Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Institute of Physics

  The Institute of Physics is a leading international professional body and learned society, with over 37,000 members. The Institute's primary purpose is to promote the advancement and application of physics: through support to education, research, industry and business and engagement with the public and key stakeholders. The Institute welcomes the opportunity to respond to this Inquiry, which is particularly relevant to our extensive learned society publishing activities. The attached annex summarises the Institute's views.

  The Institute has published academic journals continuously since its foundation in 1874. Today the Institute's publishing is carried out through a wholly owned subsidiary company, Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd (IOP Publishing). The company employs more than 200 people in Bristol and has offices in the USA, Germany, Russia, China and Japan. IOP publishes 40 journals, six technical magazines and between 40 and 50 new book titles each year, with journals being by far the largest area of activity.

  IOP journals are international in terms of content and circulation. Around 92 per cent of submitted papers and 94 per cent of subscription income come from outside the UK. This performance has been recognised by the award of the Queen's Award for Export Achievement in 1990, 1995 and 2000. International sales of IOP journals generate a surplus that is transferred annually by Gift Aid to the Institute. Income from publishing forms the largest element of the Institute's total income for its charitable activities in support of physics in the UK and Ireland.


  The notice of this Inquiry says, inter alia, that the Committee "will be asking what measures are being taken [by] the publishing ensure that researchers, teachers and students have access to the publications they need in order to carry out their work effectively".

  Most users of IOP journals are in universities, some in government laboratories and other research institutions, and a small number in industry and commerce. Access to IOP journals has been dramatically improved by the internet, both in the UK and around the world. It is our intention that every researcher who wishes to read an IOP journal article is able to do so. We believe we have accomplished this within the existing model of journal subscriptions. The following have been the main influences.

  Electronic access: IOP was the first science publisher in the world to place all its journals on the internet, in January 1996. Any institution that subscribes to an IOP journal receives the print copy. In addition, every person in the institution can read the journal electronically, by accessing the IOP website from any computer on the institution's network. The number of IOP articles read on the internet has almost doubled each year, from about 50,000 full-text electronic downloads in 1996 to more than three million in 2003. These figures far exceed the readership that was possible in paper alone.

  Consortium arrangements: in a typical consortium, a group of university libraries pools resources to buy journals collectively. We supply all our journals electronically to all members of the consortium, with print copies available if required. We currently have 42 consortium arrangements in 22 countries, covering more than 1,000 institutions. In the USA over 200 universities are covered by contracts with 13 regional consortia. We have national consortium contracts in Canada, Denmark, India, Iran, Russia, South Korea and Switzerland, and major contracts in China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Taiwan and Turkey. Overall, about a third of our subscriptions are now in the form of consortium arrangements. As a result the effective distribution of our journals has increased fourfold, without a concomitant increase in cost to the research community. We have further arrangements to permit very low cost, in some cases free, access to less developed countries.

  Free for 30 days: every paper published in an IOP journal is accessible free to all for its first 30 days on our website. This means that all researchers, whether or not their organisations subscribe to any of our journals, can read and download the latest research papers published by IOP.

  Document delivery: finally, it is always possible to buy single articles from an IOP journal through any one of several document suppliers.

  UK: we make special arrangements to ensure access to researchers in the British Isles. Our first national arrangement was in the UK between 1996 and 1998, when HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) made national "site-licence" arrangements with IOP and two other publishers. When this national site licence ended, we continued to supply all our journals electronically without charge to home universities who maintained their subscription to any IOP journal(s).

  Five years on, we now have a choice of options for home universities with physics departments. Some choose to subscribe to all our journals both in print and electronically. A significant group is in a consortium receiving all IOP journals electronically. Others opt on an individual basis to receive some journals in print and the rest electronically for a small additional cost. Finally, a small number buy only the few titles in which they have an active research interest. In addition, individuals who are members of IOP can buy the journals, for personal use, at very low cost.


  The notice of this Inquiry also says, inter alia, that: "The inquiry will examine the impact that the current trend towards e-publishing may have on the integrity of journals and the scientific process."

