Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Society for Applied Microbiology

  The Society for Applied Microbiology is the UK's oldest microbiological society and was founded in 1931 as the Society for Agricultural Bacteriologists. It has approximately 1,700 members and publishes three peer-reviewed journals.

  The Society is an unincorporated body and a registered charity governed by the Committee who are trustees of the Society in charity law and is well represented on many important scientific committees and organisations.

  Our mission is to advance the science of microbiology in partnership with sister organisations and microbiological bodies to ensure that both microbiology and microbiologists are able to exert influence on policy-makers within the UK and world-wide. We also play a leading role in working with many different organisations to educate, inform and support the training of our future microbiologists.

  The Society, in line with the Government policy on openness and Science and Society Select Committee recommendations, are pleased for this response to be publicly available.


  Making available the results of research to the scientific community and the wider public is at the very heart of scientific endeavour. It facilitates progress, the application of science to improve quality of life for all and, scientific, educational and economic developments.

  The funders of research are also keen to gain recognition of results by publication in peer-reviewed, reputable, widely read journals.

  The Society publishes three journals

    —  Journal of Applied Microbiology

    —  Letters in Applied Microbiology

    —  Environmental Microbiology

  These are offered to members as part of the membership fee—currently £47.50 which includes on-line access to all three journals. Therefore the Journals are an obvious major benefit of membership. Without their provision it is doubtful whether the Society would be able to continue in its present role.

  The Journals are published for the Society by Blackwell Publishing with whom SfAM has a good, long standing relationship. The Chief Editors and Editors, who are predominantly members of the Society, perform their editorial functions voluntarily. Secretarial support for the Chief Editors is paid for as part of the running expenses of the Journal. Blackwell Publishing markets the journal and decisions on access etc are managed by a Publication's Committee that includes the Chief Editors and Honorary Officers of the Society. The Journals are the main generators of funds for the Society which uses these to promote the interests of its membership and to advance the science of microbiology.

  The Society holds scientific meetings at low cost to members who otherwise may not have access to eminent speakers in their fields. The Society provides grants to attend meetings, students from developing countries and for work placements. There are funds to support specialist workshops, lectures, culture collections etc. All of which are only possible due to the income derived from the Journal which, in turn, depends upon continued quality improvements and outreach marketing.


Big Deal Schemes

  The Society Journals have benefited from "big deal schemes", particularly in expanding the sales of these relatively small circulation journals. The Society launched Environmental Microbiology in February 1999 and its success has been partially due to its wide availability.

  With "big deal schemes" researchers and other interested parties have access to a wide range of journal titles. When a journal becomes available in libraries via a consortial agreement usage increases, also it's wider readership encourages increased submissions to the Journal. This indicates that there is a need in these libraries to take the journal, but not enough money to warrant an individual subscription. By working with our publishers we have made our journals available to a wider audience and on-line.

  Moving towards usage may be a fair way of measuring how much an institution should pay for access, but until data is properly comparative this will not happen.

Promoting a competitive market

  While wishing to promote a fair and open market, the needs of learned societies must not be overlooked. As outlined above, journal sales are the main funding stream for the Society's scientific activities, including conferences, training and educational activities

  Probably the most positive step would be to ensure a level playing field between different sized publishers in order that high quality journals published by learned societies do not get marginalised.

  In addition a review of the "Impact Factor" system of measuring Journal quality should be undertaken.

Open access

  Open access (subscription free) journals could be seen as a way of increasing the availability of research results to the wider scientific community. However, as highlighted above, learned societies such as SfAM rely on the income from publishing for the promotion of both science and, current and future members interests. A major issue is the viability of journals in an open access market, since the financial models are not clear. Would journals of learned societies such as SfAM disappear. Who has tested the model?

  Open access shifts the costs to authors in the form of page charges. In turn this may come from the research grant that funded the study being reported upon. Some institutions are paying page charges from a central overhead as they pay for journal subscriptions.

  There are no examples of a successful financial model in Open Access (OA) and often the role of Societies is not taken into account in the debate. We rely on the journal in two ways to ensure our mission is achieved—we use them as a way of promoting/helping microbiology research and we use the income to fund other activities for the good of the microbiology community. OA will risk the latter—we could not be certain to achieve a comparable level of income. Much of the profits from publishing go directly back to the academic community via Societies. Companies make money out of the process too, but this is no different from many aspects of science—consumables, kit etc., all generate profit for a company. But without a company driving the innovation in electronic publishing, customer service, global publishing etc., we would not be where we are in the current publishing processes. In addition, any surplus of income from the journal could be considered as the contribution of the free input from Editors and reviewers, and that they get their "payment" in terms of the service that the journal provides to the community. Under OU, how long before these people decide to charge for their services?

  In an on-line environment, the article is often the first item to be seen, not the journal. Users will still be concerned with the quality of the journal, and its brand is an indicator of the quality to be expected. Open access does not necessarily mean a decrease in quality, but there is an element of vanity publishing which could arise—if an author is willing to pay, someone will be willing to publish—an important shift the from the current situation with most European journals. What will be important is that there are indicators on expected quality of that particular article—journal brand, Impact Factor etc. As far as an RAE goes, if the current measure is number of articles published in high IF titles, then there is no reason why this should not continue. Open Access journals will have to achieve high citations like other journals. However, it may be the case that as they are freely available, they receive an unfair number of citations from potentially "lazy" researchers who just need something to cite on a particular aspect of their paper.

  Our journals are part of developing world initiatives, and JAM, LAM and EMI are all involved in providing free access to researchers in developing countries via HINARI for medical researchers (for more information, please see the HINARI website at: http:/ and AGORA for agricultural researchers (http:/

Risks of Scientific Fraud and Malpractice

  The question of scientific fraud and malpractice is an interesting one. Open access per se is not necessarily more prone to this problem provided that the existing convention of peer review is adhered to.

  Peer review is an important and integral part of the editorial process of the Society's Journals. Editors, the editorial board and reviewers are not generally remunerated for their efforts. The peer review process has recently come in for criticism but it is difficult to think of a more appropriate approach. Instead of raising alternatives effort should be put into ensuring it is a robust process consistent across the scientific publishing world. Those giving their time, energy and expertise to the review process (usually unpaid) should be recognised. Unfounded criticism may result in senior academic figures and experts being reluctant to take part in the process.

  Fraud—plagiarism—may be easier to achieve but also easier to detect in the electronic world where searches can be easily made where doubt of originality exists.

February 2004

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