House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
WEDNesday 21 april 2004
MRS JANE CARR, PROFESSOR M JAMES C CRABBE, PROFESSOR JOHN C FRY, PROFESSOR NIGEL J HITCHIN and PROFESSOR DAVID F WILLIAMS
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday, 21 April 2004
Dr Ian Gibson, in the Chair
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Robert Key
Dr Desmond Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mrs Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive, British Library, Mr Peter Fox, University Librarian, Cambridge University, Mr Frederick J Friend, Joint Information Systems Committee, and Ms Di Martin, Dean, Learning and Information Services, University of Hertfordshire, examined.
Q210 Chairman: Good morning. Thank you for coming and helping the Committee with its inquiry. I am sure you have been following it, line by line, sentence by sentence. Libraries have told us that there is a crisis in the provision of scientific publications: publishers vigorously deny this. Tell me the truth. Who is right? They cannot both be right.
Mr Friend: There is certainly a crisis, in that libraries are not able to buy all the content that they need to supply their users, and the reason for that is that the periodical side of our budgets is rising much more rapidly than the cost of other information. That is the key factor.
Q211 Chairman: Can you quantify that? Is there a way of measuring that?
Mr Friend: We have supplied figures in the written evidence.
Mr Fox: I can give a specific example. In Cambridge ten years ago, scientific journals took about 25 per cent of the materials budget, and currently that is 33 per cent and rising, which means in our situation that that is taking about half a million pounds a year out of the resources available for purchasing books and journals outside the scientific area - maps, music and electronic resources and so on.
Q212 Chairman: Publishers tell us that the problem lies with libraries and their failure to promote themselves to university authorities. They are saying you are a bunch of wimps really, I guess. Is that true?
Mrs Brindley: That is an unacceptable comment, lacking in any evidence, frankly. I would support my colleagues in saying university libraries have made major efficiency gains to cope with enormous expansion of students. Indeed, from the British Library's point of view, we have coped with 43 per cent inflation over five years in journals, which has meant an additional £2 million cost, and we have had to find that from internal efficiency gains. We have done that very transparently in a way that might be suggested to publishers.
Q213 Chairman: It is rumoured that a lot of people say that with the digital age you do not need those vast ranges of buildings that you have now, and the huge acreage they cover - not that I have noticed. Is that true, that the digital age makes it a very different game?
Ms Martin: Our evidence is contrary to that remark, Chairman. We have seen an exponential rise in use of digital information, but we have seen no reduction in usage statistics of our buildings, or indeed in our book loan figures.
Q214 Chairman: What about overheads? What proportion of library costs is spent on overheads, and how do you account for that?
Ms Martin: If I could answer with some examples from the University of Hertfordshire, we have seen a reduction in staffing rather than an increase. We have had to re-direct that staffing to create an additional post to deal with licensing issues. I would say that there has been a reduction in overhead rather than an increase.
Q215 Chairman: If somebody said, "be more efficient", could you be more efficient?
Ms Martin: I think we have been being more efficient over a decade now.
Q216 Chairman: It is just another bit of impertinence to suggest that, you think.
Ms Martin: It is a requirement of the university. We have had to invest so much more in our information provision budgets that we have been forced to make efficiency gains in other areas to support that.
Q217 Chairman: The idea being touted is that you are planning digital-only publications? Are you planning that? Are you going to increase the pace on that? Will it make any difference in terms of overheads; or are you just having to do it because nobody loves you any more in the university sector?
Mrs Brindley: The evidence, and certainly the work done on behalf of
Q218 Dr Iddon: Turning to bundling of hard copy and digital copy, why is bundling so unpopular with libraries?
Mr Fox: It is starting to skew the way that we spend our money. Bundling requires us to buy journals that we do not necessarily want in order to acquire things that we do want, and is pushing more and more of our budget into the pockets of a smaller and smaller number of publishers. It is skewing the budget. As with the answer to the first question, the cost of journals is reducing the amount of money available for other things. Bundling is reducing the amount of money available for the output of the publishers that do not bundle.
Q219 Dr Iddon: Research output has grown, and with it the content of journals. Have your budgets grown in line with that?
Mr Friend: No, our budgets have gone up roughly in line with the way that universities' budgets have gone up over the last eight years.
Q220 Dr Iddon: Have you estimated the shortfall in percentage terms?
Ms Martin: If I could quote some figures from a survey to illustrate this, there was a 58 per cent increase in journal inflation over a five-year period and an 11 per cent increase in RPI. In the same period, the information provision spend per FT student across the sector was 12 per cent, so more or less in line with RPI rather than in line with journal inflation. That reflects the changing balance in that information spend towards journals rather than books.
Q221 Dr Iddon: Can you tell us whether it is true that there are different practices between the major publishing houses on the way they operate bundling? Can you confirm that, and if it is right can you tell us something about best and worst practices by the different publishing houses?
Ms Martin: One of the things that we read in the press is that there is a lot of flexibility in bundling about our choice of what is in the bundle. Our experience shows that not to be the case, and we find that publishers tend to approach us in terms of selling us a fixed product, and we have to negotiate very hard to get any flexibility within those products.
Q222 Chairman: Is it "take it or leave it" or is it real negotiations?
Ms Martin: The starting-point is "take it or leave it". We have to challenge very hard to get some flexibility. That is not to say that there have not been some successes, and I do not wish to say that all publishers are in the same frame here. If I could give you an example, with the ScienceDirect licence we currently have, which I have to say contrasts with Cambridge's experience and was beneficial to us in the fist instance because it was predicated on our previous spend for print journals, allows us some flexibility within the bundle to substitute new titles for previous ones, providing the value remains the same. The deal that has been put forward now for higher education, if we were to move to that, would give us much fewer options and we would have to take a set package.
Q223 Dr Iddon: What effect does bundling have on the rest of the journal provision from other publishers which perhaps do not do the bundling exercise? Are you losing out or are your academics losing out on journals that they consider essential because you are having to venture into these cost-cutting deals?
Mr Fox: Where the academics would say that a journal was essential, we would try if at all possible to retain that title. It is the next two levels down, in terms of need, where the problem arises. I think most universities have been through journals cutting exercises over the last few years, where academics have been asked to rate the various titles, and the ones coming out at the bottom of the list have had to be cancelled.
Q224 Dr Iddon: Obviously, the universities are a major provider of profit for the large companies that do these bundling exercises, so why do you not have any clout to make them change their minds or become more flexible?
Mr Friend: We do have some clout. We have been able to persuade even major publishers to change their policies in some areas, but ultimately we are in the hands of our academic community, and if the academic community do not back the library up in saying "no", then the library alone could not take action.
Q225 Chairman: You are being extremely diplomatic, and we are very grateful for that, but it is not quite the spirit I like to engender in these hearings. I just wondered if you would like to say what the best companies are, the companies that are the most flexible and the easiest to negotiate with, and the worst companies? Why not say it? Please do.
Mr Friend: In general, the ALPSP members are easier for us to deal with. They generally have very strong academic contents and they are working in our kind of environment. I can give you two examples of publishers that have been very difficult to deal with. One would be Elsevier, where last year we spent about six months doing national negotiations, and we are still spending another four months in sorting out the details at proposal level. You agree a national price of, say, 5 per cent on what you paid last year; but then, when the detail gets down to local level, you find that the reality is very different. That negotiation has been extremely time-consuming, and is still not resolved for many universities. Another example I can give you is the American Chemical Society, where we have had great difficulty on long-term access. You will understand that in the electronic environment we are not allowed to purchase the content outright; it is licensed to us. Many publishers impose conditions upon long-term access - not all, and in general the ALPSP publishers are better on this, but the American Chemical Society is very difficult.
Q226 Dr Iddon: I am sorry to hear that. In July I will be meeting the President of the American Chemical Society! I will pass on that comment. As a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, I am very much in favour, apart from what you have just said, of learned societies continuing to publish. Are you finding that learned society publishing is being squeezed out or forced into bundling by the commercial houses?
Mr Friend: The short answer is "yes".