  In the experience of IOP, e-publishing does not in itself threaten the integrity of learned journals. Indeed, the greater access to and use of journals through the internet strengthens their role in the research community. Both established and new journals attract papers only if they create a powerful academic reputation. Electronic publication is an advantage equally available to all, and a disadvantage to none.

  However it is important to recognise that the availability of information on the web is changing our culture in many subtle, as well as unsubtle, ways. There are signs that people brought up with information so freely available via search engines and key words may not have the same tacit understanding of information ownership, and hence the need to cite sources, as those who sought references in paper journals. This is an issue that should be addressed in the training of scientists and engineers.

  In physics, an electronic "pre-print server" (sometimes called an "e-print server") has existed since 1990, originally based at Los Alamos National Laboratory and now at Cornell University. Physicists can deposit their papers electronically for the world to read, free of charge, before the paper has been peer reviewed. This enables physicists to be aware of their colleagues' work long before it appears in a formal journal. At the same time, scientists continue to require formal publication in a respected, refereed journal, both for dissemination of their work and for career progression. Many physics papers exist in these two parallel forms.

  In relation to the scientific process, the wide availability of journals electronically is a huge benefit. Traditionally the researcher had to walk to the library to browse and read current journals and to seek earlier references in bound volumes. Today, the researcher at his or her own desktop can rapidly locate papers of interest by entering relevant search terms, by electronic browsing, or by e-mail notification. Full papers are then available at a mouse-click. References to papers in other journals and even from historic archives appear at another mouse-click or two. IOP was one of the first publishers to introduce electronic reference-linking. We have also digitised and made available electronically our entire journal archive back to 1874.

  Electronic publishing further enhances the scientific process by permitting more and different kinds of content. Colour illustrations were formerly rare in journals or had to be paid for by the author; on the internet they are ubiquitous and free. Moving images are also common in our electronic journals. Large data sets can be included or reached by a simple link.

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?

  Without doubt the price increases of journals in the 1990s led to subscription cancellations. Our members in university departments were acutely aware of this trend. However, it has now eased, and at the same time electronic publishing has led to increased access. IOP's philosophy aims to ensure that our journals are available to our members and all researchers in the UK and around the world, as outlined earlier.

  The "big deal" describes the offer by a publisher of a large numbers of journals electronically at a large discount but still typically at a total cost of several hundred thousand pounds. Librarians often commit the first large tranche of their budget to buying, for example, the big deal pack from a large publisher and a journals database supplier. There may remain only a small amount of budget to buy journals from learned society publishers such as IOP and other relatively small companies. Whilst it is a concern for smaller publishers, we would not wish to overstate the importance of this issue, particularly in the UK.

  IOP itself offers an all-journal pack, but not on the big deal scale of the main commercial publishers (the discounted pack price for all 40 IOP journals is £25,894), and there is no obligation to buy all IOP journals. A librarian can choose this pack or various other packs of 3, 5, 8, 12 or 15 journals, or can simply take individual journals from the catalogue.

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

  The market in scientific publications is highly competitive today. Journals compete for submissions and for sales.

  We cannot readily envisage any action by the UK Government that would further promote competition. The UK represents less than 10 per cent of the market for scientific publications and hence any influence on the economic model would be marginal. In any event, our academic researchers want their papers to be seen by their international peers, which means publishing in internationally recognised journals. The overall funding of universities is clearly influenced by Government and bears directly upon library budgets but is beyond the scope of our evidence.

  Academics can certainly influence the market, individually and to some extent through their institutions. Individual scientists may agree or decline to serve on a journal's Editorial Board, to referee its papers, and to submit their work to it. On the whole their choices are determined by their opinion of the journal's scope and prestige but cases have occurred where a group of academics has transferred its commitment from one journal to another because the first journal was considered too expensive.

  The academic institution, as employer, could in theory direct its staff to co-operate with specified journals and not with others, but few institutions would contemplate such a policy. The institution can support its library with adequate funding, and the library in turn can influence the market by its journal selections.

