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U.K. Parliamentary Committee Holds Hearings on Scientific Publishing
by
Posted On March 22, 2004
On March 1 and 8, the U.K. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee held the first 2 days of hearings as part of its inquiry into the pricing and availability of scientific publications and possible government support for open access publishing. The much-anticipated oral testimony was first preceded by formal document submissions and statements from involved and interested constituencies. (Links to key documents and testimony are listed below.)

In announcing the inquiry in December, the chairman of the committee, Ian Gibson MP, had said "Journals are at the heart of the scientific process. Researchers, teachers, and students must have easy access to scientific publications at a fair price. Scientific journals need to maintain their credibility and integrity as they move into the age of e-publication. The Committee will have some very tough questions for publishers, libraries, and government on these issues." And indeed, tough questions were asked in the Committee's request for written evidence and during the two days of hearings.

On day one, the committee heard testimony from representatives of four commercial publishers: Robert Campbell, president of Blackwell Publishing; Richard Charkin from Nature Publishing Group; John Jarvis, managing director of Wiley Europe; and Reed Elsevier CEO Crispin Davis. Basically, the representatives of these large STM publishers were asked about their journal price increases (up 58 percent in 5 years), large profits (Elsevier's is 17 percent after taxes, according to Davis), and how they would make research available to those currently without access. The responses make for interesting reading (see the link below). As Richard Poynder notes in his forthcoming column in the April issue of Information Today, "While claiming to be neutral, publishers were evidently bent on discrediting open access." He also mentions the startling comment from Jarvis that "it was dangerous to make medical information widely available to the public."

During the second day of hearings, the committee heard testimony from representatives of nonprofit and open access publishers. Representing nonprofit publishers were Julia King from the U.K.'s Institute of Physics, Sally Morris from the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), and Martin Richardson from Oxford University Press. Open access publishers included Harold Varmus, co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), and BioMed Central's Vitek Tracz. Another participant was Nigel Goddard of Axiope, Ltd., a company producing software to help scientists organize their data and make it easy for them to publish it on the Web and put it into databases. According to Poynder, several of the speakers refuted claims made by the commercial publishers on the first day of hearings, such as Davis' statement that open access would actually reduce access.

Detailed reporting on the questions, responses, and some of the reactions and issues can be read in Poynder's column, Poynder on Point, in the April issue of Information Today. The Science and Technology Committee will conduct a second phase of hearings in April (the third evidence date is scheduled for April 21) and May—expected to be more focused on the research community rather than the publishing community—and then issue a report in June. Watch for our ongoing coverage of these events and the issues raised.

Key Links to Oral and Written Evidence, Further Information

Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence from March 1:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/
pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmsctech/uc399-i/uc39902.htm

Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence from March 8:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/
pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmsctech/uc399-ii/uc39902.htm

Dec. 10, 2003, notice of inquiry by the Science and Technology Committee, which invited written evidence on a list of questions:
http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/
science_and_technology_committee/scitech111203a.cfm

Elsevier's written submission to the Committee:
http://www.elsevier.com/authored_news/ corporate/
images/UK_STC_FINAL_SUBMISSION.pdf

Bottom line: "…we believe that the UK Government should continue to allow the market dynamics of this global industry to drive innovation and to determine which publishing models can best serve the needs of the worldwide scientific and medical research communities."

Written response from Blackwell Publishing Ltd.:
http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/docs/House_commons.doc
Bottom line: "As the publishing system develops it is likely that a number of different models will be tried and tested; the Open Access model is one of these. The customer, the research community, will decide what serves its needs best. Any publishing model will have to be sustainable, and not reliant on long-term subsidies or special funding."

Written response to the Committee from the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP):
http://www.alpsp.org/2004pdfs/S&TcommALPSPresponse.pdf
Bottom line: "Open Access is one alternative model which might help, but, as yet, there is little factual information about its behavioural or financial effects; ALPSP is devoting considerable resources to analysing what data is available."

The Royal Society's written response to the Committee:
http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/files/statfiles/document-252.pdf
Bottom line: "The Royal Society is in favour of the widest practicable dissemination of science but we believe that the current proposals for Open Access journals (where papers are free online to all) lack a sustainable business model." The Society warned that the move to Open Access journals could harm research funding.

Written statement to the Committee from the Public Library of Science:
http://www.plos.org/downloads/HCEvidencefromPLoS.pdf
Bottom line: "Only when we transition to an open access system—in which publishers are paid a fair price for the services they provide to the scientific community, and all reports become immediately freely available online—will we have a sustainable and equitable system for publishing science that serves the interests of the public, the public institutions that support scientific research, and scientists themselves."

A group of eight U.S. library organizations, including ALA, ARL, and others, submitted a written memorandum to the Committee:
http://www.arl.org/sparc/resources/OAWG_UK_Submit.pdf
Bottom line: The present economics of scholarly journal publishing are no longer sustainable. "It is our view that the dual strategies of open-access publishing and deposit of research in open-access digital archives offer complementary means to address the economic dysfunctions in the journals market and to capture the societal benefits of scientific advances."

BioMed Central's written submission to the Committee:
http://www.biomedcentral.com/openaccess/inquiry/bmcsubmission.pdf
Bottom line: "…the Government is urged to seek to reverse the traditional publishing models and encourage a competitive Open Access model, which avoids the limitations of the traditional model and delivers the benefits of maximal dissemination and unrestricted use of scientific research literature."

"(Mis)Leading Open Access Myths," a statement released March 22, in which BioMed Central responded to the oral evidence presented to the Committee that claimed Open Access publishing would cut into research funding:
http://www.biomedcentral.com/openaccess/inquiry/myths.pdf

For more information, analyses, and links to additional position papers, see Nature Web Focus, Access to the Literature: The Debate Continues.
http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/accessdebate/

Further information about open access can be found at the Open Society Institute:
http://www.soros.org/openaccess/

For news of the open access movement, see the blog by Peter Suber, Open Access News (formerly FOS News):
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/fosblog.html

See also the NewsBreak by Barbara Quint posted today about the Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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