House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
Monday 8 March 2004
DR J KING, MRS S MORRIS and MR M RICHARDSON
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Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Monday 8 March 2004
Dr Ian Gibson, in the Chair
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Robert Key
Mr Tony McWalter
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Julia King, Chief Executive, Institute of Physics (IoP), Mrs Sally Morris, Chief Executive, Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) and Mr Martin Richardson, Managing Director, Journals Division, Oxford University Press (OUP), examined.
Q94 Chairman: Good afternoon, may I thank you for being patient? We shall have to get an even bigger room next time if it goes on like this; we will have to get the Albert Hall or we might take over the chamber as there are more of us than them. As you know, the public and professional groups have really been interested in this inquiry; it has generated a lot of interest and a lot of documentation and this packed session is indicative of that. Many people phone us and tell us not to believe everything we hear. May I, on behalf of the Committee, say that we are not actually naïve, we do meet a lot of people, we are used to finding out a lot of facts and we have a reputation on this Committee to keep up which is not perhaps the most favourite committee in the world with many professional groups outside but you can trust us to hear, listen and judge later on. Please do not bother to phone us, we will phone you; we understand the problems. Thank you very much, Martin, Julia and Sally, for coming along to help us with the inquiry. I hope you heard some of the stuff which was there last week and we will give you opportunities to reply to some of that of course. The first quick question is about smaller publishers and the role they play in the STM market. What do they have to offer that is not available elsewhere?
Mrs Morris: A great many of the smaller publishers are non-profit publishers, typically the society publisher only has a handful of journals and even the university presses have relatively few journals compared with large publishers. A great many of the small publishers, though my no means all, are non-profit, which adds an extra feature to what they bring to the picture. In general, small publishers bring flexibility, ability to give personal attention to the authors and editors they work with. Very often they bring very reasonable prices too, whether they are commercial or not.
Dr King: I would like to support what Sally said. We get a very good engagement with the community and particularly publishers who have a very focused community, as many of the learned society ones do. We know our community well and we take great pride in trying to ensure we can deliver the sorts of things they are interested in.
Mr Richardson: I would agree with that. As part of the academic community, as a university press, as part of a department of a university, we feel we are very close to the academic community and can reflect their needs in our publishing.
Q95 Chairman: That is all very nice; you have all agreed on something. Let us see whether we can split you apart now. Sally, in your experience, do many societies choose to have their journals published by a commercial publisher? What effect do you think such decisions have on the price/availability of those journals?
Mrs Morris: Quite a lot do. Estimates vary, but perhaps half as many again as do their own publishing are published by other publishers on their behalf, not necessarily commercial publishers, some of them turn to other non-profit publishers, for instance Martin publishes on behalf of a number of societies. That is one way in which a small society publisher can gain the benefits of critical mass. If you are very, very small, it is quite difficult to compete, particularly in an environment of big deals. If the smaller publishers want to compete in that environment, one option is to work with a larger publisher. Another is to work together in a group of smaller publishers. In many cases societies which are published by other publishers do retain quite a lot of control. They normally retain complete control over editorial policy and very often considerable control over other aspects of publishing policy, including pricing. You will quite often find that society journals operate under different licensing or pricing rules from other journals in a publisher's stable because the owners, the societies, have insisted on particular terms.
Q96 Chairman: Let me ask all of you now: how do you view the behaviour and pricing policies of the large commercial publishers? What impact do their policies have on you? Do you differentiate yourselves from the pricing policies of the market leaders?
Dr King: Yes, we do. In a way we have to say that it is something of an advantage to us because we have a certain sympathy from the academic community because we are not Elsevier and we are not as pushy, we do not hike our prices up as much.
Q97 Chairman: What does "pushy" mean?
Dr King: As commercial, as acutely commercial. We do not push the big deals on librarians and we have our own packages, but they are smaller than theirs.
Q98 Chairman: You say you think they do.
Dr King: That is what we hear from talking to the communities.
Q99 Chairman: You could not possibly confirm that.
Dr King: That is what we hear.
Mr Richardson: On average we have lower prices than most of our commercial competitors. It is partly because we are taking a very high proportion of society publishing and the print runs and distribution of those journals tend to be much larger and partly that we operate on a lower profit margin than many commercial publishers.
Mrs Morris: There have been quite a lot of published studies comparing the prices of commercial and non-commercial publishers in different subject areas and they all seem to show that on average non-commercial publishers have lower prices. It is not to say there are not some very reasonably priced commercial publishers and vice-versa, but the averages certainly point that way.
Q100 Chairman: What effect do their policies actually have on you? Do you wish they would go away and never return so you could get on with the job more efficiently?
Mrs Morris: The main effect they have on smaller publishers is, because their prices tend to be higher, that they sometimes take up more of the money than the number and value of their journals would necessarily indicate.
Q101 Chairman: So you would like them to go away and never return.
Mrs Morris: I would like them to moderate their prices, so there was more money to go round the rest of us.
Q102 Chairman: So it is not an instant death, it is a slow death, is it?
Mrs Morris: Not necessarily.
Q103 Chairman: They would say so, would they not? They would say they have to charge the prices they charge.
Mrs Morris: It is partly a matter of profit margins and non-commercial publishers and some commercial publishers operate on very much more modest margins than the ones we heard about last week. It is possible and many publishers do it.
Dr King: One should recognise that there are some advantages to scale. If we only had very small publishers we probably would not get some of the technology steps forward which you can take if you have larger margins to work with. I am not defending anything, but saying it is good to have some big publishers who can help move some of the technology areas forward because they can afford the investment.
Mr Richardson: I agree. Competition is very healthy and it is good to have a range of different publishers fulfilling different needs for different communities and different markets.
Q104 Mr McWalter: Is there really a competition between yourselves and, say, Nature, or are you getting the crumbs off the table? Someone tries to get their article into Nature they fail and then they will go to a learned society to get it published.
Dr King: There is not often competition between journals because journals have different niches, but there is huge competition for authors and yes, we compete very strongly for authors in terms of both the prestige of the journals, the group of people, the community of people with which they want to be published. The collection in which they want their work to appear is important in some areas, certainly the quality hallmark and in some cases the sorts of services which different publishers offer authors in terms of the linking of references or the follow-up of people they reference or the speed of publication. There is a range of different services which some authors find appealing. That is a very healthy part of the competition which is around at the moment.
