Memorandum from Research Councils UK
1. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic
partnership set up to champion the research, engineering and technology
supported by the seven UK Research Councils. Through RCUK the
Research Councils are working together with the Arts and Humanities
Research Board (AHRB) to create a common framework for research,
training and knowledge transfer. RCUK was launched on 1 May 2002
and further details are available at www.rcuk.ac.uk.
2. The RCUK Strategy Group leads this partnership.
The members of the RCUK Strategy Group are the Research Councils'
Chief Executives along with the Director General of Research Councils;
the AHRB Chief Executive attends meetings as an observer.
3. This memorandum is submitted by Research
Councils UK on behalf of all the Research Councils and the AHRB,
and represents our independent views. It does not include or necessarily
reflect the views of the Office of Science and Technology (OST).
RCUK welcomes the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons
Science and Technology Committee inquiry into scientific publications,
which we have interpreted as covering all research publications,
including the humanities and social sciences.
4. The following annexes are appended:
RCUK RESPONSE TO
5. For the Research Councils, the fundamental
principle underpinning the issues considered by this Inquiry is
that ideas and knowledge derived from publicly-funded research
should be publicly available. Research Councils believe that the
peer reviewed and published output of their funded research must
be made available as widely and rapidly as possible to academic
and other communities, eg public sector, business, voluntary sector.
Councils recognise that new Internet-based models for the publication
of such output could play a useful role in the widening and speeding
of this access, which in turn support the Research Councils' knowledge
6. Another key principle for Research Councils
is that researchers should be free to publish their output wherever
they consider most appropriate for their audience.
7. Research Councils are taking a keen interest
in the questions posed by this inquiry. The response below provides
an indication of the issues that Research Councils are currently
considering (see paragraph 14).
A. 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?
8. Scientific and learned journals are an
important and necessary part of scholarly communication. Researchers
use these journals to publish their findings, discover and challenge
other people's findings and to further the development of their
research. Journals are a highly specialised resource: a particular
title is only available from its publisher and it is not interchangeable.
This leads to weak competition and no pressure to restrict price
9. For 20 years, journal subscription prices
have been rising well above the rate of inflationcaused
partly by the increased volume of papers submitted and published,
and partly by the increased commercialisation of scientific and
scholarly publishing. Thus the total expenditure on journal subscriptions
by UK university libraries in 2001-02 was £75 million and
journal prices rose by 7.1% in 2001.
Access to journals from smaller academic societies is being disproportionately
affected, as the major scientific publishers "bundle"
their journals to secure purchasing. Libraries everywhere find
that, through subscription, they are acquiring a diminishing proportion
of the world scholarship for the communities they serve. This
restriction on access obviously affects poorer institutions and
countries most. Researchers have begun to complain about a system
that asks them to submit (donate) their research to publishers,
and provide peer review and editing services for free, but which
then requires them (or their institutions) to pay journal subscriptions
to the publishers. In addition, some journals also require payment
of page or colour charges.
10. Research Councils are concerned that
the output from publicly funded research is handed free of charge
to commercial organisations that appear increasingly to make it
more difficult to gain access to publications derived from the
same research. This perception reflects a worldwide problem being
faced by academics, librarians and other interested parties. Consequently,
there has been a great deal of debate in the research community
around the issue of free online access to research resultsopen-access
B. What action should Government, academic
institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive
market in scientific publications?
11. Research Councils have noted (paragraphs
8 and 9) that the market in publications is imperfect. Open-access
publication may help to create a more competitive market through
the development of alternative models to printed publication (see
paragraph 13). Proponents of the open-access approach suggest
that such models provide variety and can genuinely enhance competition.
12. A more specific issue is that electronic
publications attract a VAT rate of 17.5%, whereas printed publications
are zero rated. The Government should consider rectifying this
anomaly if it wishes to create a level playing field in the publications
C. 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?
13. Open-access publication is the process
whereby the full text of original research articles is made freely
available to readers via the Internet, thereby reducing or eliminating
the need to subscribe to paper journals. The perceived benefit
is that the results of research would become much more globally
and instantly available. There are three possible models for making
information available in open-access:
Publishing peer-reviewed material
in electronic, open-access journals.
