Memorandum from Professor Ray Spier, University
I am a senior editor of three journals: Vaccine
(Elsevier), Enzyme and Microbial Technology (Elsevier),
and Science and Engineering Ethics (Opragen Publications).
In relation to the first journal I am in receipt
of funds that cover office and travel expenses, an honorarium
and a royalty while for the second I obtain office and travel
expenses and an honorarium. The third journal is a product of
"The Spier Partnership" which established "Opragen
Publications" that is wholly run by M.Spier (my wife). At
present the income from this journal covers its operating expenses,
which includes some travel expenses, leaving a small profit for
1. What impact do publishers' current policies
on pricing and provision of scientific journals, particularly
"big deal schemes", have on libraries and the teaching
and research communities they serve?
They require purchaser institutions to formulate
policies about journal usage and expenditure. It is also envisioned
that the miles of shelving that the current rates of publication
are demanding may finally be coming under a viable control. Also,
big deal schemes enable increases in purchasing efficiency as
one order may cover several hundred journal titles. In addition
to the journals purchased, provisions may be made to use gateway
facilities to the journals of other publishers via a functioning
The teaching and research communities need information
quickly (normally, now) and comprehensively. They need to have
the sense that their resource base will not let them down when
they seek the information they require. They also need to be able
to generate paper copies of reviews and articles both for teaching
purposes and for research. The physical process of conversion
should be cheap, simple, reliable and readily to hand.
So, from the teachers and researchers points
of view, the more information that is available with the minimum
of expenditure of energy and time is the ideal. The big schemes
are more likely to provide these facilities to this kind of specification.
It should also be noted that an open-access
system that bye-passes academic and professional societies may
deprive them of that necessary funding that enables them to effect
their activities. This would lead to the enfeeblement of this
sector of the professional world which would severely jeopardise
the relationship between scientists, engineers and the public.
2. What action should Government, academic
institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive
market in scientific publications?
Clearly, competition between publishing houses
is the primary area for such interactions. For publishers to compete
as a group with an open access system where the authors pay for
their publication to appear on the web (where on the web?) is
as yet an untried and untested approach to publication. There
are several other issues that need to be considered. One is that
authors in paying for publication expect to be published. This
will lead to the flooding of the system with papers of widely
varying degrees of excellence. Secondly, it will also make the
archiving of such literature difficult as people, web sites and
effort will be needed to both establish and maintain such sites
with a high degree of access and reliability for an indefinite
and extended future time.
Should the academics want such a site there
is nothing preventing them from proceeding. Indeed there are many
such sites available today. However, some have come and gone while
others survive by up-front funding provided by grant giving agencies.
I would also wish the committee to note that
scientific publications are not a commodity. They do not wax and
wane in value as do the markets in silver or oil. Each publication
constitutes an element in a self-supporting and growing entity
that is the body-of-knowledge. Every such element has its shape,
time and place and when these are out of kilter with the zeitgeist
the publications are virtually worthless. However, each of
these publications is needed to provide the groundwork for the
next outstanding discovery or invention. By analogy, you may need
a quarry full of gravel to find the odd precious stone; without
the bulk of the supporting gravel the stone of real and exceptional
value may not be formed.
Nevertheless, when converted to intellectual
property via the patent or secrecy system a value may be achieved
by overt or blind auction with industry with little reversion
to government, academia or the publishers to facilitate this process.
It should be noted that this is a relatively rare process as most
developments of commercial value are more efficiently generated
in research institutions or in the R&D departments of industry.
3. What are the consequences of increasing
numbers of open-access journals, for example for the operation
of the Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes?
Should the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?
I would imagine that judgements of quality would
be more difficult were all publications subject to the vicissitudes
of the open-access system. The laissez-faire ethos of the
open-access procedures will leave referees and selection panel
members with greater uncertainties than at present.
Were the government to support this situation,
then there will be an even larger increase in the ambiguity that
necessarily results from the uncontrolled and unsupervised deposition
on the web of publications of uncertain value.
4. How effectively are the Legal Deposit Libraries
making available non-print scientific publications to the research
community, and what steps should they be taking in this respect?
I have no experience of this facility. As these
libraries acquire paper versions of publications, I am not sure
how well equipped they are to supply electronic publications to
individual academics or researchers, particularly as many such
electronic publications require subscription.
5. What impact will trends in academic journal
publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?
The more publications, the greater the financial
and personal pressures, the lower the quality of supervision and
example by hard-pressed academics the more malpractice can be
assumed. The frenetic nature of the present find collaborators-put
in grant application-do the research- publish system the greater
the pressures to cut corners and be either economical or overly-enthusiastic
with the material at one's disposal.
So we are seeing:
multiple publication of the same
or similar work;
work that is bacon sliced into its
minimal new information content;
work that is statistically insignificant
posing as worthwhile science;
the operation of publication mills
based on the application of a new technique to all and sundry;
compliance to the dominant paradigm;
the misuse and abuse of the audiovisual
In short, when the establishment withdrew its
trust from academics and scientists as it made them compete with
one another for scarce resources there was a radical decrease
in quality (although not quantity) of the overall research output.
Outstanding research, that takes years of patient, critical and
stringent experimentation to achieve, was made harder, if not
altogether impossible, to effect.
As you sow; so do you reap.