Q105 Chairman: Your major competitor is the American Institute of Physics not Elsevier and therefore it becomes an argument about competition for authors, not competition on prices.
Dr King: The American Physical Society is one of the major physics publishers and that is certainly somebody we would look at and see some of the things they do and some of the authors they capture and that is where we set some of our challenges.
Q106 Dr Harris: It has been said that one of the arguments against change to an open access business model for learned societies is the impact that would have on their income. How much is that variable? We had an informal session with the Endocrinology Society and the data they put up showed that actually only a small part of their net income - net income - came from publishing. Is it a variable picture?
Mrs Morris: Yes, it varies a great deal.
Q107 Dr Harris: Secondly, would it not just be an incentive to find other ways of raising money and offering new services to your members around conferences rather than relying on the old journal?
Mrs Morris: The first half of the question first. It does vary a great deal. We are conducting a survey at the moment of as many learned societies as we can get to tell us whether their publishing is profitable at all and what sorts of things they apply the profits to. That is not completed yet, but the impression I am getting is that there is a wide range, from some which actually make a loss on publishing, to others who do make a modest profit. Very few make a large profit. It is contributing by and large to things like membership fees being cheaper than they otherwise would be, conference attendance fees being lower than they otherwise would be, sometimes funding research and so forth. Yes, if that money were not there, that money would have to be raised in other ways. It might be a matter of individual scientists having to pay more to belong to societies or to attend conferences; there might be other routes for bringing in an income or indeed bringing in sponsorship.
Q108 Dr Harris: But for many, it is not Armageddon, is it? It is not a nightmare scenario, given that for some societies it is five per cent or ten per cent.
Mrs Morris: It is a highly alarming scenario to some societies. There has been a great deal of correspondence on some of the e-mail lists about how alarming it must be for some of them. It varies a great deal.
Q109 Dr Harris: You do not have the data yet to show the degree.
Mrs Morris: No, we have not finished our survey.
Q110 Dr Harris: So it might be a scare, when in fact it only affects a small number of societies significantly who are relying on the journal and not doing much else.
Mrs Morris: That is possible, but we do not have the data yet.
Q111 Dr Harris: The Institute of Physics is trying this to a certain extent with the New Journal of Physics (NJP).
Dr King: Yes. May I comment on your earlier question? Like a number of other societies, something in the high sixties of the percent of our income as a charity comes from our publishing business and that is the income we spend, for example, on developing an A-level physics syllabus which is now the second largest A-level syllabus in the country. We are developing materials to help non-physicists teach physical science in the early stages of secondary education. We do that as well as keeping our conference rates low for our members, and indeed for other physicists, with the money we make from the publishing business.
Q112 Dr Harris: I just want to tease this out. There are two issues there: one is whether you can still make a net profit on an open access model by charging more than your costs to the authors. Then you still get the same income. Secondly - and I am not sure whether this is the main thing which concerns you as a society - one of your main selling points for membership is that they get a journal to which they otherwise would not have access. By denying access to this information, that is the way you sell membership of your society. I do think there are two issues, because the first one can be dealt with by a margin on the open access model.
Dr King: Sure, there are lots of different views of what open access means. If you are referring, as it sounds as though you are, to the model where you simply move from the library paying to the author paying and the publisher does all of the same things they do at the moment, which is that they manage the process, they manage the critical peer review process, they ensure everything is in good readable English so that everybody can understand it, they provide electronic gizmos which help scientists find related references and things, then all of those publisher services can still be delivered under an open access model. There is a difficulty that if you have done the research yourself, then being asked to pay personally to have it published is giving you a bit of a ---
Q113 Dr Harris: That is not a learned society issue, that is a general issue.
Dr King: No, it is also the way funding is structured. Our experience with New Journal of Physics which we started in 1998 is that getting the authors to pay has been quite a difficult thing to overcome. We run it jointly with the German Physical Society and we have, since it started in 1998, both subsidised it very considerably and for the last three years to the tune of about £60,000 a year each. It does have a business model which says it will break even in a small number of years' time. At the moment the article charge is $500; it is waived for an awful lot of authors. We are gradually increasing that and we are feeling quite bullish about making it break even. Unless the way scientists are funded changes quite dramatically, unless you start funding from libraries into research grants, for example, it is difficult to see that there will be huge enthusiasm amongst the community for paying to have their articles published.
Q114 Dr Harris: I just want to tease this out because I am not sure whether that was a positive message you just gave or a negative message. We are making a loss and have done and will be making a loss for the next few years. Or, we are going to make a profit even on this, socialism in one country idea, where you are having difficulty because you are the only player in the game and therefore you do not have the shift of resources from libraries to research grants to help authors pay this. Are you being optimistic or pessimistic, I am not clear?
Dr King: We see it at the moment as a very interesting experiment which we are very happy to continue with because we see it moving to break-even, we see it growing enormously as a journal and increasing in stature and that is very positive. Unless there are some radical changes, we do not see it being a sustainable business model. If you cannot have a sustainable business model, the scientific community will lose an awful lot because it will start to lose some very good journals.
Q115 Dr Harris: On the one hand you are saying that it is exciting because the experiment seems to be working and you are going to break even, which suggests to me that even when no-one else is doing it and it is difficult because you do not have the funding streams which go naturally with it, it is sustainable. Then you said it was not sustainable. I should like you to clarify that and let me know whether you think that much of the societies' objection to pursuing this sort of experiment or model is based purely on the fact that they think they will have less to sell to membership and that they will stop being a membership organisation, or they will really have to challenge themselves to produce extra value in membership through conferences and CME and other type approaches. Is it just scared of a new situation or is it really that it is unsustainable?