  Some have proposed that each university should create a local electronic archive where its academics would deposit all their papers, both from the past and currently, as many individual authors do already on their personal websites. The papers would then be available free of charge to anyone who accesses the university's website. Papers would continue to be published in formal journals in the traditional way. Where IOP is the publisher, our copyright practice permits such deposit.

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?

  Journal publishing from the receipt of articles to their formal publication involves costs, including the cost of the critical refereeing process which every credible journal must undertake. The open access model assumes that authors pay the cost of publishing, and the journal is then made available to all electronically, free of charge.

  IOP created one of the first open access journals in 1998: the New Journal of Physics (NJP). The term open access was unknown at the time. NJP was the result of an experiment in web-enabled alternative publishing models, and the project is now a collaboration with the German Physical Society (DPG). NJP has levied an author charge of $500 per paper, this year just increased to $560. We have found authors reluctant to pay. Even if all authors paid, we would need a far higher page charge in order for the journal to cover its costs. From the start, IOP and DPG have subsidised the experiment by about £100,000 a year and continue to do so.

  It is worth noting here that the electronic readership of NJP is not significantly higher than our regular subscription journals. In 2003 the number of articles downloaded from NJP on our website was 97,000, while the average across all our journals was 81,000 per journal. The average includes some journals of comparable size and scope to NJP with many more downloads, and some specialist niche journals with low readership. Free open access to NJP is certainly a selling point to attract authors who must pay to publish there, but the statistics do not suggest that it enjoys a level of readership denied to authors in our traditional subscription journals.

  For open access to become the norm requires some fundamental changes, for example to the way research and university infrastructure funding are distributed. Money currently in the university system for library budgets would need in future to be delivered through departmental or individual investigator research budgets. Authors would face a barrier to publication. At present the dominant criterion for research publication in any of the world's science journals is approval by the journal's peer review process (as even those journals which have "page charges" are likely to waive these for high quality articles from authors who state that they cannot pay). Under open access where author charges (ie page charges) were the only way that the administrative costs of the publication process were met, ability to pay would be a further criterion.

  Publishers in turn would be influenced to accept papers that came with money attached. Journals would benefit financially by publishing more papers, potentially increasing the number of weaker papers in the system—a contrast to the existing model where the economics favour tough peer review and selection on merit. Publishers might also be forced to reduce the attention given to papers, in the processes of peer review, editing, mark-up, electronic coding, and facilities on the electronic journal website such as searching and reference linking. Publishers who reacted in this way, publishing large numbers of papers with little attention, would be able to charge the lowest author fee and hence attract more submissions. Such an outcome would destabilise the current social structure of the academic community where publication in respected journals is regarded as an important measure of achievement.

  On current experience, open access journals would require external subsidy in addition to author charges. As far as we are aware, all current open access journals are subsidised by their publishers, by philanthropic grants or by lump sum subventions from supporting institutions. Economics suggests this is a less reliable model than the market system currently in place.

  Moreover, IOP does not believe the overall cost would be significantly less. There is a cost to publishing a paper, variously estimated between $1,000 and $3,000. The only net money removed from the system is supposed to be the publisher's profit margin. However, if open access publishers do operate without profit then their journals will have an uncertain future.

  In relation to the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), IOP believes the consequences of open access would create new difficulties. The last RAE physics panel was chaired by Sir John Enderby, a vice-president of the Royal Society and President-Elect of IOP. We asked Sir John for his observations, which are as follows:

    "RAE panels were required to define international, national and sub-national research. Peer recognition was deemed to be of considerable significance. In physics the panel paid attention to the overall quality of the cited publications and undertook to read at least a quarter of those submitted. However, it was clearly impossible to consider all the remaining papers in detail so the panel relied upon their perception of the rigour with which papers were refereed by the publishers.

    "Without the collective experience of the quality controls used by publishers, the task facing the panels would change dramatically. There are real difficulties in ensuring that open access and high quality can actually coexist within a realistic business model. Assessment panels would have to consider each submitted article, which means that either the panels are given much longer to do their work or that the methodology of the RAE is changed.

