Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 61

Memorandum from the Institute of Biology

  1.  The Institute of Biology is the independent and charitable body charged by Royal Charter to further the study and application of the UK's biology and allied biosciences. It has 14,000 members and over 60 specialist learned Affiliated Societies (see www.iob.org). The IOB publishes two peer-reviewed journals itself, and the Affiliated Societies publish around 70 further publications between them, making the IOB ideally placed to respond to the above consultation.

SUMMARY OF THE IOB'S RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE GOVERNMENT

To promote a fair, competitive market in scientific publishing

  2.  In any new legislation that affects scientific publishing, consider the importance of publishing income to learned societies and their beneficial activities in the scientific community (paragraphs 15, 19, 24, 29, 30, 42).

  3.  The Impact Factor is a problematic measure of journal quality. Alternative systems should be explored by looking at other existing ratings systems (paragraphs 20-22).

  4.  Large publishers could be seen as holding a monopoly position in the market. Consider whether Big Deal schemes are the best way for libraries to get the maximum number of journals and balanced scientific coverage for the funds available (paragraphs 19, 25-29).

  5.  Consider whether scientific publishers should be competing for subscriptions at all. When the primary aim for all parties is higher impact research, increasing access to academic journals is vital. Subscription free journals would be one answer to this. Other forms of competition, such as for high quality papers, could still take place. Open access policies should be explored (paragraph 35).

To explore open access policies

  6.  A quantitative analysis of the economic effects of converting journals (both current and archived) to open access should be undertaken, considering where journals will derive their income if not from subscriptions, how commercial publishers will be able to expand and grow, and how learned society publishing income can be protected (paragraphs 37-42).

  7.  The international scope of research and many journals should be taken into consideration in any government open access initiative in the UK (paragraph 43).

  8.  An analysis of how institutions will benefit from open access publishing should be undertaken, with regards to the costs of subscriptions now vs. the costs of publishing their research in open access journals. How institutions will obtain funds to publish papers not derived from grant-funded basic research (eg reviews) should also be considered (paragraph 44).

  9.  In order to support open access publishing, the government could encourage researchers to publish their outputs in open access journals by stipulating this as a condition of research grants and providing author publication funds. It should make clear to researchers that research published in peer-reviewed open-access journals will be eligible for inclusion in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), and any impact of introducing author fees on scientists' ability to publish should be considered in RAE processes (paragraphs 46-50).

To support quality and access in on-line journals

  10.  The British Library Digital Object Management Programme should be supported to ensure secure storage of on-line publications (paragraph 58).

  11.  On-line articles should be subjected to the same quality checks as print journals. Peer reviewing activities should be recognised in the RAE to encourage researchers to undertake peer review. Electronic publishing is increasing the problem of plagiarism and computer software for detecting plagarised text may be more heavily relied upon in future. Publisher copyright agreements may be a useful system for ensuring that several different versions of a paper do not end up on the Internet. Public awareness should be raised of the mechanisms of quality control for scientific research (paragraphs 59-62).

INTRODUCTION

  12.  Three main stakeholder groups exist in the process of publishing scientific journals: researchers and institutions, scientific publishers and funders of research.

  13.  Researchers and institutions publish the outputs of their research in peer-reviewed journals to make them accessible to other researchers for them to be read, used and cited. The more they are read, used and cited, the greater the impact of their research. And high impact research means career advancement and future funding for the researcher, and prestige and funding for the researcher's institution. Researchers and institutions are also the consumers of other researchers' and institutions' outputs; they need access to publications in order to carry out their research effectively.

  14.  Scientific publishers or editors organise the refereeing process and act as a medium by which the article is delivered to the reader. Currently, most journals exist as a commercial business, making money from reader/library subscriptions in return for this service. Commercial publishers can perhaps be separated from learned society publishers only by the fact that profits from society journals are generally invested back into the scientific community through the missions and activities of the society. Some societies don't make profits on their publications at all but produce them as a service to members. All publishers want to increase the circulation of their journals to increase subscription income and to help increase the "Impact Factor" and thus desirability of their journal (which is based on the number of citations their articles receive).