Q227 Chairman: Is that a new phenomenon or has it been gradual?
Mr Fox: Bundling itself is a relatively new phenomenon, say the last two to four years.
Q228 Dr Harris: As I understand it, bundling was initiated as a request by purchasers at the libraries to get cheaper deals for big packages. Now, the criticism of bundling is coming from those library communities. When we raised this question, the publisher said, "if they do not want it any more, they do not have to have it; it is on its way out". It is very flexible, and indeed Elsevier said: "The libraries are free to choose whatever they wish." You have directly contradicted that already. They also said that it is a passé issue because they are on the way out because there has been this adverse publicity around it. Would you care to comment on that?
Mr Friend: Personally, I do think that bundling is on the way out, and I see it being replaced by open access. Again, as with the print electronic situation, I think it will be a gradual change.
Mr Fox: There is also a difference in the approach to bundling when it was first introduced, or there was, between the research-intensive universities and the universities which were more teaching intensive. As Di has said, the University of Hertfordshire welcomed the ScienceDirect deal. Many of the Russell Group of universities did not because we felt we were simply paying more for content that we did not want in the first place. We subscribed to most of the titles we wanted, and the bundle simply gave us very little more other than electronic access on a better basis.
Q229 Dr Harris: There is a market here, is there not, in theory? You should, as the buyers, be able to exercise your muscle in that market. You just said that in order to do that, you need the academics behind you. Can you be a bit more specific about how you feel that your market power, which is what society and government expect you to rely on to avoid being hit in this way, is limited by the academics that back you?
Mr Fox: The problem is that we are in a monopolistic situation. If an academic needs an article from a particular journal, an article from a different journal will not do; and therefore they have to subscribe to that journal. At the moment, many publishers insist on the academic handing over the copyright to the publisher, and the exclusive rights. They are not free to publish the results of that research anywhere else.
Q230 Dr Harris: I still do not know what these academics could do to back you up. Would that argument not apply, regardless of whether it is bundled? Is that not just a way that the prices stay high? I want to know generally what you do and why there is something specific about bundling that you find yourself powerless because of your unco-operative academics.
Mr Friend: There are two basic problems. One is the lack of competition, and the other is that the people that are paying for the journals, i.e., the libraries, are not the people that are taking the decision whether or not they are purchasers. There is this gulf between the academic side of the process and the library side, in terms of payment or lack of payment. One advantage of open access is that this restores the decision on payment to the authors.
Q231 Dr Harris: The final point is this issue of the digital archive. We have heard that some people have complained that you have lost access to the digital archive and publications that you previously subscribed to in digital format when you cancelled the subscription. Has that been a problem, and how does that affect what you do in terms of how you choose in advance, knowing what the rules are?
Mr Fox: This is one of the disincentives to moving towards the electronic-only approach. If you subscribe to a paper journal, then obviously you have got that journal sitting on your shelves for perpetuity. If you subscribe to an electronic version of that journal only and cease to subscribe, almost always you lose access to everything that you have paid for in the past.
Mrs Brindley: The situation is very messy. Different publishers have different policies. Some provide CD copies of back copies that have been subscribed to. One issue that has been raised with publishers is whether, for example, the British Library might be a clearing-house for these back, previously subscribed-to journals. Again, that raises the issue about the need for a national long-term infrastructure to ensure that those journals are always available.
Q232 Dr Turner: Can I ask you about licensing arrangements? Are you finding that you are able to collaborate, as libraries, and secure better licensing deals with publishers than on your own? Do you find the interests of libraries are sufficiently similar?
Ms Martin: There is a good track record of negotiation nationally with the publishers. From our perspective, certainly where a publisher has adopted the model licence terms that have been agreed nationally, it has made it much easier to manage and deliver those journals to our staff and students within the universities. That is by no means all publishers, and there is a very mixed pattern in terms of licence terms and conditions, which, I would have to say, we find overly complex and overly restrictive. I have examples where a licence would be a markedly different price, for example, if we used the web-based version as opposed to accepting a CD-ROM that we would then run internally in the university - the same material.
Q233 Dr Turner: Can I ask the university librarians: how effectively you think digital licensing deals with publishers meet the needs of your user communities? How do they react? What feedback do you get?
Mr Fox: Digital licences for journals?
Q234 Dr Turner: Yes.
Mr Fox: On the whole, they react very favourably because most scientists like to get access to the material on their desktop. The problem is that, as Fred has said, they do not normally deal with their pricing and negotiating. What they see - and quite rightly what they want to see - is the end result. It is our job to do the negotiating, and that is where the problems arise in terms of lack of transparency of some publishers in precisely what the arrangements are and the difficulties in getting agreement on anything like a model licence.
Ms Martin: There are issues related to access that are varied across the licences. Some licences allow use by walk-in users and others do not, and for a library to manage or make available those licences that do allow walk-in users, as opposed to those who do not, on an individual basis - the people coming through the door - is too complex to be manageable.
Q235 Chairman: A walk-in user is somebody who comes into the library.
Ms Martin: Yes, somebody who might come in, either as a member of the public, or particularly perhaps somebody from an SME who might be working for a university. I think there is a real tension in the current licensing arrangements which prevents the university perhaps meeting some of its obligations in terms of working with the business and industry in terms of knowledge transfer and business partnerships.
Q236 Chairman: Higher education obviously will extend that kind of contact and use.
Mr Fox: That applies particularly in a library like mine, where more than 50 per cent of our currently registered users are not current staff and students of the university. In a paper environment they expect to come in and use whatever is on the shelves, and can do so. In an electronic environment that is by no means the case. Depending on whatever the licensing restrictions are, we might or might not be able to give them access to certain resources. That inevitably leads to a good deal of frustration among those readers, who cannot understand why they cannot have access.
Q237 Dr Turner: How do publishers police that?
Mr Fox: We sign licensing agreements with them and they are legal contracts.
Q238 Dr Turner: If you make someone an honorary member of your university staff, would that give them access?
Mr Fox: I think we would not do it.
Q239 Dr Turner: How far is it possible to use digital journals or the materials in them for teaching purposes? Could you use digital materials exclusively for teaching or not?
Ms Martin: We have looked into this area in some depth because we are running a university-wide virtual learning environment, and quite a number of the licences we have specifically prohibit uploading of the information we have already paid for in terms of digital journals, for use within the virtual learning environment. That is not all of them - there is a very mixed picture. For those that subscribe to the model licence, it does include that; but others do not. That is a very frustrating process for academic staff, because they want to make use of the resources the university has paid for, in order to enhance the student learning experience.
Mr Fox: This is a further argument for breaking monopoly, either through greater use of open access to journals or through archiving of institutional repositories, so that at least the material created within the university is then freely available both within the university and to the wider world.
Q240 Dr Turner: You also have this awful acronym, NESLi2. We have been told that this was based on a need to secure profits for the publishers involved. What methods did you use to calculate a fair proportion of margin for the publishers when you designed the scheme?
Mr Friend: I do not know where that quotation comes from. From JISC's point of view, which manages the NESLI initiative, our motive is to increase access and to get better value for money. We have certainly no wish to increase publishers' profits.
Q241 Dr Turner: How does the NESLi2 work in practice in terms of administration and value for money? Does it give libraries any worthwhile savings as a result of using this scheme?
Mr Friend: It does, and it has increased access to a limited extent, but it is quite labour-intensive in terms of negotiation, both national negotiations and at local level as well.
Q242 Kate Hoey: The one thing that seems to unite yourselves, the publishers and the academics, is the complaint about VAT. You have probably seen the Treasury note that was put round. Would you tell us a little bit about whether you feel the differential is significant, and what you have done to try and make that better, other than getting the Treasury to change their mind - or the European Union?
Mr Fox: If I can quote a specific example, I have had figures recently from a research university in the north of England, which quoted figures for ScienceDirect in 2003. They paid £450,000 for ScienceDirect for last year, which was based on a mixed print and electronic environment. They want to move to an entirely electronic environment from next year, and the price will go up by £100,000. Most of that is VAT, because you are paying VAT on the full subscription rather than on the top-up, as it were, from the print.
