Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain


  The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain is the regulatory and professional body for pharmacists in Great Britain. It has responsibilities in relation to the education, registration, conduct and practice of pharmacists, and it register and inspects pharmacies. The Society is also a Chartered body with objects concerning the advancement of science and the application of pharmaceutical knowledge.

  The Royal Pharmaceutical Society welcomes the opportunity to respond to this enquiry. It does so in several capacities.

    —  as a modern regulator that seeks to maintain standards of education in the MPharm degree course[299] through the quality of the pharmacy undergraduate degree courses;

    —  as a modern regulator that requires its members to undertake life-long learning;

    —  as a professional body that seeks to help members have ready access to quality source material; and

    —  as a body committed to the advancement of science through research and the publication of research.

  The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is also a publisher of scientific journals.


  The enquiry invites respondents to address the information needs of researchers, teachers and students in the academic environment. The Society would be concerned if the shift towards electronic publishing were found to have any adverse effect on the opportunities for access by academics to scientific journals. It has therefore consulted its relevant members to establish is this is likely to be so.

  The information it has received suggests that overall the shift towards increased electronic publishing has had a beneficial effect upon the ease of access to scientific journals by both students and academic staff. They see electronic publishing as a positive and very useful development.

  The shift towards electronic publishing does have important financial consequences for libraries, including the Society's own library, and this is addressed further in the response to Question 2.

  Another issue concerns the potential impact of electronic publishing on the quality of scientific publications. There appears to be no suggestion that articles published electronically would be treated any differently from those published in paper format. All articles would, it appears, continue to be subject to the peer review process before publication, irrespective of format. The only departure from this tried and tested method might be the appearance of new sites of publishing, such as university or departmental sites, or sites set up by individuals[300]. Articles published on such sites may not have been subject to peer review. However, serious scientists would disregard such sources, which would not themselves have Impact Factors, and so this is not a great concern at this time.

  The Society would like to draw to the attention of the Committee the continuing needs of pharmacists and other healthcare professionals, once they have left their academic institutions, to quality scientific literature. Students are well served while they are undergraduates but in their capacities as healthcare professionals working as community pharmacists (particularly) or as hospital pharmacists their access to the scientific literature is severely limited or non-existent. As this matter is not within the remit of the present enquiry, this point is not elaborated further here. However, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society would like to see the matter of access to the quality scientific literature by practising health professionals addressed at some future date.

1.  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?

  The Society is a relatively small purchaser of scientific publications and is not generally able to benefit from "big deal schemes". In addition, the Society buys journals within a relatively small defined and focused subject area and this is not the type of purchasing pattern that the schemes are set up for. Therefore the Society does not have experience of the operation of these schemes.

  One concern is as follows. If the "big deal schemes" become more commonplace, and competition drives down the returns from these schemes, then publishers may seek to increase further their income from the sale of "must have" journals to the professional and learned societies that do not have access to the "big deal schemes". The effect will be to place a further burden on these organisations as they seek to maintain their core collections of the key journals.

  The price increases for scientific journals year-on-year have greatly exceeded the rate of inflation and the Society's library has been unable to maintain the range of journals to which it subscribes. This does limit the access of its research community to research and potentially has an adverse effect on UK research.

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

  The Society, like other professional bodies, buys specific leading journals in the relevant, specialist areas. It buys specialist journals in pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences and has to pay the rate set by the publisher. The purchases must also takes account of the need to hold continuous runs of key journals and so the Society does not lightly switch its selection of journals year-by-year. Therefore the publisher has, in effect, a "captive market" for the more prestigious or specialist journals and competition is not applicable. With the type of buying pattern that the Society has, it is difficult to see how increased competition could be introduced. A move towards a mixture of "free to publish" to "open access" may place a limit on the burgeoning cost of journal subscriptions.

3.  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?

  Because the Research Assessment Exercise is based in part on publications deriving from the departments and institutions, it is vital that peer-reviewed papers published in open-access journals and subscription journals are treated equally. Citation—a key measure—is not affected by the access route to the journal articles.

  A change from "free to publish" to "open access" may have implications for the ability of some scientists to publish their work. "Open access" journals derive their income from charges made for publication, and so ability to publish is based on an ability to pay for publication. We understand that the trend is for some major academic institutions to purchase "corporate licences" that allow staff of those institutions to publish at no charge to the researcher. This would give these researchers a clear advantage over colleagues in another institution that did not have a corporate licence.

  The effect over time is likely to be to skew further the distribution of research funding to those institutions that are more successful in the Research Assessment Exercise, with a possibility that some departments could become "teaching-only" units. Such a development would cause the Society great concern.

  The Royal Pharmaceutical Society's requirements for the accreditation of pharmacy degree courses include a statement that teaching is conducted in a "research-aware" environment, that is, one in which a number of the academic staff are actively engaged in research. The Society believes that without academic staffs who are research-active it will be difficult to achieve or sustain teaching that is informed and enlivened by research endeavour and findings[301]. Any further skewing of the distribution of research funding could undermine this requirement for accreditation.

  A move from "free to publish" to "open access" would result in the cost of publication of research findings moving from libraries (journal subscriptions) to those bodies that fund research. The government should encourage research councils to fully reflect the increased costs associated with the publication of the results of research supported by them in the level of research support they provide to individual research projects.

  There is no reason why "open access" journals should not achieve the same status as "free to publish" journals, through time, but this development will be governed by the scientific community and there would seem to be no role for government here.

  Some research is funded by industry and this funding could include payment for the publication of research papers resulting from the work in "open access" journals. However, the Society sees no reason to believe that a change in the publishing model in itself would affect the probity of publication of papers that would have been peer-reviewed.

4.  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 this respect?

  The Society is not aware of any problem about access to electronic versions of publications.

5.  What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

  The greatest safeguard against malpractice has been the system of peer review and this has served well, with few exceptions, over the years. It is not clear if all "open-access" journals currently do, or would continue to, operate a peer review process. It would be important for readers of open access journals to be able to establish that the journal concerned published only peer-reviewed papers. Similarly, the status of "pre-prints" published on the Internet should be made clear to the reader. This is, however, a matter for the journal publishers and the scientific community as a whole.

February 2004

299   The MPharm degree course is the required course that is undertaken by all individuals seeking to achieve registration as a UK pharmacist. Back

300   There has recently been introduced the "Blogging Network" (see that allows individuals to post articles on the Web without establishing a home-page/URL. Back

301   The Royal Pharmaceutical Society response to the consultation by the UK funding bodies on the review by Sir Gareth Roberts. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society response is at Back

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