  15.  Government, industry and charity funders of research want to see the research they fund gaining the largest impact possible to prove the money was well spent and promote the scientific development of the country (or the success of their business in the case of industry). They, therefore, have an interest in the outputs of their research reaching as large an audience as possible.

  16.  For all three stakeholder groups, high impact research is the goal. The government has an interest and influence in all parts of the process, in that it funds a substantial amount of UK research and, as a consumer, funds a large number of the subscriptions of scientific publishers through university library budgets. A significant amount of business wealth and employment in the UK is also dependent on the well being of the scientific publishing industry.

  17.  Within the scientific publishing process, Institute of Biology (IOB) members generally represent the researcher/institution category. In addition, many of our 60+ Affiliated Societies are learned society publishers of academic journals. After canvassing views from these groups, the following issues are discussed in this paper:

    —  Publisher competition;

    —  Open access policies; and

    —  Online publishing—quality and access.

PUBLISHER COMPETITION

  18.  Competition between publishers promotes high quality journals, a better service to authors and keeps subscriptions in check. However, commercial publishers and learned societies are often not competing on an equal footing, as they vary widely in the set-up and objectives of their operations. For example, learned society publishers usually publish between one and four peer-reviewed journals within the same discipline (with the largest, the Institute of Physics, publishing around 40 journals), while some commercial publishers, such as Elsevier, produce over 2,000 titles across a range of disciplines. With this market dominance, commercial publishers can offer libraries deals and schemes for journals across a range of specialisms to further increase their market share. And a larger circulation can mean a higher Impact Factor, increasing their competitiveness for research articles.

Competition for research articles

  19.  Several factors can influence a researcher's choice of journal, for example, area of specialisation, speed of publication and whether there are page or colour charges. But the main factors are the prestige, reputation and quality of the journal, and this is largely measured by the "Impact Factor". A higher Impact Factor indicates that papers previously published in that journal have been read and cited more, making it an attractive place to publish work.

  20.  Impact Factors are produced by a company and do not cover all journals. The company charges a substantial fee to libraries to have access to Impact Factor records and operate something of a monopoly. Unfortunately, the Impact Factor does not necessarily reflect the standard of the work. It is strongly influenced by the number of workers investigating a topic, and an article may even be heavily cited because lots of other authors are refuting the research findings it contains. It is also possible to increase the Impact Factor of a journal by publishing review articles, which are generally more frequently cited. A cheaper subscription, the status of the publisher and inclusion in a Big Deal scheme can all affect the Impact Factor of a journal. In addition, the "educational" role of scientific papers are not reflected by Impact Factors. Use by undergraduates, postgraduates and lecturers does not involve citation by researchers and so plays no part in the calculation of Impact Factors. Therefore, the Impact Factor rating system has many problems.

  21.  Other rating systems do currently exist and could be used to help to develop a better universal system for rating journal quality than the Impact Factor. For example, the "Euro-Factor" is a new rating system for European biomedical journals developed by VICER (www.vicer.org). Journals are selected under a strong peer-review quality selection process on the basis of inclusion into an abstract indexed European database, quality of peer review process, and other quality requirements. Over 500 journals are currently listed under a range of categories. In addition, the "Faculty of 1000" website (www.facultyof1000.com) highlights and reviews the most interesting papers published in the biological sciences based on the recommendations of 1,000 leading researchers.

COMPETITION FOR SUBSCRIPTIONS

  22.  The number of scientific journals in the world is ever increasing, yet library budgets are decreasing. They must do their best to buy in and provide for their researchers as wide a range of journals as possible. There are hundreds of journals, and therefore research outputs, that are not available to researchers simply because their libraries cannot afford them. The outputs of hundreds of researchers are therefore not having the impact that they could. Libraries may make the decision to buy a particular journal based on several factors, for example, the Impact Factor (see paragraphs 20-22), whether it is available on-line (see paragraph 56-57), the subscription cost and whether it is part of a publisher Big Deal scheme.

