Memorandum from the Society for Applied
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
These are offered to members as part of the
membership feecurrently £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
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
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 (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
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 achievedwe 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 latterwe 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 scienceconsumables, 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
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 ariseif an author is willing
to pay, someone will be willing to publishan 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 articlejournal 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
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:/www.healthinternetwork.org/) and AGORA for agricultural
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.
Fraudplagiarismmay be easier to
achieve but also easier to detect in the electronic world where
searches can be easily made where doubt of originality exists.