Ms Martin: I can give you similar figures from the University of Hertfordshire, but an order of magnitude lower. The VAT we paid last year on journal subscriptions - and I am afraid this is across all subject areas - was £100,000. That is 5 per cent of my total information provision budget.
Mr Friend: The solution we would encourage you to raise with HM Customs & Excise is to allow libraries exemption. They are not necessarily asking for inferior rating. Already there is a precedent for medical equipment which universities can identify themselves and then be given exemption from VAT. There is no reason in principle, and it would not contravene European regulations, if that exemption were extended to electronic information.
Q243 Kate Hoey: Do you accept anything the Treasury says in terms of saying there are quite substantial differences between the print and the digital?
Mrs Brindley: Clearly there are differences, but those arguments imply that scientific information is, if you like, analogous to a consumer good, whereas arguably it is an intermediary good in support of R&D, and it seems to fly in the face of the advice and the approach that the Treasury is taking to R&D and tax credits and so on. There is a philosophical inconsistency there.
Q244 Kate Hoey: Given that there is the unity between you all on this issue, have you done anything about lobbying the Treasury?
Mrs Brindley: As an aside, the British Library's position is somewhat different, although we are clearly very supportive of our higher education colleagues, because we can recoup 85 per cent of that because of our trading position. However, our concern is that it is inhibiting a faster move towards digital publication and indeed underpinning digital science and digital economy, and so there is a real inhibitor there. I would suggest the exemption is a good one to pursue.
Q245 Kate Hoey: You are saying that if the Government were serious about long-term investment in research, it would do -----
Mrs Brindley: Clearly, the Government is very serious and have been very supportive of world-class science in Britain generally, and it is absolutely essential that that is supported; so this advice would perhaps appear to be superficially inconsistent, but if that route is not one that can be pursued, then the exemption route is a good one.
Mr Friend: The library organisations and the publisher organisations jointly have talked to Customs & Excise and have done lobbying within the European Parliament about this, but so far we have hit a brick wall.
Kate Hoey: Perhaps you would like me to bring it up when we have the debate on the constitution!
Chairman: You know how they will vote.
Q246 Bob Spink: JISC are promoting open access and you have got the £150,000 seed money. Can you tell us what your objectives are, please?
Mr Friend: One of JISC's strategic aims is to improve the effectiveness of scholarly communications, and one key factor in doing that is increasing access. We are not talking only about access for the HE community, but JISC also has a responsibility to the FE community. Indeed, there is huge, untapped need for access to journal literature within the post-16 learning community. Open access will release a lot of information to learners of all ages that is at present being restricted by the subscription model.
Q247 Bob Spink: Do you think that a switch to the author-pays model is the right way forward?
Mr Friend: We prefer to talk about a publication payment rather than author-pays because we see the way forward as being through funding agencies agreeing, or indeed requiring that the publication payments can be made out of research grants.
Q248 Bob Spink: How many publishers have taken advantage of the £150,000 seed money so far?
Mr Friend: We had seven applications in our first round, and we awarded four grants. That was at very short notice, and we are expecting more applications in the second round.
Q249 Bob Spink: Do you think that £150,000 is enough or are you looking to increase that amount?
Mr Friend: No, I do not think it is enough. That is all that JISC feels that it can afford in the current situation. One aspect I would urge this Committee to consider is whether the Government could give further support in the transition situation. We are confident that the open access model is viable in the long-term, but we do accept that there is a risk to publishers in the short term, and that is the purpose of this transition funding.
Q250 Bob Spink: You did a membership deal with BioMed Central. Can you tell us something about that?
Mr Friend: That is producing very good results in terms of academic involvement in open access, and it is encouraging us to devote more money to this kind of enterprise.
Q251 Bob Spink: What did it cost you?
Mr Friend: I would need to confirm that in writing.
Q252 Bob Spink: Do you think it is sustainable? Is it a good way forward, this type of deal?
Mr Friend: Yes, I am certain open access is viable in the long term. Whether the particular BioMed Central membership model is the right way forward I am unclear, but JISC is putting money into various ways of achieving open access and it is also putting money into institutional repositories, so we will find out in due course which is going to be the best route in the long term.
Q253 Bob Spink: Do you happen to know how many institutions have taken advantage of this BioMed deal?
Mr Friend: I think the submissions have been running at around 37 articles per month, of which around 20 have passed the peer review process.
Q254 Bob Spink: Do you think that this open access is going to make bundling a non-issue very quickly; or do you think that bundling will remain a major issue for some years to come?
Mr Friend: I think a lot depends on the reaction of the academic community and the publishers to the experiments we are undertaking, but personally I do believe that is the future.
Q255 Mr Key: Can I turn to legal deposit and digitalisation issues. In the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, the Secretary of State could make regulations extending the system of legal deposit to non-print material. The Government has told us that DCMS is consulting on setting up an advisory panel, which it hopes to have in place by the end of this year, with work on regulations then beginning, and legal deposit likely to start in 2005. Is that on track, and is it fast enough? What is slipping through your fingers while this is happening?
Mrs Brindley: It is normally the case that we anticipate that the regulatory procedures will continue and implementation will start in 2005, but I would like to take us back to the fact that we have had a voluntary deposit arrangement and since that was implemented in 2000 the British Library has received over 90,000 items. That is not to say that that is everything but it is a substantial part, and since the legislation has been passed, we have had more not less interest in voluntary deposit. Each format, though, will have to go to regulation, and the first regulation will be for off-line publication; but we are talking with the publishers through the joint committee, looking at expanding the voluntary scheme to include electronic journals, to try out the practical issues in voluntary mode before we get to regulation. It is quite important in that regulatory process that that is where the debate around access is going to happen. The Legal Deposit Libraries Act does not give specific access conditions or access rights, so that will have to be negotiated as part of that consultation process. Therefore, any support that you can give for reasonable and appropriate access under each of those formats would be most helpful.
Q256 Mr Key: Ninety thousand sounds a lot, but what do you estimate are the gaps in your digital deposits? Should it have been 180,000 or 100,000? How much are you missing?
Mrs Brindley: I can certainly provide the Committee with some figures, but, for example, I think there were about 60,000 such publications this year. I can send you the details on the different formats.
Q257 Mr Key: Are publishers playing the game? Are they depositing their material voluntarily at the moment?
Mrs Brindley: Since the Legal Deposit Libraries Act was passed last year, we have seen an even stronger interest from the publishers. By and large, we are working very co-operatively with publishers. After all, it is in the interests of all publishers, of all libraries, and indeed of science, that there is a long-term arrangement and a long-term sustainable arrangement for preservation of access to research material.
Q258 Mr Key: Mr Friend, are there any publishers that are better than others, or some that are rather more difficult to deal with in this respect?
Mr Friend: There are, yes, and I have already given the example of the American Chemical Society.
Q259 Chairman: Go on, name some more! You will regret it for the rest of your life if you do not!
Mr Friend: I would not like to give any more specific examples. Part of the problem that we have already highlighted is that we are dealing with different licences for each publisher, and while there are certain things that do appear in common, the long-term access question is varies greatly between publishers in terms of their policies.
Q260 Mr Key: Do you grant access to your digital legal deposits remotely?
Mrs Brindley: I think that formally the case is, as I said, that there are no specific access rights under the existing legislation. Each will have to be negotiated under regulation. I think the publishers' view is that the access rights will be quite limited, and certainly the view is that it will be constrained within the physical environment of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act. The discussion that is going on in terms of resource sharing is around provision of a secure network between the legal deposit libraries to deliver to each site. Obviously, that is subject still to regulation and agreement with publishers. The question of remote access and the sorts of licences that we, as the British Library, negotiate now for supplying of article delivery service - remote access will have to be dealt with by licence. There is no anticipation that it will be open delivery to all. Clearly, we are mindful of the balance of interests of the researcher with the balance of interests of the publishers.
Mr Fox: The current voluntary arrangement restricts access to people within the deposit library building.
Q261 Mr Key: Have you got any plans for a secure network with the other deposit libraries?