Dr King: I would say that with the way we do funding at the moment, it is unsustainable. For example, the Royal Society in their submission pointed out that if all their Royal Society Fellows were going to have to pay to publish the on average four papers a year that they publish, the Royal Society would be giving out something like twice as much money to fund the Royal Society Fellows. I cannot remember the exact figures, but they are in their submission. Yes, we can do one journal as an experiment and we can be pleased that our experiment seems to be succeeding, but if everybody moved over to that, then the Royal Society would be in that position of needing twice as much funding for all of their Fellows. Unless we start to see a big shift in the way funding is allocated for research, this is not going to be sustainable on more than an experimental basis for us. Clearly the logic is that we can do it because it is not the dominant mechanism in physics, but if researchers were being asked to do that for every paper they published, with their funding coming in as it does at the moment, they would not be able to pay the fees to publish. That seems to be the worst possible situation, where we are only getting work published on the basis of affordability, not work published on the basis of quality, which is generally the picture we have at the moment.
Q116 Mr Key: The commercial publishers offer bundling deals. What effect does that have on the non-commercial sector?
Mrs Morris: Non-commercial publishers are increasingly doing it too. The medium-sized ones can do it themselves alone; the smaller ones are increasingly working together to do it. There are now at least three collections of primarily non-profit publishers putting together collections of about 200 to 250 journals to compete in that marketplace and that is proving a very successful way of matching bundles with bundles.
Q117 Mr Key: The Institute of Physics have told us in evidence that they were not really too bothered about this; that was the message we were getting. I was a bit surprised about that. Is it not of concern to you?
Dr King: It is a concern, but it is not a concern we are shouting from the rooftops about. It is clearly a concern that if you absorb all of a library's budget with one or two big bundles the smaller players are going to have a tougher time.
Q118 Mr Key: Who organises this bundling in the non-commercial sector?
Mrs Morris: We have organised one for our members. There is an organisation called HighWire out of Stanford University which has brought together a number of society publishers. There is another one in the States called BioOne, which brings together biological societies. They tend to be organisations which can represent many similar publishers.
Mr Richardson: We also offer bundling and choice in our big deals and it is a mixture of our own journals and journals which we publish for learned societies so we can achieve that economy of scale. Either by collaboration between learned societies or learned societies actually contracting with publishers it is possible to achieve that economy of scale and compete effectively with commercial publishers.
Q119 Mr Key: When does collaboration become collusion and price fixing?
Mrs Morris: All the arrangements I know about of this type are organised in such a way that pricing is entirely independent. Publishers individually set their own prices and then the price for the package as a whole is calculated by looking at the prices they have set separately. It does not involve any central price fixing.
Q120 Mr Key: Would you say that bundling in the not-for-profit sector has been a success?
Mrs Morris: It is beginning to be. It is early days because it started much later in the not-for-profit sector because they had to persuade 20 or 50 publishers to agree with each other, which is not easy. It took longer to get off the ground, but now that it is, it is beginning to succeed.
Mr Richardson: We are certainly finding that it is a very effective way of achieving greater economy of scale. We do in fact give the pricing decision to each of the societies for which we are publishing, so there is certainly no collusion or co-operation there.
Q121 Mr Key: Do you not think that the commercial sector and now the not-for-profit sector are simply making life tougher for the libraries?
Mr Richardson: Not at all, we are offering greater choice, greater economy of scale for libraries to be able to choose to take the material they need for their patrons.
Q122 Mr Key: Is there any evidence of that?
Mr Richardson: Yes, there are increasing amounts of usage coming from the journals which are participating in these schemes and lower cost per usage across the board. There is evidence.
Mrs Morris: In no case is this the only way to buy the journals libraries want; if they only want to buy individual journals they can still buy them.
Q123 Geraldine Smith: What measures are you taking to ensure the preservation of a digital archive?
Mrs Morris: Publishers are working very closely with the British Library in this country. As I am sure you know, there is now provision for regulations to require legal deposit of electronic journals, though those have not actually been drawn up yet. We are working very closely with the British Library to ensure that experimental projects start now, so that by the time regulations can be drawn up for the deposit of electronic journals we have all learned what the problems are. Publishers have worked very closely with the British Library in the past few years on voluntary deposit of off-line publications to ensure that when legislation came up we knew what the problems were and we had discovered how it might work. A great many publishers are looking to the British Library as being the primary source of long-term preservation of electronic material, want to work very closely with them, want to be sure that they have the funds to do it, which is going to be a big question mark.
Q124 Geraldine Smith: What about digitising back numbers? How far back do you go?
Mrs Morris: Many societies have gone right back to the beginning. Either they have funded it themselves, in which case they are having to sell it to recover their investment. Some of them have had grants, some of them are doing it through an organisation called JStore, which you heard about last week. PubMed Central is also funding some digitisation of journals in their database. Various bodies are getting involved in digitising back runs of important journals and it is costing money, but it is very well worth while. The fact that it is being done is making a lot more content much more available.
Q125 Geraldine Smith: How much has this increased the publishing costs of your journals?
Mrs Morris: The digitisation of archives in particular?
Q126 Geraldine Smith: Yes.
Mrs Morris: I would need to ask specific publishers to answer that.
Mr Richardson: We are only just at the beginning of a programme, so I do not have any specific details. Most of it is a one-off cost and there is obviously an ongoing cost in hosting the additional material, but it is largely a one-off cost in achieving the digitisation.
Dr King: We have just recently, in 2002, made our entire archive back to 1874 available in digital form, which has been hugely successful and very much appreciated by the community. May I reinforce the point Sally made about the British Library? The New Journal of Physics is an electronic-only publication and it allows authors to use various multi-media and video clips and things which they obviously cannot use in the conventional journal. It was only last year that we persuaded the British Library and the German Deposit Library to accept NJP in its electronic form for archiving. It is absolutely crucial for the developments in electronic publishing which are going on that deposit libraries are funded to be able to maintain electronic archives. It is absolutely key. You cannot print the New Journal of Physics because you cannot use the three-dimensional images and the video, some of the things which are really crucial to explaining some of the very complex concepts in the papers. Some of the benefits of electronic publishing will not be captured for the future unless the British Library is able to invest in doing that.
Mr Richardson: I would support that as well. Having a good digital archive for on-line journals would be the biggest thing which could help move the transition away from print. The other thing would be the VAT question, where the differential rate of charging VAT on on-line journals and not on print journals is really a big barrier to libraries moving away from print. Those would be the two things which would encourage a move to on-line-only publication with savings for both publishers and their library customers.