Subscription cost

  23.  Although the costs of running a journal are fairly constant, subscription prices vary widely. The differing objectives of charity/society publishers vs. commercial publishers may be one reason for this. High impact journals also tend to charge more. A money-tight library may opt for cheaper journals rather than the ones the teaching and research community needs, and researchers have to defend the continuing appearance of their specialty journals.

Big Deal schemes

  24.  Big Deal schemes allow institutions to buy electronic bundles of journals from one publisher across a wide range of subjects. This is often good value for money for the institution and allows publishers to increase the potential readership and sales of journals.

  25.  Due to these schemes it is thought that a larger range of journals are now available to most academics compared to five years ago. It certainly means that journals that could otherwise not be afforded are now available. For example, one researcher surveyed found that Geoderma, a soil science journal from Reed-Elsevier that had previously been abandoned by his library (at a saving of around £1,000 per annum), is now available under a Big Deal scheme.

  26.  Big Deal schemes are also a way of expanding sales for small circulation journals, such as The British Society of Soil Science's journal Soil Use and Management, which is now available through such a scheme.

Disadvantages of Big Deal schemes

  27.  It was found that librarians are often wary of Big Deal schemes, as they may not include some of the key or more expensive journals essential to their readers. Journals not included in these schemes might not be bought as individual titles due to the extra cost, yet less essential journals are bought in as part of the deal. There seems to be little flexibility for opting out of parts of schemes to use the reduction in cost to buy non-Big Deal journals.

  28.  Big Deal schemes also give large publishers with large portfolios a massive competitive advantage over smaller ones, and could be seen as promoting a monopoly. Elsevier strengthens its position further by providing a convenient and freely accessible on-line information service allowing worldwide access to what is available in its journals (BioMedNet). The outcome is a swing towards groups of journals that do not necessarily represent balanced scientific coverage. Libraries are finding it ever harder to purchase valuable journals from smaller, not-for-profit sources (eg learned societies and educational charities).

  29.  Is it really desirable that government funds to universities, channelled through library budgets, end up supporting the profit margins of commercial publishers? It can be argued that journal sales are more important for learned societies in that they often fund many of their other scientific activities, such as conferences, training and educational activities. On the other hand, commercial publishers have probably done more to make their journals available to a wider audience and on-line. In both cases, many scientific publishers use the profit from their periodical publishing to partly subsidise much less profitable book publishing. If their income was reduced, the first casualty may well be the learned volumes that are unlikely to produce a profit.

"How can the government promote a fair, competitive market?"

  30.  The government has significant influence over science publishing, as the funder of much UK research and, in particular, the source of university library budgets. The government might want to consider several options for promoting a fair, competitive market:

  31.  In any new legislation that affects scientific publishing, consider the importance of publishing income to learned societies and their activities in the scientific community.

  32.  Alternative measures of journal quality to the Impact Factor should be explored by looking at existing ratings systems

  33.  Large publishers could be seen as holding a monopoly position in the market. Consider whether Big Deal schemes are the best way for libraries to get the maximum number of journals and balanced scientific coverage for the funds available.

  34.  Finally, should scientific publishers be competing for subscriptions at all? When the primary aim for all parties is higher impact research, increasing access to academic journals is vital. Subscription free journals would be one answer to this. Other forms of competition, such as for high quality papers, could still take place. Open access policies should be explored (see paragraphs 36-55).

OPEN ACCESS POLICIES

  35.  Open access (subscription-free) journals are, it seems, one answer to increasing the availability and, potentially, the impact of research carried out in the UK. By definition, such journals are Internet based. BioMed Central (www.biomedcentral.com/home/) already provides over 100 journals free of charge on the Internet. However, with a well-established scientific publishing industry and many learned societies relying on publishing income, there are several issues to consider when developing wider open access to research outputs in the UK.

Publisher costs and income

  36.  In order for journals to survive in an open access world, the costs of administration, editing, printing and maintaining journal websites will need to come from somewhere other than subscriptions. An open access model whereby authors pay for publication costs rather than subscribers has been put forward by several organisations such as the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust suggests that publishing costs should be included in research grants, which would entail all funders of research (government, charity and industry) agreeing to increase their research grants/expenses to account for this—a major undertaking that would take many years to phase in.

