Laurie Taylor Column

November 19, 2004

Mind if I sit here?

My pleasure. Still keeping busy?

Is the Pope a Catholic? Anything interesting in your Higher ?

Hardly. Apparently the Government in the shape of the DTI has rejected the advice of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee over online publishing.

What's all that about?

It's about the cost of academic journals. The committee met all the experts in the field and concluded that it was absurd that university libraries should have to pay large amounts of cash to journal publishers such as Reed Elsevier so that academics and others could look at research that, as taxpayers, they'd already funded.

Large amounts?

Well, Brain Research would set you back a cool £10,000 a year and Nuclear Physics B another £7,000. Or you spend your money on Reed Elsevier's new "bundles", in which you can get the journals you want only if you also pay for a whole lot you don't. A bit like paying for a tin of pilchards and a tin of sardines when all you wanted was a can of tuna.

It doesn't make sense.

It does to Reed Elsevier. Its profit margin on academic journals is said to be about 40 per cent.

So, what's the solution?

Simple really. As the Commons committee put it: "All UK higher education institutions should establish institutional repositories on which their published output can be stored and from where it can be read, free of charge, online."

So why did the Government turn it down?

Well, Ian Gibson, the committee's chair, said: "It is disgraceful. The DTI appears more interested in kowtowing to the powerful publishing lobby than looking after the best interests of British science."

You believe that? You believe that this Government is in hock to big business?

Remind me once again. What exactly was the Pope's religion?

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