|High Energy Physics Libraries Webzine|
Issue 10 / December 2004
On Tuesday 20th July, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its long-awaited Report on Scientific Publications. Following the announcement of an Inquiry into scientific publications late last year, the Committee has studied over 100 written submissions and held four oral evidence sessions where they had the chance to grill publishers (both commercial and society), librarians, UK funding bodies, and academics. The Report concludes that the ‘provision of STM [scientific, technical, and medical] journals in the UK is unsatisfactory’, noting that libraries can no longer keep up with increases in subscription prices. The Committee disagreed with the view of some commercial publishers that access to the literature should be limited to those at institutions who could pay the subscription charges stating that ‘it is not for publishers or academics to decide who should, and who should not, be allowed to read scientific journal articles’. The Committee concluded that the large sums of public money invested in research and its outputs merited Government involvement in the publishing process.
The Committee cannot mandate change, but it did make a number of recommendations, two of which, if taken up, would ensure that all research funded by the UK Government would be freely available to all. The first recommendation is that the UK Research Councils make it a condition of grant that researchers deposit a copy of their articles in a local institutional repository (or online archive) within one month of publication. Most of the UK’s research-intensive universities have functional online repositories that could host authors’ research papers and make them available free of charge to readers worldwide. These repositories are built to Open Archive Initiative standards that ensure that metadata can be harvested and cross-repository searches carried out seamlessly by the reader. The Committee was particularly interested in the way that arXiv has been used in the physics community and quoted evidence it had received that ‘Authors continue to value the quality control function the journals provide but also the rapid and wide dissemination that arXiv provides’.
The second recommendation is that the funding bodies should make funds available for authors to pay open access publication charges. Open access journals (such as New Journal of Physics and PLoS Biology) are funded by publication charges rather than subscription charges, so ensuring that the papers they publish can be seen by all. Evidence is mounting that papers in open access journals are downloaded and cited more often than those in subscription-based journals and the Committee wishes to make sure that UK authors have the funds to pay publication charges and to benefit from this increased exposure.
The Committee also noted that the benefits of open access extend beyond increasing impact and access for researchers in developed countries and would be ‘extremely advantageous to researchers in developing countries’, as well as helping to ensure a more scientifically literate public.
The UK Government will respond to the Report after the summer holidays and a debate will follow in the House of Commons. Meanwhile, similar conclusions are being reached worldwide, with, for example, the US House of Representatives Appropriation Committee recommending that the National Institutes of Health provide free public access to all papers resulting from NIH-funded research. In the US the mechanism being envisioned is that researchers would be required to deposit copies of their papers in PubMed Central. The funders of research internationally are beginning to realise that the extent to which the research they fund is disseminated is a legitimate area of concern. They are concluding that open access is the best way forward to ensure a greater return on the research they fund, together with a more informed research community and public.
The full Report of the Science and Technology Committee can be found at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmsctech.htm[Breaking news - see David's latest update on the UK Government response]
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