Mr Fox: Yes, we have been working with the other deposit libraries on developing a secure network. One of the issues that we had to resolve is how the legal deposit material is stored, whether stored centrally and made available to the other libraries, or whether it is done in a distributive way. That is a decision we have yet to reach.
Mr Key: How do you archive that material? What do you store it on, and where is it? Do you do it in your libraries or do you sub-contract it to specialist businesses that store it in old quarries or something?
Q262 Mr Key: I was not going to say that!
Mrs Brindley: We do store some microfilms but we have no intention to store digital material in that way. From the British Library's perspective, we propose to make investments over the next four years, substantial investments of about £12 million, and in the current spending review we are aiming to get a contribution to that from the Government, to ensure that we do provide that facility ourselves. The reason we would wish to develop that expertise and keep that in-house is that it is strategically important for the nation and indeed for the future security of science. Some of the challenges to both take in this material, which is in different formats, to keep it and provide access to it, and keep it in the long term, by which I mean hundreds of years, are very substantial. We are, however, working internationally; this is not a UK-only problem, although we are doing some of the leading work. We are working across the world, particularly with the Libraries Congress and other major research libraries, to share our knowledge of some of the issues. We are technically fielding that infrastructure, and it will get stored on some huge terabyte storage devices.
Q263 Mr Key: What about financing this? It is almost idle to ask whether you have enough money because you could always use more, but if you had more money could you use it, or is the expertise and number of people who are skilled to do this so limited that you have really got all you need?
Mrs Brindley: No, it is very clear that for us the issue now is to accelerate. We have the expertise and the prototypes. We need to accelerate the building of this infrastructure over the next two to three years, and that is why we have put in a very substantial bid to the spending review, about spending £12 million over this period of the review. This is needed, critically, to underpin science. Without it, we will lose increasing amounts of scientific data, and it will mean that the UK will not be world-class in this area. I have to say that I have been heartened by the evidence from all parties in previous hearings - for-profit publishers, not-for-profit publishers from the library network - that it is a national role. Clearly, the British Library will take a leadership role, and clearly we work very closely with our colleagues and other legal deposit libraries.
Q264 Mr Key: Are the publishers putting any funds into this project?
Mrs Brindley: I think the publishers would regard their contribution in relation to the legal deposit itself.
Q265 Mr Key: What are the relative costs of digital versus hard copy storage?
Mrs Brindley: I think it is too early to give you any definitive figures on that, in terms of hundreds of years and physical storage. The long-term storage costs of digital are as yet unknown. I can certainly provide you outside this hearing with some of the evidence of the studies that have been done on the pros and cons of physical and digital storage, but they are all projecting into an unknown future.
Q266 Mr Key: Are your archives backed up somewhere separately?
Mrs Brindley: Absolutely.
Q267 Mr Key: How reliable is the technology? One of the problems of librarians over hundreds of years is the destruction and deterioration of archive material. Is there a similar problem with digital archives? Do you lose 10 per cent or 25 per cent over a given period?
Mrs Brindley: Clearly, we have to be extremely professional in the ways we store and archive materials. For example, as you would expect, we have archive copies stored securely in multiple locations. We have contracts for people to test out the robustness of our networking and getting into our networks. We have in place very substantial recovery testing procedures, and indeed we have contracts for disaster recovery. All the steps are taken. It is much harder for digital material than it is for print materials, but nevertheless we have to do it, and it is a much more active process.
Q268 Mr Key: Do you feel that Britain is leading the world in this area?
Mrs Brindley: I think Britain is one of the few countries that has now passed the legal deposit legislation for digital materials, so that is a very good start. We have expertise, but that expertise is also in the States and other countries. If we can implement this long-term preservation and access infrastructure in the next two or three years, then I think we will be in a very, very strong position.
Q269 Mr Key: What do you think is the most significant thing that this Committee could be saying to government about digitisation and digital archiving?
Mrs Brindley: You would expect me to be slightly biased on this! I hope that the Committee could strongly support the British Library's bid in this review, to ensure that we can sustain this record of science, and record of the intellectual memory of the nation for the long term. That is a role in which we could play a leading part.
Mr Fox: I would like to echo that. As you indicated in your earlier question, there is potentially a gap growing between what is produced and what is being archived, and we need to move quickly to ensure that gap is plugged, and for that we need support from the Government.
Q270 Chairman: We have some other questions, which we will send you in writing, but I will finish with a last question. The library of the University of East Anglia has commented to us that "not only is the University of East Anglia restricted in giving access to its neighbouring research/professional/educational concerns, but also in our regional role as a major source of detailed scientific information/education to the public. This goes against the Government's desire to make science and its workings more open, available and transparent to the public. Hard copy provided equal access (provided you could understand it); on-line presupposes privileged access." Is that true?
Mr Friend: True, and the answer to my mind is open access, when everybody could have free access. What I would urge this Committee to consider is the recommendations to government that any articles based on publicly-funded research should be freely accessible over the Internet.
Mrs Brindley: I think though we should be clear that certainly the concern of the British Library in our remote document supply and inter-lending services are that through public libraries and the public library system, there is widespread access to both scientific and other materials. Last year we supplied, through the inter-library loan system, well over 160,000 such loans to the public libraries. Increasingly, though, we are looking to provide remotely streamlined access through a portal, to enable any citizen to get access to an individual article.
Q271 Chairman: How long would it take you to get an inter-library loan? How much would it cost me?
Mrs Brindley: The price of inter-library loan is £6.85 from the British Library. You can do it through the public library, and it is for the public library to decide what, if any, of that cost it passes on to the citizen.
Q272 Chairman: That is a funny price; maybe another time we could work out how you calculate that. How long would it take me to get that article that I have been pining for?
Mrs Brindley: Our ability to supply articles - we supply over 1.8 million scientific articles a year - is that over 90 per cent are supplied within 48 hours from our Boston Spa operation. We can supply within two hours securely to the desktop as well.
Q273 Chairman: Who pays for the Boston Spa operation?
Mrs Brindley: The transactions, namely the articles supplied, are charged at the public sector rate of £4.10. It is normally done through the intermediary services of the library, whether it is a university library or a government library, or whatever, and that is usually ----
Q274 Chairman: I meant who keeps the building - the roof on - at Boston Spa.
Mrs Brindley: We are supported by a grant in aid to enable the remote operations of the British Library to operate, but we are obliged under the Treasury fees guidelines to recoup all of the costs including the overheads of each of those services.
Q275 Chairman: That is roughly how much?
Mrs Brindley: For an article supply in print it is £4.10 an article in the public sector, and the price of a loan is £6.85. You can clearly see that it is a vital adjunct to the discussion you have had on bundling and the big deals. There is a very long tail, if you take about 35,000 journals a year, which is not in bundles, and a very long tail which is not digitalised. Chairman: Thank you very much for your expertise and for coming to help us today, and I guess for your superb diplomacy under stressful conditions!
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mrs Jane Carr, Chief Executive, Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society, Professor M James C Crabbe, Head, School of Animal and Microbial Sciences, University of Reading, Professor John C Fry, Professor of Microbial Ecology, Cardiff University, Professor Nigel J Hitchin, Professor of Mathematics, University of Oxford and Professor David F Williams, Professor of Tissue Engineering, University of Liverpool, examined.
Q276 Chairman: Thank you very much for coming and playing the second half for us. Can I just say, as you noted, perhaps, in the first half, I tried to induce a little anti-diplomacy; you have one chance in this world to say what you have been saying in coffee bars, restaurants and in universities all your lives, so please, please do not feel frightened about saying what you believe, because it will help us in our inquiry and allow us to challenge some of the practices that are going on. So please do that. How would you respond to the Public Library of Science's contention that there is an inherent conservatism in the scientific community about scientific publishing that needs to be overturned? Professor Williams, would you like to take that one on? Are you conservative?
