Brussels, 05 Jul 2004
Fundamental changes in the way research is published stand to benefit both the scientific community and society at large, raising awareness of European excellence in science and technology. An EU study will look into the implications of 'open access' publishing, and the economic and technical changes in the scientific publications market.
As debate rages about the mounting costs of high-end journals, the peer-review process and the pressure on researchers to increase their publication rate, the European Commission launched, last month, a study delving into the scientific publishing system for European research.
Publication in a major peer-reviewed scientific journal has become a driving factor behind scientists' careers, raising visibility for the individual and the research organisation. Indeed, at the European level, projects receiving funding through the Union's Sixth Framework Programme for research are required to include a results dissemination plan as part of their applications. But a number of trends are giving the scientific community and policy-makers pause for thought.
Instant publishing through the internet, questions about research veracity, and the increasing popularity of 'open access' publishing, if not properly managed, have the potential to turn a centuries-old tradition into a potential free-for-all. With its study, the Commission wants to examine the main changes in this sector, as well as the key actors involved across Europe, and to identify ways of improving access to scientific publications. Another aspect of the study – due to be completed in 2005 – will be to outline measures for improving the exchange, dissemination and archiving of scientific publications, while guaranteeing their quality and diversity, and reconciling the authors' rights with the publishers' economic interests.
Publish or be damned
Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said, at the launch of the study, that the scientific publishing market has important flow-on implications to European research. "Scientific publications not only serve to disseminate research results, they [are also] a tool for evaluating the quality of research teams," he said. Achieving the European Research Area's ambitions and raising the profile of European research will rest, to some degree, on how well this publishing system functions, he stressed.
This free flow of knowledge is also at the heart of the Berlin Declaration, which was adopted in October 2003 by well over 100 science professionals from leading organisations, such as the Max Planck Society, the National Science Foundation and Science magazine, to name a few. The Declaration says, "New possibilities of knowledge dissemination, not only through the classical form but also… increasingly through the open access paradigm, via the internet, have to be supported. We define open access as a comprehensive source of human knowledge and cultural heritage that has been approved by the scientific community."
Since the first scientific journals went to press in the mid-seventeenth century, scientists have had to learn how to condense their complex subjects into a more consumable format for reviewing and printing. Publishers made their living from institutes willing to pay for theses published findings. Today, with an explosion in the number of journals available, rising subscription fees and diminishing library budgets, good research may not be reaching wide enough audiences.
The internet has also upped the stakes for traditional journal publishers now that the vast majority of printed articles are also available electronically. Today, one in five publications is accessible on-line, with over 1 000 titles listed in the 'Directory of Open Access Journals' and 1.5 million scientific articles published worldwide each year.