|High Energy Physics Libraries Webzine|
Issue 10 / December 2004
The publication of the report from the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Inquiry on scientific publishing was never going to be the last word on the matter in the British Parliament. (http://webzine.web.cern.ch/webzine/10/papers/3/) An official response from the Government was expected and this was published on 8th November 2004. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmsctech/1200/1200.pdf) The Inquiry had concluded by making a number of recommendations which it felt would increase access to the literature in the UK. It was therefore very disappointing that the Government refused to follow or adopt any of these recommendations. In fact, parts of the response, written by the Department of Trade and Industry, disputed that there was a problem and criticized potential solutions. Despite the evidence that the Committee had collected from the library community, the response stated that 'The Government is not aware that there are major problems in accessing scientific information.' Furthermore, '...the Government has no present intention to mandate Research Council funded researchers to deposit a copy of their published material in institutional repositories' and '...at this point we are not convinced that the author-pays model is economic. Before fully supporting any new business model, the Government will need to be convinced that this model is better and cheaper.'
As was widely reported in the British newspapers, it was these comments that led the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee to claim that the Government was suppressing the views of its own advisers and 'kowtowing' to the interests of the publishers. Some papers went so far as to claim that the response was a 'victory for Elsevier'.
However, reading the response rather than the reports of the response provides a rather more balanced picture. The Government was keen to point out that it wants to see the outcomes of publicly funded research made available to the widest possible audience, following peer review, provided that quality could be maintained and access provided at a reasonable costs. They also recognized the potential benefits of institutional repositories and welcomed the increasing number of universities that have already established repositories to enable greater access to their research output. Unfortunately, they declined to provide any extra money for repositories.
In what may be the most important sentence in the response, the Government noted that 'Many of the issues raised in the Select Committee Report are being taken forward by bodies funded either through Government or their agencies.' So, while refusing to directly take up any of the recommendations, the Government is not stopping those initiates towards widening access being advanced by its agencies. In particular, two agencies are working towards open access. The first is Research Councils, UK (RCUK), which acts as a representative body of the seven UK Research Councils (which together spend over £2 billion each year on research). RCUK is currently working on a policy for access to the research literature for publication early in 2005. There is nothing in the Government's response to stop the Research Councils from making it mandatory for researchers to deposit their papers in local repositories.
The second important agency in the UK is the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). JISC provides strategic guidance, advice and opportunities to use ICT to support teaching, learning, research and administration in higher and further education in the UK. It has been a strong supporter of open access: for example, supporting the FAIR programme for institutional repositories and the ROMEO list of publisher copyright policies, and providing transition funding for open access journals. Following the Government's response, JISC confirmed its commitment to open access (both repositories and open access journals) and will announce funding for a major new repositories programme in 2005.
So while the actual response has been disappointing and the political back-and-forth will continue, the bodies that have been most interested in open access in the UK will continue their work. Also, outside of UK Governmental circles more advances in open access are being made at the policy level. This month, the Wellcome Trust (an independent biomedical research funding charity which currently spends over £400 million each year) announced that it was working with the National Library of Medicine in the US to establish a European site for PubMed Central. It also announced a new policy whereby 'Wellcome Trust grantees will be required to deposit an electronic version of their peer reviewed research articles in PubMed Central (or the European PMC, once established) no later than six months after the date of publication.' (http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/doc_WTX022827.html)
In the US, Congress has finalized its instructions to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop new policies to allow widespread access by the public to the papers funded by the NIH. The suggestion is that a policy similar to that outlined by the Wellcome Trust be adopted, with authors being requested to deposit their papers in PubMed Central within six months of publication. Approximately 60,000 papers each year would be made freely available as a result of this policy. (http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-04-064.html) Also, in Italy the Rectors of half of the Universities have signed the Berlin Declaration in Support of open access.
The past year has seen an incredible increase in interest in open access. No longer is it only discussed at library conferences and in society publishing meetings. It has caught the attention of politicians and policy makers and it is to be hoped that this interest will promote the quick uptake of open access worldwide.
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