Professor Williams: No, I do not believe I am conservative, but I do not see that there is any significant problem in S&T publishing at the present time. I think it is a very robust situation. I am an academic, I run a very large research group, I look at the functionality of my laboratories at the present time and I think they have been enhanced enormously in the last five years. My staff, my post-docs, my students have immense access to a wide variety of publications with tremendous facility. Comparing that to five years ago, the time saved in technology is very, very significant. I do not think there is conservatism here at all and I think it is in a very good position at the present time.
Q277 Chairman: Other people on the panel? Do you want to add to that or concur?
Professor Crabbe: Certainly in biology I would say, and I speak for colleagues not only in my own university but others that I know are at the forefront of open access ----
Q278 Chairman: You are supportive of it or anti?
Professor Crabbe: We are totally supportive and we are, I would say, at the forefront of open access for scientific literature.
Q279 Chairman: There is a split in the academic community, is there not? Some people are not in favour of it, we are told. Is that true, Professor Williams, or others?
Professor Williams: As far as I am concerned there is a very significant split. I personally am not in favour of open access, and for a variety of reasons. If open access increases in popularity then so be it, and obviously it is a very competitive situation and I think that is very fair. Right now, in the way it is going - and I compare some of the journals which I see in my own area with that which I edit myself - I see a very big difference in quality. It is the quality of the science that is being published and the quality of the publication media that is of the greatest interest to me. I think there is a big split.
Professor Hitchin: I agree. I think up-front payments in particular are a big issue. They create large problems for certain disciplines in one of the open access models?
Q280 Dr Harris: What problems?
Professor Hitchin: Problems of independent researchers who are not supported by grants, possibly.
Professor Fry: I think that there are tremendous problems with the proposed models for open access. As an example, in fact, a journal published by the learned societies would have to charge as much as journals for commercial publishers, as it actually costs almost as much to produce a journal for internet dispersal as it does to produce a printed journal, because all you are actually, in fact, saving is the printing and the distribution of the journal afterwards, which is a very small part of the overall cost. It is absolutely vital for science in Britain and the world today to have strong learned societies. Strong learned societies, largely from their profits from publications, support in fact the majority of congresses and conferences; they are the major form of oral communication at work before it is published in print, they are allowing scientists to interact together to get fresh ideas. Conferences, which are largely supported by the learned societies, are absolutely vital and so in an open access model we have to find a way of making it work as far as the learned societies are concerned. That is crucial.
Mrs Carr: I would only add the view that our perception is that a mixed economy at least in the medium term has to be a more appropriate option. We have not tested the open access financial models. Certainly our members who are academic writers want, above all, to have their research made available as widely as possible but, equally, they want to ensure that it is appropriately available and that their rights and interests are appropriately managed and protected in that environment. We feel, therefore, that there are two issues here: the financial model needs to be tested more fully and that the rights of those authors need to be assured in that environment.
Q281 Chairman: You might be persuaded in order to change the current model of the ship if some evidence came forward that open access achieved something along the lines you have just indicated?
Mrs Carr: From the authors' perspective, their concern is - and I speak here about authors more widely and my colleagues here will be able to speak specifically much more appropriately than I can - about the protection of rights. There is a concern that the practice, for example, of assignment of rights and the way in which authors' rights are taken away from that in that transaction could be carried through into an open access model, and we need to be sure in developing that model that not only is financial stability provided to ensure that the access is long-term but, also the rights - and that is the moral rights in terms of the integrity and the paternity of the work - as well as their copyright.
Q282 Chairman: But the door is open?
Mrs Carr: I think the door is open but I do not think any of us yet can say that the model is effectively tested.
Professor Williams: Chairman, can I just say that obviously those points are valid but I have not yet seen, however, any groundswell of opinion in my own sector that open access is going to improve any situation. I should say, and you are correct, there are different aspects to this; there is the financial model and there are other aspects. It has been said, I notice in some of the evidence before you, that open access allows and facilitates the greater introduction of technology into publishing. That is not the case. In my own journal we have equal access to all the technology we publish, we use the internet totally in terms of submission for the peer review process and we can have duo-clips (?) in our online version.
Q283 Chairman: What about bundling? What is your view about bundling? We have heard in the last session it may be on the way out so it may not be a major problem, but what do you feel about it at this moment?
Professor Williams: I take no strong view. Whether it is going or not, I accept that may well happen. From my point of view, wearing all my different hats, I can see the need for commercial publishers to go down the route of bundling. I am fairly neutral. I do not see any significant advantage or disadvantage to editors or to authors. I should say that I am editor-in-chief of a journal published by Elsevier.
Q284 Chairman: Not that that biases you in any way!
Professor Williams: Not at all.
Professor Fry: Bundling has been extremely valuable for the users of journals because it has increased their access to journals enormously, particularly within groups of subject areas. You have heard previous evidence that Elsevier offer a subject group bundle as well. That has improved access in my laboratory and amongst my students too, and in an enormous range of journals, particularly journals which specialise in publishing concise and cohesive reviews in subject areas. These have been extremely valuable to undergraduate students, particularly in their final year - the MSc students, to researchers changing subject areas and PhD students, etc. As far as groups of societies are concerned, in fact I am publication manager for FEMS, the Federation of European Microbiology Societies, and all our journals at the moment are owned and published by Elsevier as well. However, if, for instance, we were to choose to publish them ourselves, I think in the marketplace at the moment it would be extremely difficult to understand how we could actually produce income for our organisation and hence, in fact, promote microbiology in Europe in a whole variety of ways. The problem is that print subscriptions are decreasing and online income for us, through Elsevier, is increasing enormously, so a small publisher has to have a model for making money out of online access. I have talked to a few societies and, at the moment, they are still relying very heavily on print subscriptions; fewer are actually making a large amount of money from online access.
Q285 Dr Iddon: In a word or a sentence can each of you tell us why you publish in journals?
Professor Crabbe: The key is to get a wide audience, to get one's science recognised and for it to be recognised not just for what it is but, also, to benefit the institution from which it comes. Of course, the Research Assessment Exercise is a key factor here. Certainly I give money to my colleagues within my school to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in publishing in high-impact factor journals where there are publication costs - be these open access journals or be they printed journals.
Professor Fry: I completely agree. I think it has been extremely well summarised. I think we all try and choose the journals which will provide a particular scope of wide access. In fact, in my subject area it is extremely important I publish about half of my work in American journals and about half of my work in European journals because Americans are not very good at reading European journals. We are also aiming to publish in high profile journals and it is high profile journal publication which helps us enormously as far as the RAE is concerned, for example.
Professor Williams: I agree with those points. I think one has to accept there are two factors here. One is your professional responsibility, and the other is your own personal ambition. They both end up in the same, that is publishing in the highest quality journal. As head of a very large research group I have responsibility for myself and my staff to publish in the best journals. That is how I am measured every three years or every five years; RAE or a review, it is the quality of the journals on that list. So from the point of view of my research centre all my staff are encouraged to publish in the highest quality journals. My personal ambition is that I want to have my reputation based upon the quality of my papers, and therefore, again, I choose the highest quality journals available in my area.
Professor Hitchin: I choose a journal because of its readership. With the type of mathematics I write I think of an individual paper and I think, "Who would benefit from reading this?" and I choose the appropriate journal that way. Of course, some have a higher reputation than others according to other regard but basically my reason for choosing it is: "Is this the right journal for this particular paper?"
Mrs Carr: What I would add to that is that we believe that authors should be able to choose freely where they wish to publish and, also, that that has an impact, if I may say, going back to the open access model, because if they do not have access to the funding that might secure them that freedom then, I suppose, that is another area we need to look at carefully.
Q286 Dr Iddon: Can I put it to you that it seems to me sometimes that academics are their own worst enemies for two reasons - and you have hinted at one. Right along the road you seem to be suggesting that you want to publish in the high impact journals, the ones that are the most prestigious for your subject. Can I put it to you that you are driving up the cost of those journals by doing that, particularly journals like Nature where the rejection rates are tremendously high? Would it not benefit the academic community if you change your policy?
