Free for all?: the Government Response
1. We published our Tenth Report of Session 200304,
Scientific Publications: Free for all?, on Tuesday 20 July
2004. We received the Government Response to our Report on Tuesday
26 October. This Response appears as Appendix 1 to this Report.
We have also received responses from other organisations that
are the subject of our recommendations, namely the Office of Fair
Trading (OFT); the Society of College, National and University
Libraries (SCONUL) and the Consortium of University Research Libraries
(CURL); the Securing a Hybrid Environment for Research Preservation
and Access (SHERPA) project; Research Councils UK (RCUK); and
the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). These are published
as appendices to this Report. Many other organisations have also
published comments on our original Report.
2. The Government Response is a distillation of responses
from all the Government departments and other Government organisations
that have an interest in the Report. They are: the Department
of Trade and Industry (DTI), which took responsibility for co-ordinating
the Government Response; the Department for International Development
(DFID); the Department for Education and Skills (DfES); the Department
for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS); Her Majesty's Customs and
Excise (HMC&E); the Department of Health (DoH); RCUK; the
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE); and JISC.
We have had to consider whether the Government Response that we
received accurately reflects the diversity of views and interests
represented by these departments and bodies.
3. Having received the Government Response, we asked
the Joint Information Systems Committee for a copy of the response
that it had independently prepared to our Report.
We were sent a copy of this document, but were asked not to treat
it as formal evidence to be published because it had already been
used to inform the official Government Response co-ordinated by
DTI. We understand that JISC has been under pressure to amend
this original response. We suspect that this is because it differs
substantially in both tone and content from that of the Government,
as is apparent from JISC's original evidence to the Committee.
The version of JISC's response published here has been amended
by JISC to reflect its negotiations with DTI. It is regrettable
that an expert body should feel constrained in carrying out its
advisory role, assigned to it by Government. We regard the approach
taken by DTI to independent advice that conflicts with its own
view as unduly sensitive. We will be raising this issue with the
Liaison Committee in the context of the Cabinet Office's revised
"Guidance, Evidence and Response to Select Committees"
on the provision of evidence by Government to Select Committees.
4. The response from JISC endorses the Committee's
Report both in principle and in practice. The Government Response,
on the other hand, says that it endorses much of the Committee's
Report "in principle", but in practice undertakes to
implement none of the main recommendations. This approach will
prevent the main thrust of the Report being taken forward.
For example, the Committee recommended that "institutions
need an incentive to set up repositories", and that "Government
appoints and funds a central body [
] to co-ordinate the
implementation of a network of institutional repositories".
JISC agrees in its response: "if the UK is to remain at the
forefront of educational and technological progress [
Common Information environment is required".
It goes on to note that, "significant additional funding
will be required from Government for a sustainable initiative
on a larger scale".
However, in its Response, the Government states that, although
it "recognises the potential benefits of institutional repositories
and sees them as a significant development worthy of encouragement",
it also "believes that each institution has to make its own
decision about institutional repositories depending on individual
5. By abdicating responsibility for implementing
institutional repositories at a national level, the Government
severely limits the benefits that such repositories can yield
for access to scientific publications. Furthermore, the Government
Response does not reflect the call for a coherent national strategy
made by the Committee and by JISC in its response.
6. The differences between the responses to our Report
from the Government and JISC go to the very core of the issue.
Whereas, for example, "the Government is not aware that there
are major problems in accessing scientific information",
and at one point describes the publishing industry as "healthy
and competitive", JISC states that it has "already identified
the need for change in the scientific publishing model in order
to improve access and has been funding projects and reports to
Whilst it is frustrating that the Government should ignore evidence
of a problem that has been collected and reported by a Select
Committee, it is worrying that it should ignore such evidence
when it is compiled by the Joint Information Systems Committee,
a body that is Government-funded and well placed to make an assessment
of the issue. We suspect that JISC's view and advice have been
disregarded in the Government Response because it conflicts with
interests held elsewhere in Government, particularly at DTI. We
are not convinced that ignoring the position of an expert body
in this way is in the best interests of the scientific community
in particular, or the public in general. It is certainly not a
good example of evidence-based policy making.
7. In our Report, we pointed out that the interests
of the Office of Science and Technology (OST) and DTI, of which
OST forms a part, are not necessarily synchronised on the issue
of scientific publications. In its Response, the Government rejected
this, stating that "since it is Ministers who decide policy
and not officials, and OST and the sector unit are responsible
to the same Secretary of State, the language of 'conflict of interest'
is not appropriate here".
