Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 4

Memorandum from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) 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.  The international particle physics community has since 1991 run an "e-print" archive service named arXiv[293]. It is currently hosted by Cornell University in the USA with part funding from the National Science Foundation, with mirrors around the world. In the UK, the mirror is hosted by the Department of Electronics and Computing Science at Southampton University, which received start up funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). Running costs are estimated to be of order $100,000 per annum, or <$5 per paper[294].

  2.  Research papers are sent to the archive by their authors as pre-prints, ie in advance of publication. At the same time, or shortly after, they are submitted to a journal. Within the community, the point of publication is considered to be the point at which the paper appears in the database rather than its eventual appearance in a journal. That is, pre-prints on the archive are read and cited by the community in exactly the same way as fully published papers.

  3.  If, following peer review by the journal, a paper is revised, it is up to the author to decide whether or not to also update the archived version of the paper. The normal situation is that authors do update archived papers and on some occasions a series of updated versions of the same paper may reside on the archive.

  4.  Once published, the journal reference appears on the archive, so that it is clear whether the paper is a pre-print or a post-print.

  5.  Copyright is transferred on publication to the journal and some journals require there to be a notional difference between the archived and published versions of the paper, but there has so far been no attempt by journals to attempt to restrict the appearance of published papers on the archive. Increasingly, journals are requiring authors to submit papers to them simply by emailing the relevant archive link.

  6.  Papers posted to the archive may attract critical evaluation from other scientists, which could in principle form a type of parallel peer review to that carried out by the journals. However, this affects only a minority of papers (but this perhaps reflects the truth that most published papers attract very few readers) and there is no systematic way of searching for comments made on any particular paper.

  7.  The archive has become the working source of all particle physics publications. They are published to the archive and are usually read there. The parallel process of publication in a journal (and particle physics journals are usually read in electronic form) provides the peer-review validation needed for academic career progression and RAE submissions. It is conceivable that a system of peer-review validation could be constructed around the archive which would remove the need for formal commercial publication.

  8.  The arXiv archive is available free to authors and is free to access. It accepts input as TeX, HTML or PDF via a web form interface. It is also indexed by citebase which provides citation index information so readers can check which other authors have cited a paper on the archive.

  9.  While initially set up by the particle physics community, the coverage of the archive has since spread to astronomy and more recently to applied mathematics, computer science, condensed matter physics and quantitative biology.

(i) The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship, as well as the right to make small numbers of printed copies for their personal use.

(ii) A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials, including a copy of the permission as stated above, in a suitable standard electronic format is deposited immediately upon initial publication in at least one online repository that is supported by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well-established organization that seeks to enable open-access, unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving (for the biomedical sciences, PubMed Central is such a repository).

293   See Back

294   P. Ginsparg, invited contribution to UNESCO conference, February 2001, Back

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