Q127 Geraldine Smith: How secure do you think the digital record is? How reliable will it be over a number of years?
Mr Richardson: We certainly go to great lengths to ensure that it is secure. We have been publishing journals for 150 years in print and we are certainly very keen to make sure that our on-line journals are available for at least that long in future. Yes, we go to a great deal of trouble to make sure we do preserve the data ready for when there is an archive which can actually take a second copy of the material.
Mrs Morris: One of the crucial things is that it is preserved in more than one place, so that if a disaster should befall the British Library or anywhere else, that is not the only electronic copy; that is a vital aspect to electronic preservation.
Q128 Geraldine Smith: How would you answer some claims that you are keeping your prices down by under-investing in new technologies, particularly in secondary publishing, leaving the development of new technologies to the big commercial publishers?
Mr Richardson: We are certainly investing a substantial amount in new technology to help our on-line publications. The other way is that by learned societies and not-for-profit publishers collaborating with each other we are able to achieve greater economies of scale, for example by sharing technology providers, so the investment is shared across many publishers rather than being taken by a single proprietary publisher who might be developing their own system.
Q129 Geraldine Smith: Do you actually take advantage of the new technologies developed by commercial publishers?
Mr Richardson: We are taking advantage of similar technologies but because not-for-profit publishers are generally smaller, we are working together, collaborating on things like technical standards and sharing the systems from single vendors. For example, HighWire Press work for more than 200 different publishers so are able to achieve an economy of scale and therefore compete effectively with commercial publishers.
Dr King: Smaller publishers can often move quite a lot faster. Some of the things the learned society publishers and smaller publishers have done have driven the larger publishers to move forward faster in the electronic medium. The Institute of Physics was the first publisher to get all of its journal available on line long before some of the larger commercial publishers did. Sometimes you see the smaller, more agile publishers driving innovation, even though they may not have the same sorts of funds to spend as some of our larger colleagues.
Mrs Morris: You mentioned secondary publishing too and a lot of that emanates from not-for-profit publishers, from learned societies and other not-for-profit publishers. Many of them have become specialists in very high quality secondary publishing and are market leaders in that.
Q130 Geraldine Smith: Are your journals accessible via ScienceDirect and other such services provided by commercial publishers?
Dr King: We have some agreements in place.
Mr Richardson: We participate in the CrossRef system which almost all the commercial publishers are using to allow linking between publishers, material from different journals and also participating in the major search engines like Google and PubMed which are the main discovery tools which publishers use to find information.
Q131 Geraldine Smith: What plans do you have to switch entirely to e-publication? What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing this?
Mr Richardson: I already mentioned the two main barriers preventing us doing that, namely the archive and the VAT question. We are ready to move when those two barriers are removed.
Mrs Morris: It would save some money, not a huge amount of money, but it certainly would save some money if publishers did not have to produce print any more.
Dr King: The last thing we want is a long tail of a small number of print copies and most people taking it electronically. That is the worst kind of scenario for us because that does not get us the economies of one or the other.
Q132 Geraldine Smith: What are you doing to ensure that amateur and unsalaried researchers have good access to scientific journals in a digital age?
Mr Richardson: We have a wide range of different licensing schemes. We are working through consortia and material available from the British Library and anybody is free to walk into any of our subscribing libraries and use material without extra charge. We provide a very wide range of facilities and also document delivery. There are many opportunities for individual researchers to obtain our material.
Dr King: We also provide everything free on-line for 30 days immediately after it is published and we have found that very popular. If anything, it has also encouraged people to subscribe to the journal, though that was not the intent of doing it, the intent was as a learned society to make sure material was available to people.
Mrs Morris: We have also found that of the publishers who make their immediate back files freely available after a fairly short period, that is by far the most common amongst small learned society publishers. Quite a lot of those do that.
Q133 Mr Key: If the OUP had been publishers of the Lancet would you have published Dr Wakefield's 1998 MMR article?
Mr Richardson: There is always going to be the occasional article which slips through the net, but generally the peer review system is pretty good at picking up quite a lot of fraud and cutting things off before they get through to publication. We would certainly have the most rigorous peer review system in all of our publications.
Q134 Mr Key: Either it is most rigorous or you are content for them to slip through the net.
Mr Richardson: It is most rigorous but there will always be the occasional one which slips through the net.
Q135 Mr Key: Why?
Mr Richardson: No system is perfect. Peer review relies on the experts; we are actually taking the view of experts in each area.
Q136 Mr Key: Would you not have asked the author whether there was a conflict of interests?
Mr Richardson: We did not publish that article.
Mrs Morris: The Lancet did ask him and he said there was not.
Q137 Mr Key: How do you police these conflicts of interest then?
Mr Richardson: We have policies for authors to be able to declare any conflicts of interest and certify that actually there are no problems. So we have policies there and we have the peer review system to back that up, where we are asking other experts to give their opinion on the material.
Q138 Mr Key: Can you repeat what those policies are?
Mr Richardson: It depends on the particular subject area we are talking about, but we certainly have policies in our medical journals for people to declare conflicts of interests at the time of submission. The second point was that the peer review system is there to back that up in terms of review of the material which is submitted. It varies a lot from subject to subject. The criterion in history, will be quite different from the criterion in medicine. The policies reflect the subject area which we are publishing.
Q139 Dr Iddon: Do you ask your authors to say where the money comes from to support the research anywhere in the paper?
Mr Richardson: The policy varies from subject to subject. In some subject areas there is really very little research funding; in medicine for example we would ask for that. It very much depends on the subject area you are talking about.
Q140 Mr Key: The Institute of Physics noted the growth in plagiarism and I wondered what measures you were taking as publishers in the not-for-profit sector to protect against plagiarism.
Dr King: One of the areas we have in the past relied on is peer review. One of the benefits that electronic publishing as we go forward will give us will be that once our back catalogue is all electronic, it will be possible to start to search for large chunks of identical text, things like that, just as in university teaching and in MSc theses some universities are now finding they have to search to check students have not copied great chunks from the internet. There will be additional services as well as the peer review and the conventional approaches we have today, which we will be looking at for the future.
