Call to put research free on websites

December 19, 2003

Universities should publish academics' research papers freely on their websites, MPs have been told.

The Commons science and technology committee, which last week announced an inquiry into scientific publications, was urged to do more than simply grill publishers on their charging and the impact of open-access journals.

In a written submission to the committee, Steve Harnad, professor of cognitive science at Southampton University, said 24,000 research journals worldwide published some 2.5 million articles a year. But just 600 open-access journals published about 75,000 articles a year. British universities spend £76 million a year on subscriptions, according to the Joint Information Systems Committee.

If authors were to self-archive their papers on university websites, Professor Harnad said the UK portion of at least 1.25 million articles could be made open-access overnight. There were three times as many articles made open-access each year by self-archiving than through open-access publishing, he told MPs.

Professor Harnad said: "The longer we wait, the longer and bigger will be our growing daily, weekly, monthly and yearly loss of research impact because of self-denial to would-be users worldwide.

"This represents a needless cumulative loss of research progress and productivity for researchers, their institutions, their funders and, ultimately, for taxpayers who fund the funders."

The committee will consider access to journals within the scientific community and ask what measures are being taken by the government, the publishing industry and academic institutions to ensure that researchers, teachers and students have access to the publications they need to carry out their work effectively.

Ian Gibson, the chairman, said staff and students must have easy access to publications at a fair price. But he added that scientific journals needed to maintain their credibility and integrity in the age of e-publishing.

Written evidence can be submitted until February 12 and oral evidence will he heard in March.

Meanwhile, journal publishers are being encouraged by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) to adopt the open-access model. It has provided Pounds 150,000 to encourage publishers to switch from the traditional subscription method to a model where authors pay to have papers published and the content is then freely available on the internet.

The move follows the success of an agreement earlier this year with BioMed Central that made more than 90 peer-reviewed journals freely available to universities in Britain. Jisc picks up the £350 fee usually paid by researchers submitting a paper.

Lorraine Estelle, Jisc collections manager, said the committee was aware of open-access publishers in other fields and wanted to foster their growth.

She said the cost of journal subscriptions was affecting access to academic content worldwide. Charges were rising so sharply that some libraries were having to choose between keeping them or making cuts in student textbooks and research monographs.

Ms Estelle said: "We are hoping that through this programme researchers at UK universities will benefit by being able to share their research findings freely."

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