Professor Crabbe: Perhaps I could come in and say that from what Professor Hitchin has said obviously we want to get a wide readership. With the access that is available at the moment, theoretically it should not matter which journal we publish in at all; if the material is available over the web it can be accessed by anybody. So what is the other driver? The driver is finance. The driver is the Research Assessment Exercise. Impact factors, the half-life of journals are what drives us, I am afraid.
Q287 Chairman: If there was no Research Assessment Exercise you could not live, could you? You could publish anywhere.
Professor Williams: No, I do not accept that.
Q288 Chairman: You want to keep the Research Assessment Exercise?
Professor Williams: No, not at all, no. I do not think it has any impact on the editorial process in publishing.
Professor Hitchin: I should also point out that this question about which journal to publish in and the RAE is a discipline-dependent one. My own, in pure mathematics, quite specifically said that mathematicians publish in a wide variety of different formats and put out high quality. So we definitely distance ourselves from the idea that only certain journals contain good science.
Q289 Dr Iddon: When I started my career as a chemist there were very few journals and they were published, on the whole, by learned societies. Then the commercial houses came in, and once the commercial houses came in it seemed to me that academics - every academic - seemed to want to be an editor of his or her new journal. I also put it to you that down the last few decades academics have been their own worst enemies in following that trend with every academic seeming to want to be an editor of a journal. Would anyone like to contradict that statement?
Professor Fry: I think it is almost completely the opposite, in fact, because being an editor of a journal involves a fantastic amount of work. I know plenty of academics who do not feel absolutely committed to providing this sort of journal service.
Q290 Chairman: But they review papers - that is part of the job - unpaid.
Professor Williams: That is one of the most difficult aspects of being editor-in-chief.
Professor Fry: Finding good, strong people to review papers. Perhaps I could quickly return to the question before last, which asked has the Research Assessment Exercise changed our publishing? I think it has changed our publishing enormously because we are all scurrying to get into the highest quality journals where previously, in fact, most academics had a much broader range of publishing profiles. Now publishing profiles are becoming focused. Also, if you are doing work which is hard to publish in high profile journals - for instance, for a proportion of applied ecology work it is extremely hard to get papers in high quality journals - these academics are being pretty well sidelined as far as research goes in departments because we cannot afford to have articles which are not regularly published in these high quality journals, for RAE reasons.
Q291 Dr Iddon: Finally, can I look at the "author pays" trend - the author pays for the publication of the paper, trend? We have heard that it can cost anything from $500 to as high as $30,000 to publish an article, depending on the nature of the journal. The more prestigious, obviously, the higher the cost. Is that a realistic amount, in your view? Do you think the academic community would be prepared to pay such costs if that trend grows?
Professor Williams: I think publishing is expensive anyway and it is just a question of which business model you are going to use. Ultimately that is not going to be the deciding factor. If that is the way it goes then I suspect, because this is a very small part of the cost of doing research anyway, the system will find a method for allowing that price to be paid. My one concern is that once you do move down that system where the author or the institution is paying I think that is probably open to a little more interference than the way we do it at the present time. In medicine, for example, are the pharmaceutical companies going to be paying for the publication and those who do not have large grants from these drug companies may not be able to do so. There is great scope for that interference through that route than at the present time.
Professor Crabbe: I would like to say that when I started my career as a biochemist the reason I never published in a journal on biological chemistry was because they had page charges and I thought this was not acceptable for a science. Now, of course, the whole question has been changed, the whole answer system has been changed and I now provide money for my colleagues to publish in those journals. I think there is obviously a balance for who pays and that balance can come partly from research councils, partly from the universities and partly from the publishers themselves.
Professor Fry: Quite a few American journals charge page charges and, for instance, to publish in American journals I have publishing costs of about £400 a paper. I do not ever put a colour figure in the journals, I put all my colour figures in journals which publish colour free, and hence it means targeting work in different ways according to the journal. I think if I had to pay £3,000, for example, to publish an article it would present a considerable obstacle. One of the arguments which has been made is that, in fact, research grants could include an element for that. Okay, it is not an enormous amount, it might be 10 per cent of the research grant, but there are in fact minor practical problems. For instance, we have to spend our money during a research grant; we are not allowed to spend any after the end of it. In fact, most publications come in the latter half of the research grant and a few years afterwards, so where do we get the money from? In, for instance, a few universities a proportion of the overheads which come from the research council grants are returned to investigators (?) and so it would be possible to store up on this. Not all universities do that, however, and so this whole host, in fact, of minor practical problems makes it all very difficult to see how it is going to work without our current academic model as it operates in Britain at the moment.
Q292 Dr Iddon: Finally, in this section, what incentives or disincentives are in place for authors to publish in digital-only journals?
Professor Crabbe: I think the main incentive has to be rigorous peer review. Whatever you publish that has to be top. Why go to a particular journal when readership depends on the access? Obviously, with the open access journals that instant access is a clear incentive.
Professor Hitchin: The point I made in my written evidence was that there are and there do exist unrefereed open access journals - well, not journals, they are resources.
Q293 Chairman: ArXiv is one. You are rather keen on it, are you not?
Professor Hitchin: I am indeed, and I am a relatively recent convert. It was originally started by a physicist putting a pre-existing pre-print exchange system into an electronic form about 10 or 12 years ago, and it has gradually grown and then also acquired mathematics and quite recently quantitative biology as subjects. What it does is to provide instant access to unrefereed material. So there is a risk involved in taking it down and taking it as true, but, on the other hand, the people who are doing it are the same people who will be refereeing papers anyway and it is up to them to evaluate it. Eventually, of course, when it gets accepted by a journal then it has this mark of quality placed against it and one can see what the quality is. My point is that here the author, the researcher, gets instant access to researchers around the world. It is a point that has been made to me by, for example, a physicist in Calcutta who said "You do not know the difference that it makes now that I can get the same pre-print on the same day in Calcutta as somebody in Princeton".
Q294 Chairman: Good, but it is not refereed, is it, and it does not really induce you to want to get it published in a high-flying journal, does it? "It is out there, the world sees it, great, I have done it."
Professor Hitchin: It is out there but the refereeing process takes time, and science sometimes cannot wait for that. So that the refereeing process gives a validation and a check, but if you ----
Q295 Chairman: Are you really saying that any old scientific garbage should be allowed to go out there on an ArXiv site?
Professor Hitchin: No, and in fact it does not.
Q296 Chairman: Yet people are confused by MMR jabs and stuff. Why not have a press conference instead of self-archiving?
Professor Hitchin: It is not "any old garbage", it is screened, moderated and any inappropriate material is removed. Obviously, anything that you put on the internet is going to attract all sorts of rubbish; we know that every time we look at our e-mails. There are teams of eminent mathematicians who actually screen this material. They do not referee it but they screen it so that it is appropriate for the audience that it is intended for.
Q297 Bob Spink: While we are on this subject, looking at it from the user's viewpoint, we have had a lot of enthusiasm from the witnesses today for online access but there is another possible view, and that is are these young researchers, who are children of the internet, who you now work with, finding it too easy to search the body of material using the sort of well-known search engines like Yahoo and Google and going straight to the documents without actually getting into the body of available material and learning and picking up leads, and what-have-you? Is this just too efficient, too short-cut and preventing them going through the full research-rich experience that colleagues round here had to go through?
Professor Crabbe: I will say that it is tremendously important that the whole paper be made available and not just the abstract, otherwise what you say is all too likely.
Professor Fry: It is a real problem, what you are explaining. We all have to spend considerable effort on retraining students because in schools they are encouraged to use the internet for everything; they tend to use the internet for everything and I am constantly having to remind students that, in fact, in science we use the primary literature. You can use the internet to gain access to that literature and have a certain degree of overview but you should always read the primary literature, whether it is reviews which are refereed or if it is written papers which are refereed. Refereeing, I think, is absolutely vital. It is of key importance.
Professor Williams: Can I agree with that? I think in the direction you are going I totally agree. Whilst we all embrace the internet as best we can, I think there is a danger: that it is not just access to the papers it is the ability to understand and interpret that information which is so important. In answer to previous questions, I respectfully disagree here. I have great concern about this open refereeing of papers. Peer review in good quality papers is the most important issue. I do not think science is moving so fast we cannot make the peer review. In my own journal I am as fast as I can but I wait for the peer review before making decisions. Science never goes so fast that we say "Let's forget peer review". I am very much against having discussion pages on the internet to determine how good a paper is, it is not a substitute for a good quality peer review.