Q141 Mr Key: This is clearly going to be a growing problem in the age of Cut and Paste. What specific measures are you taking? You say things are going to happen to make sure there are big electronic searches. What specifically are you doing as not-for-profit publishers?
Dr King: At the moment the biggest quality threshold is good choice of your reviewers, having editors and publishers who have a really good knowledge of the field and can choose as reviewers people who themselves will have as good a knowledge as you can find of the field, who are likely to notice if somebody is quoting chunks of some important work which has been produced before.
Q142 Mr Key: That is very haphazard, is it not? Would it not be better to have a code of practice on searches or some such?
Dr King: We are very much in active discussion on this at the moment, on how in the future we will be able to approach that. The electronic medium will give us new opportunities to do that. The ability to do this is not really there at the moment.
Q143 Mr Key: With whom are you in active discussion?
Dr King: Within the Institute of Physics Publishing and also with other learned society publishers through organisations such as Sally's.
Mr Key: I wish you well, because I think it is very important.
Q144 Dr Harris: On this question of misconduct, let us say that it has happened and been discovered, you are aware that there is a committee on publication ethics which has a series of sanctions which can be taken once there has been an investigation and a finding. Would you be happy if one of your journals settled for a correcting editorial initially and then followed that up with a partial retraction by a partial number of the authors with the main protagonist declaring innocence, without going to the further stage of saying you will not publish these authors again for a specified time, for example until they accept that they have done something wrong.
Mr Richardson: Each case is different. We would look at the circumstances, if there were a question of ethics we would follow that and if not we would be working with the authors and the editors of the journal to resolve the problem. It depends very much on the individual circumstances. I do not want to comment on that particular case, because I am not familiar enough with the details.
Q145 Dr Harris: Do you subscribe to the COPE guidelines?
Mr Richardson: We do, but these things vary from subject to subject. You are just talking about medicine; other subjects have completely different ways of working. Where there are guidelines, we work with them.
Q146 Dr Harris: Do you think there is a worry that journals do not want to end up with egg on their face, so whilst they are very vigilant about policing it, they try to keep the damage limited.
Mr Richardson: No, my experience is that journals and their editorial boards take it very seriously and do what they can to try to work with the guidelines and help develop them in many cases.
Q147 Mr McWalter: I was interested in what you said about having material in your New Journal of Physics which is not textual and presumably needs to be read by macro-media or even a real player or whatever and you have mentioned Google and PubMed already. Clearly what can happen in these areas is that an awful lot of maintenance is required to allow that to be read by someone in five or ten years' time when Google or whatever is no longer the current mechanism for conducting a search. Even in the case of something like Dingbats, that particular font, if someone has used that and then somebody is reading it on a computer which does not have it, it can all start to look like gibberish. That is a huge burden on commercial publishers, they tell us, and they say that is one of the reasons why they charge higher prices. Are they just having us on, or would you need to increase your prices to be able to make electronic publications sustainably accessible to a public over the course of the next few decades?
Mr Richardson: That is why a preservation system is necessary, in order to be able to store the material in a neutral format so that it is possible to move on when new technology emerges. We would certainly support the creation of an independent archive to fulfil that, otherwise you are preserving underlying data.
Q148 Mr McWalter: That is a tough IT job, is it not, when you have a different architecture for the chips and so on?
Mr Richardson: Absolutely. It is very difficult. It is very expensive and that is why it is bigger than any publisher can solve by themselves and you need a co-operative system of something like the British Library providing that archive rather than each publisher trying to solve these problems for themselves because they are big problems.
Q149 Mr McWalter: Are they going to take the cost of it, take the pressure off you?
Mr Richardson: It is a fallback. We are almost certainly going to continue to make the material available, but that is a fallback position. Nobody really knows how technology is going to change over 100 years.
Q150 Mr McWalter: So that does mean that commercial publishers who claim it is a big cost to them are having us on.
Mr Richardson: It is a big cost both to commercial publishers and the not-for-profit publishers.
Q151 Mr McWalter: Except that in your case you are having the burden taken off you by the public sector, whereas the commercial sector is apparently trying to do the same thing all over again but charging an arm and a leg to its subscribers for that task to be done by them. Why should not Reed Elsevier or whoever also have this task done for them by the British Library?
Mr Richardson: That is what I am suggesting, that there should be a multi-publisher archive which can be used by all publishers, whether they are commercial or not-for-profit.
Mr McWalter: I think I might have got a recommendation out of that, but we shall see.
Q152 Chairman: A last question on the research assessment exercise. I actually despise it and think it is really biased. How has it made a difference to your lives in terms of publishing in the journals? How has it turned authors around?
Mr Richardson: It does make a difference in terms of submissions during the peak of the research assessment exercise. We are primarily an international publisher, so the 20 per cent of material we get from the UK is smoothed in the other 80 per cent we get from the rest of the world who also have research assessment exercises, but fortunately they do not all operate on the same timescale.
Dr King: Ninety-four per cent of our papers actually come from authors abroad, so it is a small percentage which is affected. On the other hand I think that setting journals the challenge of driving the quality up is healthy for science. Whilst a reliance on the research assessment exercise and almost giving people marks for having published letters in PhysRef is not healthy, but things which help drive the quality of journals up are very positive.
Mrs Morris: I would echo what Julia says. The recognition of the importance of the markers of quality that publication can confer, if it is properly understood, is a healthy thing and is helpful in driving up quality in the journal field. When it is applied as a blunt instrument, it is not helpful and probably distorts people's publishing patterns.
Q153 Dr Iddon: Nature rejects most of its papers. Does that not drive up the cost of the journals in that they have to arrange for peer review of all those papers they reject? As you drive up the quality, surely you drive up the cost of your journal.
Mrs Morris: Yes you do, because it costs money to reject papers as well.
Mr Richardson: It is the really top quality premier journals which have the biggest problems in terms of additional submissions. We certainly find with a lot of our journals that although we have heard of a three per cent increase, many journals are having 20 to 30 per cent increases in submissions a year because they are the premier journals in their field. Yes, it is a big problem.