Creating archives on institutional
websites (eg universities, research funders), where the author
places a copy of the work, before or after publication, in a system
belonging to, for example, the institution for which s/he works.
Such archives could apply to Research Councils which run Institutes
and directly employ their own staff as well as other Research
Councils wishing to provide increased access to research funded
by them. These archives are usually structured and organized
for optimal retrieval and interoperability with other archives.
Researchers' self-archiving on their
own websites, often in advance of peer review and publication,
relying on computer-based search techniques to provide access
routes to their publication(s).
14. Open-access publication is just starting
to influence the way that research papers are published; a number
of recent developments and initiatives are listed at Annex 1.
It is too early to gauge the longer-term impact of open-access
publication or to reach a judgement about how widespread it will
become in future. In the context of these ongoing developments,
it is clear that Research Councils have an interest in helping
to shape the way that new publication regimes evolve. At this
stage, however, Research Councils are still in the process of
formulating a view on how best to approach the challenges and
concerns posed by the spread of open-access publication - for
instance, the MRC is currently conducting a web-based consultation
and NERC will be conducting a consultation within its own community
during March-April. There is a need for more evidence on the merits
of open publication from the research community, not least from
librarians, who have a good understanding of the needs of their
users. Research Councils recognise that many issues need to be
addressed jointly, where appropriate in conjunction with other
parties such as Universities UK and the Wellcome Trust.
15. There are five broad issues that Research
Councils will consider in framing their approach to open-access
peer review and evaluation;
the position of Learned Societies.
16. Economic model
16.1 With printed journal publication, the
direct cost is borne by subscribers (ie libraries, institutional
and individual subscribers). In open-access models, costs of publication
are not eliminated, but merely shifted (although they may be reducedsee
paragraph 16.3). With open-access journals, it is the researchers
who pay for the publication of their material,
raising the question of whether and how research funders, including
the Research Councils, should cover the cost of publication in
16.2 The costs of publishing could increase
considerably were open-access publication to become more generalised.
The journal Science has estimated that it would have to charge
$10,000 per paper were it to move to open-access publication.
The flat fee model exemplified by BioMed Central (see Annex 1
paragraph 4) may be relatively cheap at the moment,
but this is on the basis of a low current level of publication
in BioMed Central electronic journals. Any further development
of open-access publication could significantly increase the cost
of such agreements.
16.3 Conversely, there is evidence to suggest
that electronic journal publication is cheaper than its printed
equivalent because of lower costs of production and of competition
from self-publishing. For instance, where it does not have a flat
fee arrangement, BioMed Central charges $500 and the Public Library
of Science $1,500 per accepted article; Oxford University Press
charges £300 for an article to appear in the open-access
database for Nucleic Acids Research. These costs are considerably
lower that that suggested above by Science. Open-access publishers
themselves claim that eventually the electronic journal model
would be cost-neutral or lead to lower costs, as there would in
time be savings to libraries based on their ability to cancel
subscriptions to paper journals. However, until authors publish
more in open-access journals this will not happen, and authors
will not publish in e-journals until the latter's impact values
increase. During the transition phase, overall costs may therefore
increase before any savings can be made.
16.4 There has not yet been any extensive
modelling of the economics of open-access publication; this absence
of good models underlines the uncertainty about the cost of publishing
in electronic journals. Neither is there a full and shared understanding
about the economic model of electronic publishing in a commercial
16.5 There is a danger that Research Councils
may find themselves not only paying directly towards publishing/library
charges, but also for publication costs. At present, most Research
Councils do not permit grant-holders to apply for, or use, direct
costs on grants for author charges,
though they (or more strictly their institutions) may use the
indirect costs (awarded as a 46 per cent supplement to salary
costs) for this purpose.