Professor Hitchin: I would agree with that but I do not subscribe to that model.
Professor Crabbe: Some of my colleagues, particularly in statistics, have a real problem with the length of publication time. I work in statistics, or statistical computation biology, and I just refuse to publish in that area, in those journals, because they are just so slow. So I publish on computational biology in biochemistry journals. So some colleagues have a real problem, if they are learned journals from learned societies, in that they do take a long time. That is where something like Professor Hitchin's model could perhaps be useful, but in general peer review has to be vital.
Q298 Bob Spink: The point I was making is if the internet search engines can take you straight to the final point it can avoid you seeing the options that you would normally find if you were going along the more traditional route of research literature. The learning process just is not there.
Professor Crabbe: You have to have infinite trust in Google to make sure you end up at the right spot.
Q299 Dr Turner: Can I ask you how you feel about the copyright issue? On what proportion of papers do you sign away their copyright? Does this worry you? What are the sort of terms of the copyright agreements that you have to sign?
Professor Williams: In the vast majority of papers which I publish I have to sign copyright for the publisher. It has never been a concern to me. As editor-in-chief I have never had a concern raised by any author at any time about the copyright issue.
Professor Crabbe: I would agree with that.
Q300 Dr Turner: Do you find publishers helpful in terms of copyright and protecting your work?
Professor Williams: Yes.
Professor Crabbe: Yes.
Mrs Carr: Could I come in here because, clearly, as a collective organisation we will tend to see authors when things go wrong, and so we do indeed see things going wrong and going wrong in a fairly serious way. The practice of assignment by some publishers takes away all the rights of an author, if I can quote: "Without limitation, any form of electronic exploitation, distribution or transmission, not known or invented in the future, all other intellectual property rights in such contributions ..." and so on. In other words, there is nothing left of an author's original copyright; all rights are required to be assigned and we do have authors who come to us from the academic sector who are concerned. For example, we have surveyed ourselves recently - earlier this year - and we have also looked at a learned society professional publisher survey. Authors in the academic sector are concerned about their copyright. They are concerned about assignment. We have evidence from individuals who, for example, report to us in a response "The only journal I challenged over assigning copyright agreed to assign it to me as long as I understood they would not publish me again. Academic publishing is, from an author's perspective, a complete rip-off."
Q301 Chairman: Who said that?
Ms Carr: I have not actually got a name here.
Q302 Chairman: You have just made that up!
Mrs Carr: No, absolutely not. I cannot, in data protection terms, give you that name without the permission of that person. I can assure you it is an exact quote from a response to a survey earlier this year.
Q303 Dr Turner: Do you suffer any impediment from copyright assignment in using your published material for teaching purposes? Is there any difference between printed journals and digital material?
Professor Williams: I see no impediment at all. In fact, I am a little concerned as to why anybody publishing an original piece of research wants to print that somewhere else. It is different if you are publishing books or monographs, which has a different intellectual input. There one can see the need for embellishing that somewhere else. As an editor, one of my concerns is people trying to publish it twice with slight modifications, but I have no problem with the copyright issue there and it does not impede me in my teaching at all.
Q304 Dr Turner: Does it worry you that once you have assigned copyright you have no control over the material, which might be tampered with or misused?
Professor Williams: I personally have never seen any evidence of misuse of material which has been copyrighted by the publisher. I have never seen any evidence it happens. If it did and it was a serious misuse then I agree that would be a concern, but I have no evidence that that happens.
Q305 Dr Turner: Mrs Carr, a lot of articles are submitted by a large number of authors on one paper. How does multiple ownership of the original copyright and its assignment affect this situation?
Mrs Carr: I agree that there is difficulty and this is, perhaps, a place where collective societies such as ourselves can help. We, for example, will make payments to all authors who contribute to an article, where their secondary rights come to us, and we do go to some considerable lengths to identify them and pay them even when they are relatively small sums, because we believe it is very important for those authors each to be recognised as having been a contributor. I suppose that is behind what I am trying to say. There are individuals here - and I am absolutely sure that those who sit beside me are in positions where perhaps they have not had to fight for their rights and they have been supported fully through the current system and may be less aware than perhaps I am of some of the difficulties that other colleagues encounter on their way through the system.
Chairman: Dr Harris, do you want to talk to me about fraud, please?
Q306 Dr Harris: It is a very big subject, but one of the key issues, and there are so many here - and I direct this initially to Professor Crabbe because he is an advocate of the open access model - is that when the author pays there will be pressure, direct, indirect, perceived or otherwise, on the journal to publish, with less stress on the quality, and, secondly, to speed up, possibly to the detriment of quality, the process of review and publication, because in order to maintain a large number of submissions one, therefore, wants quality or wants to offer what is perceived by the authors as a good service. How do you respond to those concerns as an advocate of open access?
Professor Crabbe: Firstly I would say that if that happened no one would publish in a journal who would be interested in high quality science. They just would not go for that.
Q307 Dr Harris: It would be self-policing?
Professor Crabbe: It would certainly be self-policing.
Q308 Dr Harris: Instantaneously self-policing, or would there be five years ----
Professor Crabbe: It only takes one journal, one paper, one bad paper in a journal for that journal to get a very bad reputation. So self-policing is very important. One of the problems with open access journals is persuading colleagues that it is actually a rigorous peer review system, and that is not the sort of system that we have discussed that was introduced by Professor Hitchin. I think that if colleagues are persuadable that this is high quality, good science, highly rigorously peer reviewed, then the problems you mention will not happen.
Q309 Dr Harris: If anyone else who is a supporter has anything else to add, please feel free. What about the concern that those with generous grant systems, for example industry, for example the pharmaceutical industry - where there are already other issues - will find it easier to publish in the most prestigious journals which, by definition, will have a higher price because they have a higher rejection rate and, therefore, have to do more reviews per article published, and that will squeeze out both those researchers who do not have industry backing and those subjects where there are less generous grants, for example in mathematics?
Professor Crabbe: I quite agree that is an important issue to address and I think it is an issue that needs to be discussed between the publishers, between the research councils, between the charities who provide grants, possibly the pharmaceutical firms, and the authors themselves. It is a problem, and right at the very beginning I did say that one of the reasons I did not publish in journals that had page charges was that it did seem to me, perhaps, not acceptable from the scientific point of view. However, things have moved on now and I will actually give money to my colleagues to publish in high quality journals as long as I am satisfied that they are high quality journals.
Q310 Chairman: Where do you get that money from? Do you take it from another budget?
Professor Crabbe: I have a budget that I created within my institution, in my school, yes.
Q311 Chairman: That is public money, is it?
Professor Crabbe: That is indeed public money.
Q312 Chairman: Meant for something else?
Professor Crabbe: No, it comes from the overheads, it comes from the grant that we get for research.
Q313 Chairman: How much is that a year? How much do you use?
Professor Crabbe: How much do I use? I do not actually use a tremendous amount. It is certainly in the hundreds, possibly the very low thousands and something per year.
Q314 Chairman: Would you do it for a PhD student who has done something academic, to encourage them to publish - to get them on the ladder of fame?
Professor Crabbe: I am extremely keen on career development, and I have a number of systems of promoting PhD students and post-doc. In my areas it would be almost impossible for a PhD student to publish on their own without their supervisor, without their research group, but in other areas - in languages and sociology - then that could well happen.
Q315 Dr Harris: It is not very satisfactory either way, is it, because for those researchers without a sugar daddy (if I can describe you as that) with a pot of money to solve the problem in open access terms then it is not satisfactory? Indeed for those where there is this source of funding it proves the point that money talks in terms of publication. So I think we do have an issue here, as you have acknowledged yourself, and I think this equity issue is a genuine barrier towards wholesale support for open access.