Chairman: May I thank the three of you for starting us off today. We are buzzing now. Thank you very much indeed for taking time and coming to help us in our inquiry. We look forward to adding all the comments you have made to our report. Thank you very much indeed.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Nigel Goddard, Chief Executive Officer, Axiope Limited, Mr Vitek Tracz, Chairman, Current Science Group (BioMed Central) and Dr Harold E Varmus, President and Chief Executive Officer, Public Library of Science (PLoS), examined.
Q154 Chairman: Welcome Nigel, Howard and Vitek. If you could keep your answers short, it would help us through the myriad of question we have. What is wrong with the existing publishing model?
Dr Varmus: It does not take advantage of the opportunities offered by the internet on the one hand to make science work much better for scientists by allowing them to make their findings accessible to the entire scientific community and on the other hand to use that information much more effectively by doing searches of digital information in large public libraries.
Q155 Chairman: Is there a demand for change?
Dr Varmus: Absolutely.
Q156 Chairman: How big?
Dr Varmus: Big and getting bigger.
Q157 Chairman: It is growing every day, is it?
Dr Varmus: From the scientific community and the public.
Q158 Chairman: We heard last week that open access would actually have the effect of limiting access to those with e-access. How would you respond to this?
Dr Varmus: There is increasing availability of hardware and access to the internet in all countries of the world; all working scientists have access. This will only grow and will grow faster as people realise they can get access to the entire repertoire of new scientific findings by using the internet.
Mr Tracz: It is worth adding that the fact that we publish electronically does not mean that information cannot be distributed in print, in fact very commonly, particularly in the third world, it is enough to have one computer with internet access and then locally it can be printed and distributed. This often happens. In our case we know of many situations where people distribute the papers in print and in open access it is permissible.
Dr Varmus: Things can be downloaded and mailed to people who specifically need them but do not have access, which is increasingly rare.
Q159 Chairman: Will the big commercial publishers not just make the same profits but in a new way? They are not going to be blown out of the water, are they?
Dr Varmus: Not necessarily, but the situation will still be competitive. The scientists have a few objectives and publishing is a crucial element of the life of a scientist. They want to publish in the best places and they are willing to give their material for free. All they want is to be read. They want to publish in the place which has the highest credibility among their colleagues. If a commercial publisher moves to an open access mode, can make a profit and attract the best papers because the best papers are published there and it has a high credibility, that is possible.
Mr Tracz: I am a commercial publisher and we publish all primary literature, particularly in open access. The reason we do it is because we think it gives us a competitive advantage not a competitive disadvantage.
Q160 Chairman: Wiley claims that only 10 percent of potential users have not been able to gain access to its journals. Is this enough to justify all the whirly girly stuff that is going around?
Mr Tracz: This is a problematic number. It depends very much on how you define who your users are and how you calculate their ability to access. For example, many people said at the last hearing that everyone can go to a public library, ask for papers and get them. Try it. I do not advise you to try it.
Q161 Chairman: I have tried.
Dr Varmus: I would advise you to go to a public library and go onto the computers which are sitting in public libraries and type in www.plos.org and you will see our papers immediately.
Q162 Chairman: As long as somebody has plugged it in, of course.
Dr Varmus: We try to maintain electricity.
Q163 Dr Harris: If we were minded to be keen on open access in the purist sense and really give it a push, what sort of recommendations do you feel we should be making to government? Generally we recommend to government. We can say it is a good thing and we encourage publishers and the scientific community to experiment more. Is there a role for government, both in this country and multinationally?
Dr Varmus: Yes, there is. Much of science is publicly funded and I believe that all science funders are interested in having their findings as widely disseminated as possible. It is important for the funder to do the following things. First of all to ensure that investigators understand, the public understands that the cost of publishing is part of the cost of doing research. Research is meaningless if it is not published and we ought to consider the roughly one per cent of total costs in biomedical research, for example, which are required for publishing are part of the agreement which is made when you support someone to do research. Secondly, it is important not just to encourage but even to require that the publicly funded scientists in particular recognise an obligation to ensure that everyone has immediate and open access to published information. Thirdly, you want to ensure the durability of the information through archives, both paper and digital, and the creation of public digital libraries like BioMed Central, which allow this very important function. Access is not just access. There is access to a literature which can be searched. That is where the power comes for scientists who want to work with the world's information and try to understand, by amalgamating information and comparing it, the meaning of findings which are generated all over the world.
Dr Goddard: It is also important that these things apply to publication of data. The scientific publication is in some ways the most refined form of the information which has been gathered. With the technologies we have available now, it is possible to get the underlying data as well, which means you can go and do studies later and can build on the raw data. Many of the same issues apply to publication of data: the requirement that scientists do that, the funding for them to do it.
Mr Tracz: May I just say, especially in the context of advice to government, that it is worth remembering that this whole discussion, the whole issue of open access and the way science publishing works, is not really about business models or what is more profitable, but about a fundamental change in the way findings, especially in the biomedical field, which is where all three of us work, are recorded and used. The changing technology has now both made it possible and in time it will become a requirement, it will become necessary, for scientists to have access to findings. It will be hard to do science without being able easily to access, to search and to use the information which is found.
Q164 Dr Harris: What about the issue of publication bias? Is that an argument for or against? Let us say that someone was concerned that negative studies in the biomedical field were not published, causing the problem of publication bias. Can you recruit that argument to an open access model, or does it work against an open access model. Forcing authors to pay for things they really do not want to bother having to publish makes them less likely to publish arguably than if they did not have to pay to publish and they could score up a paper and meet the moral commitment, particularly when human subjects have been involved in clinical research, to publish that data even if it is not a positive finding.
