,
such as inclusion in course-packs, textbooks (even if written
by the same author as the articles to be included), databases,
et cetera, especially as permission often necessitates
a fee. This, obviously, also hampers dissemination and is, in
the case of textbooks and course-packs, particularly damaging
to scientific education.
25. The third is the practice of `bundling'
(BigDeal schemes) in which libraries are deprived of the option
to subscribe to only the journals that are relevant to their institution,
or punished for being selective by facing subscription prices
that effectively put the cost of the selection at or near the
cost of the entire bundle. The effect of this is that libraries
spend a growing proportion of their budgets on a decreasing number
of bundles and increasingly lack the means to subscribe to relevant
journals from smaller publishing houses (such as specialised scholarly
societies) that publish only one or a few unbundled titles. This
is an impediment to the ability of libraries to tailor their collections
optimally to the research and teaching needs of their institution.
26. The fourth is a practice by some publishers
of giving access to `legacy' publications and journal archives
only to those with a current subscription rather than making the
archives available separately. This locks subscribers in. This
practice needs to be abolished where it is current and made impossible
to implement by those who do not currently do it but might wish
to in the future.
27. The Open Access publishing model suffers
from none of the disadvantages above and offers genuine relief
for libraries and the researchers, teachers and students they
What action should Government, academic institutions
and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific
28. Research articles are, by necessity,
unique, published only once, and not interchangeable. The same
article cannot be published in more than one journal without causing
grave difficulties for the system of citations that gives science
literature its coherence. This makes any given journal a monopoly
preventing a properly functioning competitive market in scientific
publications as long as the reader (or someone on behalf of the
reader) has to pay subscription fees.
29. Because of these inherent monopolies,
the current market in scientific publications is not competitive
in the usual economic sense. The problem is not that any one publisher
has control over the market, but rather that any traditional science
publisher has a monopoly on the distribution of every article
it publishes. Readers and libraries are not in a position to make
an economic choice. If they need to reador providea
particular research article, they have to pay the price set by
the publisher of the journal in which it appears. When neither
readers nor libraries have an effective economic choice, prices
are not subject to the corrective pressures of a functioning competitive
30. There is no such lack of choice for
authors. They can exercise their choice when deciding to which
journal to submit an article for publication (in most disciplines
and on most levels there is more than one option). Open Access
publishing, whereby access to the research literature by the reader
is free and unrestricted, provides a mechanism for payment by
the author (or on behalf of the author) which pays for the cost
of providing maximum dissemination rather than for access. This
mechanism allows economic factors (price) to play a role in the
author's choice and thus ensures a functioning competitive market
with its natural effect of price moderation.
What Government should do:
31. Given that:
the scientific community as well as society at large
benefit from maximal dissemination and optimal re-use of scientific
the technology to achieve maximal dissemination exists;
the cost of the scientific literature is largely
borne by the research establishment in either the Open Access
or the traditional publishing model;
the Government is urged to seek to reverse the
traditional publishing models and encourage a competitive Open
Access model, which avoids the limitations of the traditional
model and delivers the benefits of maximal dissemination and unrestricted
use of scientific research literature.
32. Specifically, Government is urged to:
Require that Government-funded research results are
freely available with full Open Access;
Mandate that included in any Government grant is
an amount sufficient for the author to pay any reasonable article
processing charges necessary for publishing in Open Access journals.
What academic institutions should do:
33. To accelerate the establishment of the
input-paid Open Access model as the norm for the publication of
biomedical research, academic institutions should:
De-couple their tenure, promotion, and funding procedures
and decisions from the metrics that are currently provided for
traditional subscription-based journals, such as citation Impact
Judge scientific articles on their intrinsic merits
instead. (While new Open Access journals are not in principle
excluded from obtaining Impact Factors, it is a process that takes
at least three years and often longer, losing valuable time for
the benefits that Open Access confers to science and society,
because authorsrightly, in the current assessment climateperceive
publishing in a new journal without an Impact Factor as potentially
jeopardizing their career prospects.);
Support the payment for publication at input.
What publishers should do:
34. It is understood that publishing costs
money. Open Access is a commercially viable model to defray those
costs. Publishers, including scholarly societies with a journal-publishing
programme, have the expertise and experience to organise and manage
the publishing process and are in a position to expedite a transition
to Open Access. We recommend that publishers review their current
practices in the light of the changed scientific and technological
environment, and make the transition to a viable Open Access publishing
35. We recommend that journal-publishing
scholarly societies with a charitable status stay true to their
charitable mission and advance the interests of their chosen scholarly
discipline by providing Open Access to their journals. We recommend
that they do not use their charitable and tax-exempt status to
engage in profitable commercial journal publishing along the traditional
subscription model to raise funds for their other, non-publishing,
activities, as this is, in our view, contrary to their mission.
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?
36. Open Access is only relevant to the
RAE in the sense that all Open Access journals are new and therefore
do not yet have the reputation that is universally perceived as
being the crucial factor in impressing the RAE assessors.
37. This perception drives researchers to
attempt to publish in a very select number of journalsa
fact much lamented by the researchers but seen as a necessity.
38. The journals are those with high Impact
Factorsan average measure of the number of citations to
papers published in the journal, not a measure of an individual
paper in the journal, and widely recognized as a crude and flawed
39. The RAE should strongly encourage the
development of far more sophisticated metrics, including the number
of downloads of articles online, and should consider operating
some form of positive discrimination in favour of those who choose
to publish in Open Access journals and thereby help to advance
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?
40. If and when Legal Deposit Libraries
make deposited online scientific research publications available
to the scientific community, they can only do so at a price arranged
with and determined by the publisher or copyright holder. They
are prevented from doing anything else until the publisher or
copyright holder does not, or cannot, make the material available
himself any longer. However, Legal Deposit Libraries are in an
excellent position to provide and preserve an Open Access Archive
for all Open Access material that is available, and in doing so
give assurance to the scientific community that research articles
will not be lost or become inaccessible if journals or publishers
41. The Government is urged to require that
the Legal Deposit Libraries in the UK provide and preserve Open
Access Archives for medical and scientific Open Access articles
published in the UK.
What impact will trends in academic journal publishing
have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?
42. Open Access is not expected to have
much impact on most scientific fraud and malpractice per se, but
will materially increase the chances that fraud will be detected
because of the ready availability, in full, of Open Access articles.
One specific type of fraud, plagiarism, is especially more likely
to be found out if the full text of articles is available for
comparison by readers or by software designed to detect textual
146 For the avoidance of doubt, published research
findings are what is also known as primary research literature,
and does not refer to so-called secondary publications such as
literature reviews, news, commentaries, and other information
For the avoidance of misunderstanding: Open Access is a property
of individual articles, not necessarily of journals or publishers. Back