Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 3

Memorandum from the Medical Research Council (MRC) on the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Inquiry into: Scientific 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?

  1.  While the state of open-access publication is in flux, the MRC does not wish to be too prescriptive about what researchers should or should not do. Current grant regulations encourage recipients of MRC funding to publish their research as widely as possible but we leave it to the researcher to decide in which journals to publish. It is primarily up to the Universities or MRC Units to decide the number of subscription journals that they pay for and the method their staff choose for dissemination of research findings.

  2.  The MRC has recently amended the regulations for its grant schemes to confirm that grant-holders may use the indirect costs provided with MRC grants, but not the direct costs, for the charges associated with open-access publishing. MRC Units may use their budgets for this purpose also.

  3.  Under any free access scheme it is envisaged that journals may in future charge even higher fees to counter-balance the reduction in subscription fees. If the MRC were to pay these directly, there could be cost implications, though it is difficult to predict what these would be.

  4.  Overall, the MRC is committed to the research it funds 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.

  5.  Some Learned Societies generate significant income through publishing (which feeds back into UK science, for example through fellowships and bursaries). While market forces will essentially operate here, MRC would not want to say/do anything that in itself would undermine the viability of Societies or the good work that they do.

  6.  The MRC is now seeking the views of the research community and others on how it might develop its publication policy in this area[291]. The consultation is complementary to the MRC policy on data sharing and preservation which is currently being developed. More details are available on the data sharing and preservation web pages, which include a draft statement on policy[292].

  7.  Specific questions being asked are:

    —  Should it be MRC (and RCUK) policy to encourage (or require) those we fund to publish in journals that have an open-access policy?

    —  If so, should this be immediate, or from some specified date in the future?

    —  Should there be a distinction in MRC (and RCUK) publication policy between the results of basic research (where there are no obvious immediate implications for people), and research such as clinical trials, where there may be immediate implications for people?

    —  Is the phrase "immediately upon initial publication" in point 2 of the definition of open-access publishing realistic (it does not appear in the definition used in the Berlin Declaration)? Might "after n (say three or six) months" be more acceptable?

291   Details are on the MRC website at: Back

292   See  Back

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