Under the proposed transfer of responsibility stemming from the
reform of the Dual Support system, Research Councils would contribute
directly to library costs (currently paid entirely by the Education
Departments through the Funding Council streams) through meeting
their proportion of full economic costs, thereby paying towards
subscription charges for journals. At the same time, they would
also meet the same proportion of the costs of publishing their
funded researchers' material in journals. Research Councils feel
that the new TRAC
accounting methodology being introduced in universities should
be sufficiently robust to ensure that institutions and research
funders are not paying excessive author and subscription charges.
In addition, Government should recognise that, as a consequence
of Dual Support reform, Research Councils would be taking on additional
publishing costs, and that this should be taken into account in
setting Research Council budgets.
16.6 The creation of archives on institutional
websites does not carry any up-front publication costs. This type
of open-access may be appealing because of its apparent cheapness.
However, Research Councils (and in particular those with their
own Institutes) are aware that the maintenance of such repositories
could require a significant level of resourcing and management.
There are also legal issues to consider (see paragraph 19.1).
17. Peer review and assessment
17.1 The careers of researchers are dependent
on assessment of quality (for appointments, promotions, formal
reviews of research programmes etc); currently, data about where
researchers publish and how much their publications are cited
are often used a key piece of evidence to underpin such assessment.
It is therefore important to ensure that peer reviewers and interview
panels use the intrinsic quality of papers in open-access journals
as the main measure of quality, not solely the journals in which
they were published. Researchers would need to have the confidence
that this was the case.
17.2 It follows that it is critical for
material published in open-access journals, as long as they are
peer reviewed, to be included in any exercise (including the Research
Assessment Exercise) which judges the worth of research output.
17.3 A concern is that open-access could
provide a financial incentive for some publishers to accept more
papers (as income would be from payment to publish and not to
subscribe) and maybe reduce the quality threshold for publications
and subject them to less rigorous peer review. For others, it
will clearly be in their interest to maintain rigorous standards,
and conceivably to charge a premium accordingly. Research Councils
strongly believe that rigorous, high quality peer reviewwhich
has served printed journals well for a very long timeremains
a guarantor of quality whatever the medium and must be the norm
for open-access journals.
17.4 The open-access model has the flexibility
to allow institutional archives and researchers' self-archiving
to include material that has not yet been peer reviewed and published
(preprints). This allows research results to rapidly be accessed
in the public domain and to receive wide, critical exposure, in
some fields (but by no means all) obviating the need for formal
pre-publication peer-review. However, it is extremely important
to distinguish such material from articles that are published
electronically following peer review (postprints). Research Councils
should be attentive to drawing the distinction between preprints
and postprints for any material published on their own electronic
18. Digital preservation
Publications in printed form have survived and
been archived for centuries. The challenge for open-access publication
is to ensure that digital media remain as durable as printed material,
and that the costs of long-term archiving are manageable,.
The issues in question extend beyond publication, into the realm
of research datasets and linkage between papers and source data.
It is conceivable to envisage the emergence of sophisticated cross-referencing
between archives using developing technologies such as distributed
networking. In particular:
citations of other work and cross-references
through hyperlinks make for much more efficient and effective
use of a researcher's time;
with an institutional or e-journal
repository it is possible to have continuous peer-review with
digitally-signed annotations linked to the publication; and
the technology can make it possible
to link to and use computer software and data referenced from
a publication, allowing in-depth peer review and even experiment
replication in silico.
19. Legal issues
19.1 The placing of published material into
repositories is dependent on authors having the right to make
their output available for free. Over half of publishers now permit
this but for those that do not, the impediment is the transfer
of copyright that authors are expected to make to publishers.
Research Councils would like to see retention of this copyright
by authors in as many circumstances as possible. An important
recent development is that the journal Nature has set up an agreement
that allows authors to retain copyright, including the right to
in return for granting the journal a licence to publish and reproduce.
