Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 93)



  Q80  Dr Iddon: You were very straightforward and told us your profit margin was 34%. We know you do a lot of development work. ScienceDirect is pretty impressive. Out of that 34% do you use some of those profits to fund the developments or is that after developments?

  Mr Davis: The 34% I will call, if you like, a gross profit margin before goodwill, amortisation, tax and so on. If you take all of those off our net reported profit margin is 17%. We invest in excess of £150 million a year on new technologies, functions, ScienceDirect and so on, and that is capitalised over a five to 10 year period, but essentially the 17% would be before that investment.

  Q81  Dr Iddon: You quoted the cost of publishing an article and it is going down to a pound, you said, in the future. Can we make sure whether that is the full archival background or whether it is the cost of publishing newly published journals?

  Mr Davis: The cost that we are talking about is the cost per article download, that is how much a library will be paying for an article download, which is one of their key criteria. That will come down, we think, 50% in the next 12 months. The cost to publish an article which has already been covered ranges from between $3,000 to $10,000 per article. That is something different. Incidentally, I would agree with those numbers.

  Q82  Dr Iddon: So the cost of downloading includes all your archival costs right back into the past?

  Mr Davis: Yes.

  Q83  Dr Iddon: And that would go down, would it not?

  Mr Davis: Yes, but the cost is the cost to the library.

  Dr Iddon: I understand that.

  Q84  Mr Key: Mr Davis, your company owns The Lancet. Do you think that scientific publishers have a responsibility towards society to ensure that the research they publish is authenticated and not affected by conflict of interest?

  Mr Davis: We absolutely have a responsibility to ensure that what we publish is peer reviewed, accurate, reflects best practice. In the issue of The Lancet we do have a policy where people who submit their articles have to declare any conflict of interest. You can imagine that it is virtually impossible for every editor to research every single author in terms of conflict of interest, and in this one Dr Wakefield said there was no conflict of interest, and in fact three months later in written form repeated that there was no conflict of interest . In all fairness, I do not hold our editor to blame in that instance. I think it was regrettable but I do not think he or The Lancet were at fault at all. We were in our opinion badly misled.

  Q85  Mr Key: Thank you for explaining that. Is there any evidence that pharmaceutical companies are paying authors to produce papers to promote their products?

  Mr Davis: Not that I am aware of, certainly not with our journals.

  Mr Jongejan: Again, that would be one of our biggest concerns in another model, that exactly that model starts to apply. We have very few submissions from the pharmaceutical industry.

  Mr Davis: Unless an author lied to us we would know that and we would never publish an article where an author was paid by a pharmaceutical company. It would be a blatant conflict of interest.

  Q86  Dr Iddon: Do they make declarations of interest when they submit a paper?

  Mr Davis: They do now. In the last two years we have implemented a proactive policy where we do force every author to declare that there is no conflict of interest.

  Q87  Dr Harris: Coming back to this issue of Dr Wakefield, I am conscious of the fact that it is a force for editorial freedom for proprietors, and you have given a view. Is it consistent to say that you feel you did not have full disclosure and indeed, three months later, following an allegation in the letters page, there was a specific denial, and then your editor said that the article was fatally flawed? Should that not be equivalent to a retraction rather than a correcting editorial under the code guidelines, or are you happy that that is where we are at?

  Mr Davis: I am not happy that this is where we are at at all, for obvious reasons, but I think that the editor behaved in absolutely the right way. At the time of the submission of the article there was no admission of conflict of interest. Three months later there was a written letter. I think I have got it somewhere here.

  Q88  Dr Harris: I have it as well, 7 May 1998

  Mr Davis: It actually says, "There is no conflict of interest". Should the editor then—

  Q89  Dr Harris: I am talking about now. Now it has come to light why did this not get retracted, particularly given that the conflict of interest has been said to go to the core of one of the scientific findings of the paper, that there was a link between MMR and autism and because there is a legal case going on with four of the patients?

  Mr Davis: I think the editor did immediately, when this was brought to his attention, say publicly that the research therefore was—I think the words he used were—fatally flawed.

  Q90  Dr Harris: Why is that not a retraction? Why is the article not being retracted or are you happy not to have your editors retract articles that are fatally flawed?

  Mr Jongejan: To my knowledge the editor is not excluding at this point that this is the end of the investigation by himself or by any other party, so I think this issue is in that sense still open.

  Q91  Dr Harris: Finally, would you support an international committee on scientific evidence of the type that has been called for by Hertzheimer, Altman and Chalmers, as you will be aware?

  Mr Davis: Of this particular issue? No.

  Q92  Dr Harris: No, just generally, so that there is an international committee that can deal with this.

  Mr Jongejan: No. I myself am in discussion with the Washington Institute of Science(?) for the avoidance of conflicts of interest, so the publishing world in general is taking this very seriously. That will also be the reason in 2001 why the rules were strengthened to cover any kind of model.

  Q93  Dr Harris: You are not worried by the fact that this particular author has threatened to sue anyone who claims that he misbehaved?

  Mr Jongejan: No.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming.

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