Memorandum from the Society for Experimental
The Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) is
an international learned society (membership1,700) and
is affiliated to the Biosciences Federation. It owns three international
plant journalsthe Journal of Experimental Botany
(JXB), the Plant Journal (TPJ) and Plant Biotechnology
The journals generate nearly a third (over £200K)
of the SEB's annual operating budget and these funds allow the
Society to subsidise scientific conferences, provide bursaries
for young scientists, provide training opportunities for postgraduate
students and work with schools and society to improve the appreciation
1. If the scientific journal market continues
in its current direction many independent journals will be squeezed
out. In the long term a reduction in the variety of journals will
occur resulting in a monopoly market and editorial control being
concentrated in large commercially owned journals.
2. A move to an author-funded open access
model of publication for primary research fulfils the aims of
the SEB to promote the knowledge and practice of plant science
and provides and supports the continued success of its journals.
3. In our opinion the government should
promote the move to open access through making funds available
for authors who wish to publish in open access journals.
4. If funds are not made available, two
systems should be put in place in the short term:
(a) if authors wish/or are able to pay for
open access, they should be able to do so BUT there should be
discounts or allowances for those without resources for open access.
(b) The standard submission procedure should
remain in place whereby authors do not need to pay for submission
and their work is made available for free after 12 months as is
currently the case.
Big deals offered by large publishers squeezes
the proportion of library budgets left for other journals. Our
publishers, Oxford University Press and Blackwells, have negotiated
some substantial consortia deals in which the JXB, TPJ and PBJ
are included, however despite the fact that these deals now account
for 50% of institutional subscribers they provide less than 6%
of income. Information from other journal managers confirms these
figures are about standard.
Against a background of tightening library budgets,
it has been necessary to raise the subscription price of our journals
year on year. This is largely to compensate for the decline in
the number of subscribers but also to support electronic publication.
One consequence of increased journal prices is that individuals
belonging to small research groups have only very limited access
to journals. Journals for teaching also take a low priority in
University libraries narrowing the literature available to students.
Plant scientists in particular often complain about the pre-enlightenment
attitudes of the general public to plant science and in particular
the genetic modification of crops. For all the above reasons a
freely accessible literature is desirable.
Developments in bioinformatics have made accessibility
to the complete literature critical if progress is not to be impeded.
If we are to move "Towards predictive biology" as stated
in BBSRC's "A Ten-Year Vision" access to the complete
literature is essential. The only way to guarantee this is to
make access free.
Although in the short term it is easy to come
up with a list of reasons not to move to an author-funded open
access model the long-term benefits to science will be well worth
the effort. Open access will also promote good practice by removing
the competition between journals for the subscription market concentrating
effort in the competition for authors. Focus will shift to production
presentation and editorial processes.
For government-funded research extra funding
for authors at the submission stage should be made an imperative.
Re-evaluation of the RAE criteria could also be useful and more
store put by actual citations to authors papers rather than citations
to the journals in which they are published. In turn this would
put pressure on authors to submit to journals that optimise accessibility
and searchability thus providing a service to authors and furthering
the cause of science.
Current peer review processes guarantee the
quality and reliability of publications and these should be upheld
as they are. Copyright agreements could be refined but are important
in guaranteeing the integrity of source data and the maintenance
of a reliable scientific archive. Some open access initiatives
suggest the abolition of copyright but there are hidden dangers
and these would need careful exploration.
An author pays open access model will put pressure
on societies to keep publication costs of primary research to
a minimum and provide incentive to explore other sources of income.
Adding value to the sections of the journals which remain under
subscription control such as reviews and special issues will not
only provide income to support the activities of the society but
also fulfil the society's objectives in promoting and communicating