Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the British Pharmacological Society

  1.  The British Pharmacological Society ("the Society" or "BPS") is the primary learned society in the United Kingdom for pharmacologists, and one of the most prominent in its discipline in the world. Pharmacology is the science of how drugs work. It is different from pharmacy, which is concerned with the provision of medicines to the public. Pharmacology is a fundamental discipline in the development of new and improved drugs to save and improve the quality of life, both human and animal, throughout the world. Pharmacologists work "from bench to bedside": in other words from basic molecular and cellular research on the mechanisms of health and disease, through the pre-clinical and clinical development of new drugs for specific conditions, to the monitoring of reactions to drugs that are in widespread use and the optimisation of prescribing practice in hospitals and primary care. The Society has 2,622 members in 55 countries, working in academia (research and teaching), industry, the medical profession, and regulatory authorities. The Society is a charity and a company limited by guarantee. The Society is one of the founding members of the Biosciences Federation.


  2.  The Select Committee's notice of its inquiry into scientific publications does not make any reference to publishing by learned societies. For many such bodies it is a central activity. It contributes to their scientific objectives to promote their disciplines and also provides income to fund their other activities, to enable them to be offered to the scientific community, either free or at a considerable discount on the real cost. The Committee's Chairman has said that: ". . . Researchers, teachers and students must have easy access to scientific publications at a fair price. . ." The BPS agrees with this statement. However, it is important to recognise that income from scientific publishing by learned societies is ploughed back into the support and development of the scientific disciplines they represent.


  3.  The Society is the proprietor of two scientific journals: the British Journal of Pharmacology (BJP—established in 1946) and the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP—established in 1974). Both are peer-reviewed primary research journals and rank high among their competitors. Both journals are available online as well as in hard copy. The Society also publishes an online-only journal—pA2 Online, which contains the peer reviewed proceedings of our scientific meetings together with some other materials of general interest to pharmacologists.

  4.  Both journals are available to members of the Society free online and at a considerable discount for hard copies. A large number of pharmacologists world-wide are therefore able to access the two journals at a very small cost. We have plans to provide articles published more than one year ago free online to all users, further extending accessibility.

  5.  The Editorial Boards of the BJP and BJCP consist of volunteer scientists, mainly but not all BPS members, who undertake peer review and other editorial work on a pro bono basis. They are drawn from the pharmacology community world-wide, and so provide an international perspective, which is vital for journals that draw their contributors from all over the globe.

  6.  For the BJP and the BJCP, the Society works in partnership with commercial publishers—Nature Publishing Group and Blackwell Publishing respectively. We have had this type of arrangement since the inception of the journals, and for a small learned society it works well. Some large societies act as their own publishers, which suits them, as they have the resources to back a publishing arm. However, partnerships with commercial publishers provide small societies with access to the specialized publishing skills (including electronic publishing), marketing expertise, and distribution networks of a large publisher, as well as the attendant economies of scale, while ensuring that the societies maintain control over the scientific quality and direction of their journals.


  7.  The Society's formal charitable objective is: "to promote and advance pharmacology, including without limitation clinical pharmacology". We do this by:

    —  running general and specialised scientific meetings;

    —  providing networking opportunities for scientists in pharmacology and related fields;

    —  offering bursaries to assist in attendance at important scientific meetings overseas and, for younger scientists, in this country too;

    —  funding PhD studentships;

    —  assisting with the costs of teaching undergraduates about the use of animals in scientific research;

    —  providing continuing professional development materials for doctors specialising in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics;

    —  providing information to school and university students and teachers about courses and careers in pharmacology;

    —  providing information to the public via our web site ( and to journalists writing about how drugs work; and

    —  making awards to both young and mature pharmacologists to recognise high achievement in science.

  We also work closely with international and European federations of pharmacological societies to promote the discipline and encourage networking across borders. The Society is the UK representative to the International Union of Pharmacology (IUPHAR) and shares with the Royal Society the payment of the UK subscription. Through IUPHAR the Society contributes to developing pharmacology in poorer countries. In 2008 we shall be hosting the quadrennial meeting of the European Federation of Pharmacological Societies, and underwriting it financially. The publication of the journals themselves also makes a direct contribution to our objectives, by facilitating the communication of pharmacological research.

  8.  In 2002-03 we spent over £850,000 on promoting and advancing pharmacology. Nearly £800,000 of this came from our publishing activities. Without this income we should either have to raise funds in a different way or cease to provide most of our current activities. Alternative sources of funds for the Society's activities would include increasing membership subscriptions; charging higher fees for attendance at our meetings; and introducing publication charges to be paid by authors. All of these options would risk taking Society membership and activities out of the reach of many younger scientists and scientists from less wealthy countries. There would also be an effect on UK Government spending, through the Research Councils, and on medical research charity spending, as research grants would have to be increased to take into account these new costs.

  9.  A recent survey of authors by an American scientific society showed that while 50% of them would be willing to pay charges to allow free access to their papers published in a scientific journal, only 2% of them would be willing to pay charges at a level that would cover the costs of the service and compensate for loss of subscription income. [186]

  10.  If the BPS and other similar learned societies had to cease some of their activities because of lost income from journal publication, there would be a major gap in the scientific infrastructure in the UK, which would have to be filled, and the costs would have to be borne by the same bodies that currently bear the costs of journals—universities, research institutes etc. Similarly, if the business model for scientific publishing changes from payment by readers to payment by authors, the funds will ultimately come from the same sources. It is a delusion to believe that open access will mean cheaper science. If scientists are to have confidence in the information they receive, some kind of peer review system is needed, and this has to be paid for somehow. Learned societies are very cost effective in this respect, because their editors and referees work for the good of the discipline and for professional recognition rather than for monetary reward.

  11.  The Select Committee has asked what impact trends in academic journal publishing will have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice. Current trends are towards increasing use of electronic media, with all the associated concerns about ensuring the integrity of the published work. Commercial publishers will no doubt give evidence on the technical aspects of ensuring that once published online, papers cannot be changed. Academic researchers increasingly have their own web sites. Many peer reviewed journals permit authors to post accepted papers on these personal sites in parallel with publication in print on paper and online journals. This is a helpful trend. The ease of placing information on web sites does not in itself make fraud or misrepresentation more likely, but it makes it more likely that fraudulent work will be seen, as peer review will not necessarily have taken place. We could not claim that peer review is an absolute defence against scientific fraud, as several well publicised cases in recent years have demonstrated, but close examination by experts before publication is the best defence we have. Peer review also reassures scientists already overburdened with information that they are reading high quality work. A recent MORI survey commissioned by the Science Media Centre and Nature[187] found that although 75% of the public did not understand the term "peer review", 71% of them thought that either a peer review type process or some kind of replication of results by other scientists should take place before research findings are made public.

  12.  Finally, it should be pointed out that scientific publishing is an international business. Scientists submit their work to the most suitable journals, not necessarily to local ones. Successful journals find their authors and subscribers all over the world. Any actions by the British Government will affect only the British market, and may have unintended consequences for the health of British science and UK-based journals.

February 2004

186   PNAS February 3, 2004, 101, (5), 1111. Back

187   Science Media Centre Press release 2 February 2004. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 20 July 2004