Publish online and be damned

November 12, 2004

The Government this week refused to embrace a future where all research is available freely to everyone online, sparking a major row in the science community, writes Anna Fazackerley.

In its official response to a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on scientific publishing, released on Monday, the Department of Trade and Industry failed to endorse any of the MPs' key recommendations. Ignoring the committee's advice, the department said it remained unconvinced that a move away from costly subscription-based journals towards a model where the author pays would be in the national interest.

The committee's chair, Ian Gibson, vowed that he would not abandon the campaign for open access publishing. He told The Times Higher : "I think it is a disgraceful reaction. They are covering their backs like heck."

In a public statement following the Government's response, Dr Gibson said:

"The DTI is apparently more interested in kowtowing to the powerful publishing lobby than it is in looking after the best interests of British science."

The response delivered a blow to university librarians, who are struggling to cope with the twin threats of rising journal costs and declining budgets.

Toby Bainton, secretary of the Standing Conference of National University and College Libraries, said: "We were very pleased with the committee's report, and we wish the Government had gone a lot further in supporting it."

However, a spokesperson for the Royal Society said: "As one of many learned societies that relies on the income from its journals to fund core activities for science in the UK, the Royal Society supports the Government's intention to avoid any action that might threaten the viability of such societies."

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