  37.  A possible consequence of this model is funders of research may start to stipulate that research outputs must be published in a journal with an Impact Factor (or other quality measure) above a certain cut off point. Journals with low Impact Factors may not be able to compete and a culture of discounts may begin. In addition, a problem may arise when papers are written after the end of a grant when researchers may have moved on—some funders insist that all the money must be spent at the time the grant finishes.

  38.  Who pays for the publishing costs of journals that publish reviews or articles that have not been derived from basic research? Many less-well funded academics would find it hard to publish unless journals had sufficient income to operate bursary schemes. BioMedNet uses a different approach to get round this—as well as charging authors for publication costs in some journals, it also has over 400 institutional and corporate "members" from 32 different countries. Each pays a membership fee to support open access publishing, and in return gets benefits such as author-fee waivers and a web page devoted to the institution and its publications. There needs to be a quantitative study on whether potential income from authors or BioMedNet-type "members" would be equal to the current income from subscriptions.

  39.  Journals currently strive to increase income by increasing subscriptions. If income were derived from authors paying per page, journals would have to publish more pages or charge more per page in order to increase income. Both these options are limited, in that publishing more pages is limited by the potential workload of editors and reviewers, and page charges will need to be competitive and cannot increase indefinitely. The open access model, therefore, leaves little room for business expansion and perhaps little incentive to stay or enter into science publishing as a commercial activity.

  40.  In an open access model, it would be ideal to have access not only to new articles but also to archived articles going back, in some instances, for many decades. Although many journals have made their pre-1980s editions electronic, many charge to access them. There would be income lost in making archived material open access.

  41.  Learned society publishers are a special case. Many society journals are offered to society members either free or at a reduced rate to members. Making the journals open access would take away this benefit of membership and could reduce membership subscriptions—another important source of income.

International publications

  42.  The open access model comes into difficulties when you consider that research and journals are often truly international. Many UK journals receive papers from overseas where research funders may not be able/want to include a publication cost in grants. How will those authors pay the costs of publication? In addition, many UK researchers will require access to articles in journals published abroad, where open access policies have not been implemented. Libraries will still have to pay subscription fees to gain access to this research. If the UK were to instigate a significant change to the method by which UK researchers publish their results, both UK science (and therefore scientists) and those journals that are less international may suffer. For example, rather than instigating wholesale changes, many publishers may simply prefer to receive papers from US researchers. The UK government also has a responsibility to consider scientists in developing countries. They need to publish their research and the international scientific community needs to be able to access it. Any changes should be agreed on an international playing field.

Institution costs and benefits

  43.  The changes that an open access model would signify for university budgets would also need to be analysed. Currently all pay a certain amount to gain access to a number of journals, and usually nothing for publishing their research. In the new model, all would pay nothing to access all journals, but the amount paid by each institution on publishing will vary depending on the activity of its researchers. Publishing costs for research funded by project grants will be covered in the open access model, but what about other types of publications? Would institutions be able to cover the cost of publishing review articles, and what if one research project leads to multiple articles and a particularly high number of pages?

Affect on quality

  44.  There is concern that open access journals will somehow lose the quality of subscription journals, but if a rigorous peer-review process is maintained there is no reason for this to happen (see paragraph 59 for more on peer review). As open access journals would remove competition between publishers for subscriptions, the emphasis would move to obtaining the best articles, especially if a better mechanism for rating journals were developed. So rather than cause a degeneration of quality, open access models may actually promote quality and more rigorous peer-review processes.

