Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Society of Chemical Industry

  The Society of Chemical Industry (SCI, is a not-for-profit learned society that was established in 1881 to provide a forum for scientists and people from business and industry to share information and foster innovation and enterprise. We own four scholarly journals.


    —  As an international organisation that aims to foster scientific innovation worldwide we are concerned about: maintaining quality and reliability of published scientific information; and sustainability over the long term to protect continued access to scientific information.

    —  We are against any move to a publishing system that relies on authors being able to afford publication fees in order to get their work recognised. Such a business model is likely to silence the work done by scientists in the developing world, particularly in certain topics where a large proportion of research comes from poorer countries.

    —  Revenue from our journals is fed back into the Society and is a vital part of funding a range of educational activities, awards and bursaries both in the developed and developing world.


  1.1  SCI is a unique international forum where science meets business on independent, impartial ground. Members include consumer representatives, environmentalists, industrialists and academic researchers. The Society offers a chance to share information between sectors as diverse as food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, environmental protection, energy, materials and chemicals. Founded in London in 1881, today SCI is a registered charity with members in over 70 countries. SCI's charter requires that the Society shall "advance the science of applied chemistry and related sciences for public benefit by . . . publishing appropriate journals, books and other communications".

  1.2  SCI is a small publisher, owning four peer-reviewed journals: Journal of the Science of Food & Agriculture, Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology, Polymer International and Pest Management Science. The journals are well-respected niche titles with Impact Factors ranging from 0.98 to 1.4 (JSFA is ranked second in its field category). Both the author and subscription bases are highly international (eg, authorship across all four journals is at least 90% non-UK). SCI's journals provide a unique "Technical editing" service for all accepted articles; this is especially helpful for authors from the developing world. Journals provide 40-45% of the gross revenue to SCI. The surplus (after funding associated editorial and other services) is invested back into the society.

  1.3  SCI has, for over 100 years, played a unique role in bringing together innovators and entrepreneurs. Members have included the inventors and business people behind such developments as the light bulb, aspirin, the first synthetic dye and the first plastics; this trend continues today. Besides its publishing activity, SCI:

    —  runs subsidised conferences and meetings to further professional development across a wide range of scientific disciplines;

    —  awards bursaries enabling students and young people to undertake specific projects and educational activities, both in the West and in developing countries;

    —  holds open debates where the public can quiz scientists and opinion-formers;

    —  proactively communicates peer-reviewed research to the public via its Press Office;

    —  provides a forum for global connections to be made between science and business.


  2.1  The number of articles published in scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals has exploded in the past 20 years ( This explosion in output (the result of an increased number of scientists along with the pressure to publish; UK academics for the RAE, US academics to gain tenure) has directly led to a dramatic proliferation in the number and size of journals. But the budgets of university libraries (one of the largest consumers of this kind of information) have not increased in proportion. As a result, today's problem with scientific information is lack of money in the demand sector to buy the increasing research output. One reaction to the cost of STM information has been the "Open Access" (OA) movement, which is seen as an easy solution to the `serials crisis'. But rarely is there a simple solution to a complex problem.


3.1  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?

  3.1.1  The relationship between publishers and their customers is a very complex one. Because SCI is a small publisher, in order to maximise dissemination of the content in our journals, we have chosen to work with a succession of commercial publishing partners, currently John Wiley & Sons Ltd. SCI and its members (many of whom are in the teaching and research communities) have therefore benefited directly and indirectly from our journals being part of electronic licensing schemes between publishers and librarians including "big deal" initiatives.

  3.1.2  Electronic licensing has opened up access to scientific literature hugely, and was a natural extension of much material being made available online. Page views on Elsevier's platform ScienceDirect® grew from 30 million in 1999 to 350 million in 2002 (BNP Paribas, Professional Publishing Sector Note, Oct 2003). A number of publishers report that their "access denied" statistics range from 5-10%, which suggests that access to the information is comprehensive (ALPSP/PA Forum, 28 Jan 2004, London). In addition, commercial publishers who are members of initiatives like HINARI and AGORA enable access to information by scientists in the developing world.

3.2  What action should Government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?

  3.2.1  We believe there is a competitive market in scientific publications.

  3.2.2  It is worth noting that STM journals rely on the goodwill of academic volunteers to referee submitted articles. This process is crucial to maintaining the quality of peer-reviewed journals. If time to referee papers is not built into grants, the quality of these journals will inevitably fall.

  3.2.3  Any intervention in that market could seriously affect quality of scientific journals or hinder access to publication by scientists in all countries and all disciplines regardless of funding. We believe that the UK Government should:

    —  reconsider issues related to VAT on electronic journals;

    —  consider increasing acquisitions budgets of libraries;

    —  consider putting aside money to purchase a national site license;

    —  find a new way to measure quality (impact factors cannot compare across disciplines); update RAE accordingly;

    —  build into funding time to referee for journals (and recognition of this and other volunteer activity);

    —  allow market forces to act on their own.

3.3.   What are the consequences of increasing numbers of open-access journals, for example for the operation of the RAE and other selection processes? Should the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?

  3.3.1  In contrast to traditional STM journals, papers in OA journals are freely available on the web; authors pay for publication (currently $500-$1,500, but likely to increase significantly). Although superficially appealing for maximizing information dissemination, it is an economically untested model. SCI concurs with both ALPSP and STM Publishers (see Appendices) in welcoming new business models, but believes they should be self-sustaining and economically viable (not dependent on donations or special funding).

  3.3.2  What will happen—and who will pay for—archiving (one of the most important features of any scholarly publication exercise) and new features. Currently, publishers reinvest vast sums of money to support digital conversion and archiving and develop new and enhanced features (these have included infrastructure for electronic journals, CrossRef, COUNTER, etc).

  3.3.3  The proponents of Open Access debate are academics in western, developed countries, which could lead to discrimination against research produced in the developing world. There may be a particularly adverse impact on the ability of scientists in developing countries to afford Open Access fees necessary for publication. Also, some disciplines are not funded well (eg ecology), which raises questions of who will pay for publication of papers in those areas. Waivers cannot be made for every author.

  3.3.4  It is worth noting the results of the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER; City University, UK) on what authors know and want. Only 5% of authors feel well informed about the Open Access movement; many authors are hostile to the idea of page charges even though many dislike the current subscriber pays model; and as readers they are generally content with their access to journal literature (ALPSP/PA Forum 28 Jan 2004, London).

  3.3.5  Industry tends to be a big consumer of scientific information, but doesn't contribute many papers (Chemistry in Britain, Dec 2003, p 33). Academia/government might end up subsidizing industry in an Open Access world. But longer term it is also possible that industry will lose out—the current system (including trusted journal "brands") provides a framework for researchers to quickly identify research with long-term relevance. One effect of unregulated Open Access could be that industry (and all interested parties) would have to work harder to identify relevance. This could have a knock-on effect on innovation and competitiveness.

  3.3.6  There is concern in the scientific community that this sort of funding model could open the door to industrial (or political) influence over where and what material gets published. Control over the records of research might shift to those who can pay.

3.4  How effectively are the Legal Deposit Libraries making available non-print scientific publications to the research community; what steps should they be taking in this respect?

  We concur with the views of ALPSP on this point.

3.5  What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

  3.5.1  The best way of preventing fraud and malpractice is to ensure that there are robust publishing controls. With Open Access there could be a proliferation of small businesses running on a cost-recovery basis. These enterprises would be unlikely to invest in costly protective and legal frameworks.

February 2004

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