19.2 At a fundamental level, the very definition
of open-access publication, as contained in such authoritative
declarations as the Bethesda Statement (see Annex 1 paragraph
7), might be problematic because it is not clear what the open-access
domain could cover or exclude. NERC has voiced particular concern
about entering into a commitment that could undermine its own
role as an organisation that licenses key national data sets and
20. Learned Societies
Research Councils are aware of the concerns
expressed by many Learned Societies. Some of these institutions
generate significant income through publishing revenue (which
feeds back into UK research, for example through sponsored meetings
of researchers, fellowships and bursaries). Open-access publication
could present a threat towards what is an important income stream
for such organisations. Research Councils view Learned Societies
as key members of their communities and are concerned to ensure
that developing open-access publishing models do not impact on
the Societies' long term financial viability.
21. Pending further consideration of the
issues, Research Councils emphasise their commitment to the research
they fund being as widely available as possible, whilst allowing
scientists freedom to decide how to put this into effect. Moreover,
worthwhile dissemination of research is also dependent on effective
peer review. The current system has evolved to balance commercial
considerations with the constraints of such review. Open-access
is clearly a potential way forward for publishing, but an ill-considered
rush into open-access would seem risky. A key "early win"
would be for all publishers to make their back archives (say more
than three or six months old) freely available, ideally all electronically
in due course. Although an overnight revolution in publishing
seems unlikely, there is already a need for scientists to be able
to pay some publishing fees; Research Councils will need to ensure
that this can be met, within reasonable limits. Research Councils
will look at the scope for a pan-Research Council policy on publicationthere
is as yet no such policy, and each Council has its own approach.
D. 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
22. The Research Councils do not have a
view on this question.
E. What impact will trends in academic journal
publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?
23. If the publishing process remains peer-reviewed,
or has some other form of quality control, then the production
method should not affect the present level of risk. For items
deposited within institutional repositories there should be safeguards
to ensure that articles cannot be amended once entered.
24. Cases of scientific fraud and malpractice
are rare, although the few cases that hit the headlines get a
large coverage. This, in itself, acts as a deterrent against future
malpractice. In principle, the wider the access is to a published
article, the more likely it is that any fraud or malpractice in
it will be detected. Plagiarism is rare, but electronic publication
arguably makes it easier to detect, through word-matching.
25. On-line publication can offer opportunities
to utilise technology, to link and use computer software and data
referenced from a publication, to allow in-depth peer review (see
paragraph 18). This has real potential to help support the European
Science Foundation guidelines for good scientific practice.
271 Some caution in relation to access is required
in sensitive areas such as defence-related and work allowing the
identification of individuals. In addition some material may be
commercially exploitable and thus publishing may preclude or affect
adversely patenting or claim of IPR. Back
Figure provided by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
in a paper to the RCUK Strategy Group, August 2003. Back
See www.mrc.ac.uk/index/public-interest/public-consultation/open_access-2.htm Back
In some cases, national publication deals have been negotiated
with open-access publishers-for instance, BioMed Central (See
BioMed Central, in paragraph 4 of Annex 1). Back
Bearing in mind also that publication usually occurs after the
end of the lifespan of the grant. Back
Science, 24 October 2003, page 550-554. Back
Research Council librarians have been quoted £10,000 pa
for a scheme that would cover all Research Council staff. Back
EPSRC allows grantholders to apply for page charge as a direct
Other funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, permit grant-holders
to use some of the award for author charges. Back
TRAC: Transparency Review of Costing. Back
The long-term management of digital materials is currently an
area of active research, for example, through the Digital Preservation
Centre, funded through the JISC and the e-Science Core Programme. Back
In many areas of social sciences and in the arts and humanities,
access to digital research resources is of critical importance.
The preservation and access to archives of research publications
which may retain a useful life for many decades are also vital
As long as the author acknowledges the publication in Nature
and provides URL links as appropriate. Back
"Good Scientific Practice in Research and Scholarship"-European
Science Foundation policy briefing, 10 December 2000. Back