    "A further point is that the present system clearly "date-stamps" the submitted article thereby establishing priority and ensuring content stability at the time of publication. Open access may lead to less than honest practice against which the panels would need to be on their guard, thus further increasing their workload."

  Should the Government support a trend to open access? We know the advantages and disadvantages of the present model. IOP experience with open access has not demonstrated significant advantages in terms of access to and dissemination of research results over our conventional journals, and shows the financial difficulties of moving to open access without a significant change in the way universities are funded. To replace the present model with a new model carries both known and unknown risks, without it being clear that there is a major benefit. For the Government to fund such a change would mean the Government assuming a large part of the risk, potentially for a considerable time. That is not to say that academics and publishers should not continue to experiment with alternative, web-enabled, publishing models.

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

  Copies of all IOP's 36 print journals are made available to the Deposit Libraries in keeping with statutory requirements. However, the deposit of electronic-only titles is not yet a legal requirement and most deposit libraries have shown no interest in acquiring our non-print publications.

  Two exceptions are the British Library and Cambridge University Library: both have online access to all 40 IOP journals including the four that are electronic-only. Oxford University has online access to 15 titles by way of subscriptions from the Clarendon Laboratory, including three of the four journals that are electronic-only. The National Library of Wales, the National Library of Scotland and Trinity College, Dublin, do not have online access to the four electronic-only journals.

  IOP would support a statutory requirement for the deposit of non-print publications including electronic journals, and we understand that the Legal Deposit Libraries Bill, which recently came into force, enables the introduction of such a requirement.

  However, we wish to urge that access to electronic journals in Deposit Libraries be available only to authorised users sitting at computers in the library building. The legal requirement for deposit is founded on the desire for national archive and preservation. It also happens to provide access to deposited publications by library visitors. Historically, publishers have been happy to co-operate, knowing that any loss of normal sales consequent upon the free copy in, say, the British Library, was trivial. That would not be the case in the internet age if the Deposit Library were to put preservation items on its open website. The entire existence of journals would be threatened, and with them the primary means of academic communication.

  As noted earlier, IOP has produced its own complete electronic archive of all its journals back to 1874. We maintain this archive ourselves and we have also sold copies to many universities around the world. There are no technical limitations to our offering a full electronic archive to Deposit Libraries.

What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of

scientific fraud and malpractice?

  In October 2003 IOP hosted a workshop organised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) on scientific misconduct and the role of physics journals in its investigation and prevention. It concluded that while physics has appeared relatively free of misconduct—compared with biomedicine, for example—scrutiny of recent cases suggests that it may be more widespread than previously admitted, if "misconduct" is interpreted broadly.

  For example, there appears to be a growth in plagiarism, probably the most common type of misconduct thanks to the ease of cutting and pasting text electronically. Other types of misconduct discussed by the IUPAP group included duplicate submission or publication; the improper inclusion of an author's name and conversely the improper exclusion of one; improper manipulation of data; the reporting of only good results; conflicts of interest or other bias leading to distorted claims; and referee misconduct.

  Partly in recognition of these issues, IOP has established an Ethics Committee with external membership to set clear guidelines for the conduct of physicists and to develop appropriate educational material.

  In relation to trends in publishing, it seems possible that more diverse and widespread means of publishing could permit more misconduct. In particular any informal electronic publishing, unaccompanied by supervision, creates such a risk. Conversely the traditional process of peer review protects against fraud in two ways: first, the referees and editor may detect the misconduct; secondly, fearing discovery, the author is less likely to attempt it. In future availability of electronic tools to identify, for example, common or closely similar passages of text or figures will provide a further means to check for plagiarism which can readily be incorporated into the review process.

  The peer review process, probably assisted by new on-line tools, is likely to remain a critical step in maintaining quality and integrity in scientific publishing. Any effective publishing model must therefore be able to deliver a peer review process which is respected and timely.

February 2004

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