Dr Varmus: You have raised an incredibly important issue which is one of the motivations for my several-year engagement in this topic. I believe there is a lot of information which is not currently being made available, even though the data may be important, paid for by public funds, the result of a lot of hard work. It is a complicated argument for the following reason. At the same time as we are trying to show that open access works, we have to make a deep cultural change in the community of scholars which publishes scientific findings. There is an inherent conservatism in that community because publication, amongst other things I mentioned earlier, is frequently the ground on which people are recruited and promoted within the profession. They know that the most outstanding journals, the journals with the higher credibility, whether because of impact factor or a kind of accepted hierarchy which places some journals on the top and requires them to publish in the traditional, outstanding journals, frequently will not publish the kinds of negative findings you are talking about. That creates a number of issues which come into play in answer to your question. I personally believe that the way we should begin is by changing the culture, the attitude toward open access digital publishing by publishing journals like PLoS Biology . Our plans, and I know Vitek's plans at BioMed Central as well, are to have a much broader range of journals which will include journals which specifically deal with the kind of information you are talking about.
Mr Tracz: I should like to correct a certain type of logical mistake we are making when we discuss open access and the payment for it. Commonly people imagine that the situation is that we suddenly ask authors to take some money from their petty cash, or away from their children and give it to some publisher who is going to publish them. That is not at all the situation. The situation in a sense is that we have a closed system to some extent, where most of the authors are also most of the consumers and where a certain amount of money is spent on some scheme to make findings visible. We are now proposing some alternative scheme of how the thing has to be financed. It has to be financed. There are many arguments that it seems cheaper. The problem of how that financing is organised is not fully solved. Like many new structures that is not fully solved but it needs to be solved for the good of science and society. They will be solved and they can be solved. Here is an example in England. We now have an agreement that every single scientist in England does not need to ask anybody's permission and can publish in open access without paying any additional costs. Various universities, other structures, funding bodies have all already agreed. It is not that dissimilar from the same bodies buying subscriptions and scientists basically using this information without having to subscribe. Just as, most commonly, scientists do not have to subscribe, so most commonly scientists do not have to pay personally.
Q165 Geraldine Smith: Last week we heard that the open access publishing model introduced patronage into the system and compromised the impartiality of the publishing process. How would you respond to those claims?
Dr Varmus: I think this is a false argument; rubbish, if I may use that word. Our journals, like every other journal, want to be of the highest possible quality. We have reviewers who make the determinations about what we are going to accept, who have no direct interest in the fate of our journal, but the most important thing is that we, as publishers of open access journals, want our journals to be high quality. It is the only way we are going to succeed.
Mr Tracz: May I make another point which is related to the way the thing is paid for? Some of the patronage argument will come from saying "Will the people who pay for the publication have some influence on the content?" I have just said that in reality the solution to the problem will be such that it will be somewhat similar to the structure which subscriptions have now organised, that the individual scientist makes an independent decision to publish, he does not need to ask journals in the UK, for example, and many, many organisations throughout the world have now participated in the membership scheme we operate and the US operates. Basically the agreement to publish has been made in advance and every scientist publishes in whichever structure he wants to without permission.
Q166 Geraldine Smith: What measures do open access publishers have in place to protect the integrity of the peer review process?
Dr Varmus: We operate very much the way any journal would with respect to peer review. I would just say that at PLoS we have made a special effort with our flagship journals which we have just launched, to ensure that we have a member of a distinguished editorial board, a professional editor and someone who is not affiliated with the board, review every paper. It is very much in our interest, as I have been stressing, to ensure that we have the highest quality of peer review, because we are trying to establish a journal which has the esteem of the scientific community. It is the only way we are going to make this cultural change, make this revolution work.
Mr Tracz: We now publish 130 or 140 journals and many more as time goes by at various levels and we completely strictly peer review every paper properly, in the same way as a traditional publisher does, if not better. Our editorial staff is primarily ex Nature and similar journals and they take peer review very seriously and we do and we have to do so to survive because authors will not want to publish if we do not.
The Committee suspended from 5.34pm to 5.43 pm for a division in the House
Q167 Geraldine Smith: Why should paying authors subsidise the costs of rejected papers? If you have a high percentage of rejected papers, the authors will be subsidising those costs.
Dr Varmus: At PLoS we do not charge for articles unless they have been accepted. There is an interest in charging a submission fee, but we have not done that. I do not know whether Vitek has considered that.
Mr Tracz: No. This is a very good question and a perfectly reasonably question. It would in a sense be reasonable to have some charge for submission and some charge for publication and the reason we do not do it, is because we are still a young industry and we worry that if we start charging for submission it will be harder for us to persuade authors to do it. At this point it is a reasonable question and may require a solution. It is a bigger in journals which reject a lot and it is a smaller problem for journals which do not reject so many. A top quality journal like PLoS and our journal, Current Biology, reject 90 per cent or so of papers, but for many journals which reject 30 or 40 per cent of papers the problem is smaller.
Dr Goddard: This also goes back to the point which has already been made that it is a closed system. This is already happening; the cost is already incurred. The journals which reject a lot of papers are more expensive or have a wider readership and somehow it ends up getting paid for. It is not actually the scientists who are paying this themselves, it is coming from their research grants, it is coming from the research component of the Higher Education Funding Council, funding for the universities. It is not as though the scientists are digging into their own pockets; it is coming out of the money the country is putting in to scientific publication, whatever way it is done.
Dr Varmus: There are two economic arguments here. One is the macro-economic argument: what does it cost to run the scientific publishing enterprise? There is no doubt that when you create one copy in digital form which can be used by everybody, you have a simpler and less expensive system than if you require the PROPS [?] to carry printed copies; every copy costs an additional fee to the system. The other side of the argument is the micro-economic argument for each publishing house, that is: what mechanisms do they use to raise the money to cover the real costs of the publishing effort? Do they make a little extra, either because they are for-profit publishers or because they want to innovate and advocate for open access publishing and make the systems work better and that requires a little extra money for investment?
Q168 Geraldine Smith: But the more prestigious journals which reject a lot of papers are surely going to charge more than the ones which have lower rejection rates.
Dr Varmus: They will have higher costs, but there are various ways to generate the money. Remember that authors' fees play an important role in all of our concepts of open access publishing, but they are not the only source of revenue. There are various kinds of advertising and there are other ways to raise money through memberships, subscriptions, sponsorships, philanthropy and all of us are making use of all those forms.
