Scientific publications (2005)

The RAS welcomes the government's position on 'open access' publications.

Responding to the debate on 17 December 2005 on the Science and Technology Committee's report, 'Scientific Publications: Free for all? ', the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Barry Gardiner, re-iterated that: "The Government's aim is to allow the market to develop without institutional barriers being put in the way of any particular publishing model". He added, "The Government's position on open access is that we need to ensure... a level playing field in order that research funding authorities can have the discretion to provide the funds if the author prefers an open access route. Given the uncertainty with current business models, that position is the most appropriate in order to encourage competition and innovation in publishing models and to retain freedom of choice for authors."

However he acknowledged that 'author pay' models, where the cost of publication is borne by the producer of the article rather than its reader, carries a risk to quality... "It is imperative that the quality of research articles be maintained and not compromised by financial considerations or hasty changes to business models... Male verum examinat omnis corruptus judex". Horace's point was that a poor way to establish the truth was to pay the judge... "Researchers need to be confident that the article that they are reading has been vigorously and rigorously peer reviewed."

He summarised government policy as ..."looking to get the best sustainable system to communicate information from researchers to those interested in the research. The Government should be supporting the best and most cost-effective way possible to disseminate the outputs of scientific research, and at the moment there is insufficient evidence that the author pays model is the better system. A successful and sustainable scientific publications market is vital to the research process, and to strongly endorse or reject the author pays approach would not be in the interests of allowing the market to evolve to meet the needs of authors. The Government have not decided against the author pays model but do not want to force a premature transition to a different system. It is not obvious that the author pays business model will give better value for money than the current one, and the Government have said that they will require clear evidence, on the basis of current trials, before supporting it further...The estimated cost of producing an article can vary as much as from £300 to £2,500, taking into account several factors, such as the number of articles rejected. Those figures are likely to change as the market develops. The true cost of any STM publication needs to include the costs of capital investment requirements, peer group evaluation, formatting, linking, and the profiling and archiving of information. A number of open-access journals are currently being published, but the robustness of the business models is still unclear, with many initiatives relying on public funding or charitable contributions. So far, we have seen no convincing evidence that the author pays model would be cheaper to operate than traditional publishing models."

The RAS position statements can be found here:
Scientific Publications statement to S&T Committee.pdf