Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Society for Experimental Biology

  The Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) is an international learned society (membership—1,700) and is affiliated to the Biosciences Federation. It owns three international plant journals—the Journal of Experimental Botany (JXB), the Plant Journal (TPJ) and Plant Biotechnology Journal (PBJ).

  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 of science.


  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 science.

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