Affect on research assessment

  45.  The 2001 Research Assessment Exercise stipulated: "When assessing the research quality of a research output, panels may take into consideration evidence that the item has already been reviewed or refereed by peers as one measure of quality. However, the absence of such review may not, in itself, be taken to imply lower quality. Hierarchical lists or weightings of output types are not used in the assessment process. Panel members form judgements on all the evidence presented in the round, with full awareness of the wider context in which the outputs presented have been developed." In addition, a recent report by researchers on research assessment said: "The most important characteristics of high quality research were seen as rigour; international recognition; originality; and the idea that the best research sets the agenda for new fields of investigation." [210] Therefore, unless open access journals have some affect on the ability of researchers to publish their work, and as long as rigorous peer-review processes are maintained, it is difficult to see how open access policies will have any consequences for the Research Assessment Exercise. Although it should make clear to researchers that research published in such journals will be eligible for inclusion in the Research Assessment Exercise.

  46.  Conversely, the RAE process is thought to have distorted the journal market. The RAE fails to recognise that "scholarship" is multifaceted and not to be judged solely by publishing five papers in high impact journals. Open access, author payment models that affect scientists' ability to do this will force the RAE to revise its quality assessment processes. It is time for the RAE to change and accept that there are a variety of inputs that should be used to judge the worth of a particular researcher.

Self-archiving

  47.  Self-archiving is when researchers themselves place their already peer-reviewed/published research outputs on publicly accessible websites to further increase accessibility to research. Some institutions, such as the University of Southampton, already host an archive for their own research (http://cogprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk).

  48.  When a researcher has a paper accepted for publication in a journal, they can request permission to self-archive. Whether permission is granted depends on the copyright agreement that the author has with the publisher. If permission is not given, there are ways round it, ie pre-peer reviewed manuscripts can be self-archived along with the reviewer's comments. If this practice became more common and researchers made their outputs accessible to all by self-archiving, then journals will have little demand for subscriptions. So although self-archiving is not a replacement for open access, peer-reviewed journals, it may encourage journals to become open access.

  49.  However, the concept of self-archiving does seem to be based on trust and prone to misuse. For example, it will be difficult to check whether research posted on self-archive deposits have permission from publishers to be there and whether they have been through the peer review process.

"How should the government explore open access?"

  50.  Open access journals are one way of increasing access to research outputs in the UK. However, in order to address the issues detailed above and support open access journals, the government should consider the following:

    51.  A quantitative analysis of the economic effects of converting journals (both current and archived) to open access should be undertaken, considering where journals will derive their income if not from subscriptions, how commercial publishers will be able to expand and grow, and how learned society publishing income can be protected.

    52.  The international scope of research and many journals should be taken into consideration in any government open access initiative in the UK.

    53.  An analysis of how institutions will benefit from open access publishing should be undertaken, with regards to the costs of subscriptions now vs the costs of publishing their research in open access journals. How institutions will obtain funds to publish papers not derived from grant-funded basic research (eg reviews) should also be considered.

    54.  In order to support open access publishing, the government could encourage researchers to publish their outputs in open access journals by stipulating this as a condition of research grants and providing author publication funds. It should make clear to researchers that research published in peer-reviewed open-access journals will be eligible for inclusion in the RAE, and any impact of introducing author fees on scientists' ability to publish should be considered in RAE processes.

Online Publishing—Quality and Access

  55.  On-line publishing is not another word for open access publishing. The Internet has provided a medium through which journals can become open access, but on-line journals are mostly subscription based and also available in print. Therefore, on-line publishing itself has not necessarily increased access, but it has revolutionised the ways in which researchers can search for and source articles in journals to which their libraries subscribe.

Provision to libraries

  56.  Initiatives already exist to get libraries the best deals in on-line publishing. NESLi2 is the UK's national initiative for the licensing of electronic journals on behalf of the higher and further education and research communities for 2003-06. The agent for NESLi2 negotiates with large publishers, such as Blackwell Publishing, the Nature Publishing Group and Elsevier, for agreements on the provision of electronic journals.

Storage of articles

  57.  Publishers and distributors in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have a legal obligation to send one copy of each of their publications to the Legal Deposit Office of the British Library within one month of publication, under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003. There is some concern that purely electronic publications may somehow be lost and require formal storage processes. The Legal Deposit Libraries Act is currently being reviewed to include online publications, which are managed through a new digital storage solution, part of the British Library Digital Object Management Programme. They have already securely stored approximately 100,000 items and mechanisms by which the public can gain access to this information are being developed. Currently, this is not a commonly used route for obtaining on-line journals as it is often cheaper to buy a single article direct from the publisher.

