Brussels, 23 Jul 2004
Following the European Commission's announcement of its intention to determine the conditions required for the optimum operation of the scientific publishing sector, the UK Parliament's Select Committee on Science and Technology has published its findings on the changes needed at home.
While the Select Committee report focuses on the current situation within the UK and likely actions for the UK government, the report writers do not believe that the UK should act without consideration for other countries. Indeed, one of the key recommendations to come from the report is that the UK should take the lead in instigating change in the international scientific publications market.
'The market for scientific publications is international. The UK cannot act alone. For this reason we recommend that the UK Government act as a proponent for change on the international stage and lead by example. This will ultimately benefit researchers across the globe,' states the UK report.
Scientific publishing is the subject of widespread debate at the moment on account of the recognition that the system cannot continue to operate as it has done. While the volume of research output and the price of scientific journals has been steadily increasing over recent years, perhaps by as much as 58 per cent, according to the UK's Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, libraries have seen their budgets cut. As a consequence, libraries are finding it difficult to purchase scientific journals.
Public authorities are also concerned that their investment in scientific research is not being translated into outputs that benefit the public. Publishing 'serves two 'public good' purposes,' according to the UK Select Committee, 'it makes the research process more efficient [by avoiding duplication of research] and it helps to inform the public of developments in the scientific, technical and medical fields.'
And while libraries are struggling to purchase journals, scientific, technical and medical publishers' profit margins remain exceptionally high compared with the rest of the publishing sector.
The report contains a number of other key recommendations. For example, the Select Committee proposes that the UK higher education institutions establish institutional repositories on which their published output can be stored, and from which it can be read, free of charge, online. It also recommends that the UK's research councils and other government funders make it compulsory for funded researchers to make a copy of all their articles available in this way.
While institutional repositories present a short term solution, the report suggests that a more radical solution may be required in the long term. The Select Committee favours the introduction of an 'author-pays' model, whereby authors or their research funders pay to publish their article in a journal. To facilitate this process, research councils would establish a fund to which their funded researchers could apply should they wish to publish. The Select Committee stops short of recommending that such a system be implemented immediately, however, favouring instead a period of further experimentation, primarily aimed at establishing the impact that a change of publishing models would have on learned societies.
Other recommendations are aimed at helping the UK catch up with technological developments - in particular the digitisation of scientific journals. The Internet makes it possible, in theory, the set up new journals easily, and for readers to have access to articles they need online, free of charge. However, the preservation of digital material is an expensive process and also poses a technical challenge. The UK Select Committee therefore recommends that funding is awarded to the British Library in order to carry out this work, and that new regulations on the deposit of non-print publications begins immediately. 'Failure to take these steps would result in a substantial breaching of the intellectual record of the UK,' states the report. To access the UK Parliament's Select Committee on Science and Technology's report, please visit: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa /cm200304/cmselect/cmsctech/399/39902.ht m