Professor Crabbe: I think that is right, but I would say that whether it is an open access journal or a print journal is not a question in my mind when I am providing that money. What is more important is what one of my colleagues said, that in some universities the overheads actually go back to the group, back to the school, and in other universities they do not. There is certainly an inequity there.
Professor Williams: As you say, it is a factor but only a very small factor, bearing in mind that research is expensive, it takes a lot of time, a lot of people and a lot of money. You have that inequity in all other parts, in access to laboratories, access to top quality equipment and so on. That is built into the research system.
Q316 Dr Harris: Professor Williams, now you have waded in here, you said in answer to the Chairman's first question that you were not conservative minded in these areas, but you then said that come what may you are damn well going to seek to publish in prestigious journals, regardless of the merits of your work - in other words, that if it is good enough it should be recognised in any journal - and you are prepared to just seek out those prestigious journals and keep on this problem, which many people perceive as a problem, that if you cannot get published in those because you are in an area which they do not publish then you are going to suffer. Surely, to break this problem of the RAE looking at where you publish, which you I think accepted, do you not have to break out from this mindset?
Professor Williams: I do not recognise that as a definition of conservatism and I really do not believe that is the case.
Q317 Dr Harris: You do not believe there is a need to change, because the dictionary definition would suggest that might be perceived as conservative with a small "c".
Professor Williams: I do not see the need for substantial change, no. I think there has been a very, very good evolution; it has been quite rapid over the last few years but I do not see any reason for substantial change, no.
Q318 Dr Harris: There is this issue in medicine - in bioscience anyway - that unpublished studies, studies that are negative and not interesting, do not get published, and you therefore get this publication bias that is already a problem, which I happen to think is a major problem, particularly in the biosciences if, maybe, not in some of your areas. It is also the case that those areas that have interesting results, shall we say, for pharmaceutical companies get extra funding in terms of money, which may or may not be physicals (?). That is an issue that has come to light. Looking at open access as an example, in this situation anyway, is that improved or probably made worse by the fact that you have to pay to publish a negative result under open access? How do you solve that problem in the existing business model? Any of you?
Professor Fry: I think, in medical areas, it is probably very different because it is important there to have absolutely all the information. In other branches of biosciences, which I am heavily involved with, we have negative results all the time. The only way in which you are going to, in fact, bring science forward is to be working at the edges and if you are going to be working at the edges you are going to have some things that work and some things that do not work. Those things that are working will produce good, interesting stories and will help science move forward further. Those which are not working, often for methodological reasons and experimental design reasons which we should have anticipated but have not, are not nearly as interesting as far as carrying science forward. Often, you have to wait for the technology to develop to be able to ask those sorts of questions which, at one point in time, have not produced any results, and in the future they can produce results.
Q319 Dr Harris: Those negative results are vital to stop people falling into the same traps. They have to be published to show that it is not - even if methodologically it is okay - a reasonable way to go. If the open access model had practically compulsory - because otherwise it would be a misuse of the grant funds - publication because there is a specific element that is for publication at least of some papers from the grant, would that not solve what I think is a problem (and you do not think it is so big a problem), even in your field, of the failure to publish uninteresting or negative results?
Professor Williams: I do not think this is an open access issue; this is faced by all types of journals. My own journal covers both clinical and non-clinical, and I think there are differences. On the clinical side if you have carried out a clinical trial or a clinical study and your pre-clinical (?) is well-defined, then it is essential you publish the results whatever they are - I totally agree. If it is a pre-clinical or scientific trial, publishing negative results is not always necessary; it depends on the hypothesis which you started with. I see many papers where the results are clearly negative just because they asked the wrong question and did the wrong methodology and it is not worth publishing. There are significant differences.
Professor Fry: Perhaps I can give you an example of where we have, in fact, recently published negative results? We were trying to look at bacteria in very deep marine sediment, and it is extremely hard to do this, and we are forging the methodology forward. At the point it was all working we were then able to publish a paper, not in a very high impact journal because it would not have got in but in a lower impact journal, which described how to make it work and, also, described all the problems on the way and, hence, would help other researchers avoid falling into the problems which we had. However, if we had only published when we were having problems it would have been pretty uninteresting. Often, also, you have a community of workers all working on a similar topic, all competing (?) in conferences who are often talking about how they are trying to move things forward - perhaps a PhD student will give an oral paper - and, in fact, those are pretty negative or inconclusive. So we have this variety of ways of communicating our information.
Q320 Dr Harris: Conflicts of interest in two fields: both the author's conflicts of interest, declared or otherwise, or competing interests, and those of the reviewers. Do you think there is a problem here, given recent revelations? If there is, or even if there is not, do you think it is getting worse? Are we are a crisis level in terms of confidence in both the peer review process and whether declarations of interest are all being declared and, even when they are declared, whether they are, in fact, interfering (even though they are declared) - for example, pharmaceutical-wise?
Professor Crabbe: I think there has to be a difference between contract research and blue skies research, and maybe there is a seamless road between them. I think you have highlighted an issue about conflict of interest, and it is something that certainly, as an editor, I am very aware of in the authors that publish in my journal.
Professor Williams: I think you are actually right, there are potential conflicts of interest but that happens in life in general. I would go further and say that editors have potential conflicts of interest as well as authors and reviewers; it is a question of how we handle that. I think it is done pretty well at the present time but it is something we always have to be very, very careful about.
Professor Fry: My experience over many years in microbiology is that, in fact, generally, scientists are extremely honourable and try to do things honestly, because we are all interested in the honest publication of results which are good and help us all move forward. In fact, my area is not enormously competitive because I work in environmental microbiology. There is a tremendous amount of work still to do, but for people working on a specific high-profile issue the competition and potential conflicts of interest are potentially greater.
Q321 Dr Harris: Given what you have just said before, that a journal loses a huge amount of credibility if a case of fraud comes to light, is there not a worry, in terms of a publications conflict of interest, in resisting the bringing to light of an error either it has made or that has been made for which it had no responsibility - except missing it, I suppose? How do we deal with that? If what you say is true, and we should all be reassured that peer review is rigorous because no one wants to publish a dodgy paper and have it revealed, how do we deal with the problem of there being, effectively, a conspiracy not to reveal the problem because of the huge impact that can have on the prestige of the journal?
Professor Crabbe: Science is a relatively closely-knit area and within the field if something is wrong then people talk and if the journal does not instantly produce some sort of retraction or correction then people just will not go to publish in that journal.
Professor Fry: There are alternative mechanisms. For instance, in my group of journals we have published extremely short papers where someone has challenged findings in a paper, and we encourage the author to respond. So you have the original paper, you have the challenge and you have the response to the challenge, and it is all out, it is all published, it is all open for everyone to see.
Q322 Chairman: Last question before we have to go off to Prime Minister's questions. Someone up there said "... there is no reason at all why all Higher Education Institutions should have the same access to scientific publications. Not all institutions work at the cutting edge of science, technology and medicine, and many do not need access to the highest quality science publications." Would the culprit please explain what they meant, please?
Professor Williams: That was me.
Q323 Chairman: Well done, you recognised your own writing.
Professor Williams: I re-read it this morning, Chairman, so it was not too difficult. This concerns what I see as many people stating that it is immensely important for the whole world to have access to leading journals as soon as they are published. I do not believe that is the case. I think, in the long term, as that information and those papers filter through and informs science in general that is extremely important. However, in my journal, and I publish papers all round the world, the vast majority of institutions do not work in this area, they could not, in fact, understand what we publish, and I think one has to be very careful in determining policy on the basis that everybody should have free access to what we publish.
Q324 Chairman: Jane, you are itching to finish off.
Mrs Carr: Well, words failed me there, for a moment. I think if somebody does not understand what they are reading then they do not understand it, but not to have access to it, if it is the author's wish that they should, or indeed if the community needs it, must be a cause for concern. I am speaking there personally, in a sense.
Chairman: I think you had better take him for a drink, Jane, and beat him over the head. Thank you all very much indeed for contributing to this session. It has illuminated us on lots of areas that we have not touched on before. Thank you very much for your time.