The European Commission has finally released its report on scientific publishing and now has firmly placed itself in the international discussion of where such publishing should go in the future. In June 2004, the European Commission began a study to examine the economic and technical evolution of scientific publishing in Europe. Originally the results were going to be made available in 2005, but the final report was released in January 2006. It was only made available to the public on March 31, 2006. The study was carried out by a consortium led by Mathias Dewatripont of the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
The study, undertaken by the directorate-general for research, sought to determine the conditions for "optimum" operation of the scientific sector and to assess how the Commission could help meet those conditions. European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik said: "It is in all our interests to find a model for scientific publication that serves research excellence. We are ready to work with readers, authors, publishers, and funding bodies to develop such a model."
It was not the intent of this study to replicate the "voluminous existing literature" but to focus upon the "state of the art." In the balance, this report does a good job of not hammering us over the head with things that are already well-known and well-reported. However, this is not a frothy report, and the analysis in this 100-page document is from an economic perspective. This report even tackled the thorny issue of long-term preservation, which is largely absent from many other discussions.
The report acknowledged that much of the scientific research conducted in Europe is publicly funded and hence recommended that access to such research should be guaranteed.
The report contains numerous recommendations; there are too many to be listed here. But some are noteworthy because they validate other proposals or offer new insights into mechanisms for guiding the future of scholarly research.
The first recommendation is: "Guarantee public access to publicly-funded research shortly after publication." Note that the following actions could be taken at the European level: "Establish a European policy mandating published articles arising from EC-funded research to be available after a given time period in open access archives." Secondly, explore with Member States and with European research and academic associations whether and how such policies and open repositories could be implemented.
Next, the report encouraged that there be a "level-playing field" so that different business models in publishing can compete fairly in the market. "It seems desirable to allow for experimentation and competition between various possible business models." The report noted that monies should be allocated to libraries to subscribe to reader or library-pay journals "but also to authors to pay for publication costs in author-pay journals, and to researchers in the reader-pay model."
The report also recommended that ranking of journal quality be raised beyond "scientific quality, stritco sensu." While citation counts should remain the dominant criterion, "dimensions related to the quality of dissemination (self-archiving authorization, publisher archiving provisions, copyright provisions, abstracting and indexing services, reference linking, etc.) could be tracked explicitly and possibly valued by research funding bodies."
Another recommendation is to guarantee perennial access to scholarly journal digital archives by promoting the creation of "not-for-profit long-term preservation archives which balance interests among publishers, libraries, and scholars." To this end, the report encourages an investigation into the feasibility/desirability of creating a European preservation organization that would be "JSTOR-like."
The report recommended the promotion of pro-competitive pricing strategies, noting that the limited savings that libraries obtain for canceling subscriptions "does make it hard for newcomers to have access to library budgets." It is suggested that simple rules could be followed. For example, the "price of electronic access should not depend on the historical number of print subscriptions" but instead should be related to "transparent indicators, like usage or the number of faculty [and] students, as is the case for JSTOR."
In addition, the development of electronic publications should be promoted by eliminating the "unfavorable tax treatment of electronic publications" by either reducing the VAT rate or introducing a tax refund. The differences in VAT rates applied to print versus electronic journals "induced a bias in the libraries' decisions to continue subscribing to print journals, along with the electronic version." The authors noted that the "higher rate applied to electronic delivery of information in Europe strongly affects European research institutions, especially when compared to other countries where electronic services are exempt from tax." Furthermore, public funding and public-private partnerships should be formed to create journal digital archives in areas when there is little commercial interest, such as in the social sciences and the humanities.
The report also strongly favored the development of open access archives, noting that they provide "immediate, free, and maximal access to research results, whether published or not, to anyone with an Internet connection." And, those institutional repositories contribute to "raise the profile of the institutions, making their research output visible and accessible, and provide a potential research assessment tool." In turn, this enhanced visibility and accessibility "may lead to higher citation," noting that recent studies show that open access increases impact. However, there are concerns about the archival quality of the open access archives. Observing that the installation costs are low, the "maintenance costs are more difficult to plan, as they will vary with the number of records, and the long term preservation purposes."
Specific actions at the European level to improve visibility include "establish[ing] a European policy mandating articles funded from European sources to be available in open access archives, for instance by mean of author's self-archiving." Also, there is a need to "specify standards that will insure that the archives are [accessible], interoperable, and have cross-searching facilities. In addition, set up a general European archive for researchers with access to a subject-based or institutional archive."
The European Commission is keen to hear the views of all interested parties. It is therefore calling for reactions to the study and contributions on other issues linked to scientific publications. Contributions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 1, 2006. The study and its public feedback will be at the center of a conference on scientific publication to be held in autumn 2006. SINAPSE, the Web interface between the scientific community and Europe's policymakers, will also host a debate on the subject. (See the SINAPSE Web site at http://europa.eu.int/sinapse.)
The study, entitled "Study on the economic and technical evolution of the scientific publication markets in Europe," is available for downloading at http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/science-society/pdf/scientific-publication-study_en.pdf.