This evades the point. Just as different departments within Government
have different, and competing, interests, different sections within
one department can have conflicting stances on a particular issue.
That the various departments and organisations that have an interest
in scientific publications do not always agree is obvious from
the collection of responses that we received to our Report. JISC's
enthusiastic and assertive response has become, in the official
Government document, bland and non-committal. It is clear to
us that, in the Government Response, DTI has sought to neutralise
some of views put forward by the Joint Information Systems Committee
and other organisations and departments. This will prevent the
Government from making any significant progress on this issue.
8. Even when taken on its own, the Government Response
is clearly unsatisfactory. It fails to reply to the substance
of some arguments and appears to misinterpret others. From the
outset, the Government argues against the wholesale adoption of
the author-pays publishing model as if this is what the Committee
had recommended. This is not a recommendation that the Committee
made. Indeed, we were very careful to ensure that our conclusions
on the author-pays model were balanced and fair. Although the
Committee considered that "the arguments for the author-pays
publishing model are in many ways attractive", it stopped
short of recommending a mandate. We chose instead to advocate
further investigation, particularly of the "free rider"
issue and the impact of author-pays publishing on learned societies.
It is a deliberate misunderstanding, if not a misrepresentation,
of the Committee's Report to state that "the Government is
] not convinced that the 'author-pays' model is inherently
superior to the current model", and "it is not obvious
] that the 'author-pays' business model would give better
value for money than the current one".
These statements do not address the Committee's findings. Furthermore,
rather than engaging in the complex issues posed by the Committee's
Report, the Government has clearly decided against the author-pays
model ahead of the further investigation that it was urged to
pursue. This approach prejudges the issue.
9. The Government's Response leaves much of the work
in ensuring the effective dissemination of research findings to
the whim of the publishing industry. Given that the publishing
industry has not yet proved itself inclined to address many of
the problems identified in the Committee's Report, this stance
is unacceptable. We are disappointed that the Government has chosen
this approach rather than seizing the opportunity to make a positive
10. We note, too, with disappointment the Office
of Fair Trading's response to the recommendations of our Report.
Following completion of the European Commission study into
the market for scientific publications, to which the OFT response
refers, we request that the Director General of Fair Trading agrees
to write again to the Committee setting out the actions he proposes
to take on the basis of the Commission's findings and the concerns
expressed in our Report.
11. The Government Response does herald progress
on a number of important issues. In particular, the Government
is to be commended for its stated intention to establish a Content
Procurement Company to provide effective national co-ordination
of purchasing of academic content. We are pleased that the Government
agrees that "the data underpinning the results of publicly-funded
research should be made available as widely and rapidly as possible,
along with the results themselves", and hope that this will
lead to a new policy on the publication of "negative"
results, particularly in the field of clinical trials.
We also hope that DFID will follow up its stated intention to
work "with publisher, the UN and other bilateral donors to
develop mechanisms that improve access in low bandwidth environments
and [to work] to improve the ICT infrastructure and regulatory
environments of developing countries".
These are all very positive steps towards improving the global
provision of scientific content.
12. The debate about scientific
publications is still evolving, and the Committee will be pursuing
the issues in a variety of ways. We are disappointed that the
Government has missed the opportunity to take more decisive action
in response to our Report. We recommend that the Government reconsider
its position on this important issue in the light of the other
responses to our Report published here; the forthcoming RCUK policy
on the publication of, and access to, research outputs; and in
view of the support for the Committee's stance from the Wellcome
Trust, an important research funder. In this context, we do not
believe that Government should continue to refuse to provide the
modest funds necessary to make institutional repositories workable,
and to allow the experimentation necessary to properly test the
feasibility of the author-pays publishing model.
1 The Joint Information System Committee is a non-departmental
public body funded by the UK Higher and Further Education funding
bodies, under the auspices of the Department for Education and
Skills. It is an advisory body tasked with providing world-class
leadership in the innovative use of information and communications
technology to support education and research. Back
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HC 399, Recommendations 43, 55. Institutional repositories are
online archives set up and managed by research institutions to
house articles published by authors at the institutions involved.
Such repositories can accept articles either before or after publication
(pre-print repositories and post-print repositories). Back
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HC 399, Para 190 Back
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