Peer review

  58.  On-line articles should be subjected to the same quality checks as print journals and whether the article is peer-reviewed should be indicated on any article published on the Internet. Readers rely on the editorial processes of print journals to ensure that published research is original, rigorous and of high quality within the context of the particular discipline. Peer review is the accepted method by which research is checked for quality before publication, and should be used for all academic journals, both print and on-line. There is debate about the fairness, consistency and value of peer review in general, but it is difficult to come up with better quality checks. Rather than think of alternatives, it may be more important to ensure that the peer review process is robust and transparent, as this can vary across journals and is often quite opaque. Journals could insist on double-blind reviewing, where the identity of both the author and the reviewers are concealed during the review, but this is thought by some to be an unachievable task. Some kind of audit on the quality of refereeing, ie a review of the reviewers, would also serve to improve the quality of the process, and the responsibility of the reviewer to make only defensible points should be emphasised. On-line publishing may provide a means by which authors can reply to referee comments where they feel their papers have been unfairly rejected. Whether for print or on-line journals, peer review should be recognised in the RAE as an important scientific task. Without such recognition, it may be difficult to persuade key scientists to devote the time necessary to undertake peer review efficiently and effectively.

Fraud and malpractice

  59.  It is easier to plagiarise large chunks of text from electronic articles and the consequences of this are often reported in the scientific press. It is a problem for both publishers and lecturers, whose students can take chunks of text straight from the Internet. Text that is translated into other languages is particularly hard to detect. Expert referees are relied upon to pick up on plagiarism as individual fields of research tend to be fairly small, but computer software for detecting plagarised text may be more heavily relied upon in future. The IOB has an ethical code to which all members sign up and relies on others to report any member engaging in untoward activity.

  60.  Electronic communication, including email and the Internet, has made delivering information to a large number of individuals extremely quick and inexpensive. This means that releasing information before quality checks have taken place is increasingly easy, and even reviewed information can be misrepresented, by part-publishing papers out of context. Scientists, journalists and the wider public should therefore be aware of the differences between peer-reviewed research and non-peer-reviewed research. This is discussed further in the Biosciences Federation response to the Royal Society's consultation on "Best practice in communicating the results of new scientific research to the public".[211]

Copyright agreements

  61.  Some authors believe that handing over copyright to publishers goes against the drive for better access to articles and restricts dissemination of a piece of work. However, publishers argue that this facilitates maximum protection against infringement, libel or plagiarism and enables requests from third parties to reproduce, reprint or translate an article to be dealt with efficiently. Elsevier also states that "by obtaining the exclusive distribution right it will always be clear to researchers that, when they access an Elsevier site to review a paper, they are reading a final version of the paper which has been edited, peer-reviewed, and accepted for publication in an appropriate journal." Therefore, this may actually be a useful system for ensuring that several different versions of a paper do not end up on the Internet.

"How can the government support quality and access in on-line journals?"

    62.  The British Library Digital Object Management Programme should be supported to ensure secure storage of on-line publications.

    63.  On-line articles should be subjected to the same quality checks as print journals. Peer reviewing activities should be recognised in the RAE to encourage researchers to undertake peer review. Electronic publishing is increasing the problem of plagiarism and computer software for detecting plagarised text may be more heavily relied upon in future. Publisher copyright agreements may be a useful system for ensuring that several different versions of a paper do not end up on the Internet. Public awareness should be raised of the mechanisms of quality control for scientific research.

February 2004




210   Steven Wooding and Jonathan Grant. Assessing Research: The Researchers' View. May 2003. Available at: http://www.rareview.ac.uk/reports/assess/AssessResearchReport.pdf Back

211   Best practice in communicating the results of new scientific research to the public. A response from the Biosciences Federation to the Royal Society. September 2003. Available at: http://www.bsf.ac.uk/recent.htm Back


 
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