Mr Tracz: There is another point to make here. The macro-economic thing is important. Once the structure exists in the UK that everybody can publish for free, it does not really matter how the thing is distributed. Also there is another argument which says that the author who gets the service of being published in a high impact, very important journal, does get more valuable service. There may be some argument to say it is worse for him to pay the extra for the extra value which he or his funding institutions or his lab or the university get out of it.
Dr Goddard: Another thing on this macro-economic side is that if you imagine we move to a situation where the country is still spending the same amount of money on scientific publication as it always has, it is quite obviously going to be much more scientifically productive if all of that information is available, whether it is data or publications, if it is all available, than if it is restricted. We just need to make that transition and the reason we can do it now and we could not before is because the technology has changed.
Q169 Geraldine Smith: Will open access publishers have to create financial reserve by retaining a portion of the authors' payments against the possibility of fluctuation in the number of publishable articles being submitted?
Dr Varmus: All of us are aware that what we do costs money and we will go away as a publishing house if we do not have an appropriate business plan. Are we going to hold a reserve? We try to envisage ourselves operating in the black in the long run and we will do everything we can to have somewhere we can invest in other things than publishing, like improving technology and advancing the cause to help. One of the things you need to understand is that it is not as though we envisage a world in which a couple of us are open access publishers and the others are in a different mode. That may be true now, but the Public Library of Science began five years ago as an advocacy group and we became a publisher, because we felt we were not moving the world in the open access direction quickly enough. Our goal now is not to take over the world. Our goal is to make other publishers see the virtue of open access and begin experiments with one article at a time and become open access publishers themselves.
Mr Tracz: I would like to make an important point which is relevant to this situation. Of course I am a commercial publisher and one day everyone else will be open access publishers but they have not committed themselves to working on how to become open access publishers. They think it may happen and like any commercial organisation, if it starts being a success, they will do it. As a commercial publisher I try to make as much profit as I can, just like any other publisher and I cannot genetically change the basic failings of a capitalist system. However, there is one major difference which is important and a difference of which you are probably aware from the various submissions. The difference is that open access is much more open to competition and closed access is much less. In the closed traditional access in effect every journal and publisher who owns a journal has a monopoly on the papers it has. You cannot go and say you will not buy this journal because it is expensive, you will buy another because it is cheaper, because what you are really buying is not the journals. The coin of exchange in science is not journals, it is the papers you read and you cannot get those papers from any other source than the publisher who publishes them. In that sense you have no choice. If you want those papers you have to pay the price the publisher charges. Open access is not like that, the papers are free to everybody. What the open access publisher offers is a service and service is inherently more open to competition. The author will be able to say he will not use the service and have his paper published by this one because that one gives a better service for less money. The open access system is more open to competition, inherently more open to competition and therefore it has its own internal standard control which most capitalist systems have. The competition keeps the prices down. The greed of all us publishers keeps them down.
Q170 Chairman: May I ask you quite humbly to keep the answers a bit shorter and answer the question? I understand the enthusiasm and determination, but I do not want to be here at midnight and I am sure you do not either and we should like to get some more information from you. Vitek, you publish paid-for journals too, do you not?
Mr Tracz: Yes, we publish many things. In fact that is another thing. I will keep it short. We publish paid-for journals, but the only things for which we ask payment are reviews, commentaries, news.
Q171 Chairman: Why do you not make them open access?
Mr Tracz: Because we commission them and pay for them and think about them and spend much more time on them. The primary paper is a record of scientific findings. We have very little to do with it. We do not really need to do that much to it. The scientists themselves carry the whole process. We offer a little bit of a service where it is hard for publishers.
Q172 Chairman: How do you answer claims that the "pay to publish" model just shifts the benefits of the system from richer readers to richer authors, from libraries to research funders?
Dr Varmus: It does not really matter that much who actually pays. This is a closed system. Where do the libraries get their money? The libraries in America get their money from indirect costs and grants. So the institutions and the funders will be paying through the authors. There will be some cost shifting here, but it all comes ultimately from the same pot of money. I just do not believe that the question of where the costs are shifted and how they are shifted is nearly as important as the question of how the information is delivered, used and advantage is taken, to the benefit of the public, of the information the public pays to generate.
Q173 Chairman: You say it is not nearly as important, but it is important, is it not? What can you do to rectify it?
Dr Goddard: The kind of things you can do is change, if you need to, how rich the authors are. If every research grant included a component for publication, which you just use to publish, that would take care of people who have research grants. For people who do not have research grants there would need to be, if the Science Councils deemed it the right thing to do, a component which is devoted to publication.
Q174 Chairman: Is this happening in the United States? Is there an emphasis on the research grant having a component for this?
Dr Varmus: It has always been assumed. We should not forget that most journals charge page charges. If they do not have page charges, they have charges for colour photographs. My last three papers each cost me more than $3,000 to publish. The US system expects the investigator to spend money on page charges, to buy subscriptions for our local libraries; indirect costs come out of our grants, so the system is already paying through the grant agency quite hefty sums to support the publishing industry. There is an incentive to bring the total cost down.
Dr Goddard: Also in the United States there is actually a precedent for this now, that the National Institute of Health requires large grant holders to publish their research data and they specifically expect authors to put a line item in the budget for the costs of doing that.
Q175 Chairman: What do they put in the budget? How much?
Dr Varmus: There has always been a place for publications under other miscellaneous charges. Let me make another point, which is that at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which is one of the major funders of medical research, it is a private funder, but it spends about $300 million a year to cover 350 or so investigators. They have said that they encourage publication in open access journals and that they will give up to an additional $3,000 a year to cover the charges of publishing in open access journals. They are providing incentives which are very important.
Q176 Chairman: $3,000 does not sound very much, does it?
Dr Varmus: It is two papers a year beyond what costs would have been incurred anyway. So it is an encouragement and, importantly, I want to get back to this question of evaluation. Having the Howard Hughes Institute, which evaluates its investigators regularly, say they encourage them to publish in these journals, is a clarion call to some of the best biomedical scientists in the country that publishing here is going to enhance your standing with our institute.
Q177 Dr Iddon: I understand that some of you are using the argument that we should shift the cost of publishing from the individual author to the people who fund the research.
Dr Varmus: The individual authors are not paying out of their pockets for this.
Q178 Dr Iddon: Can I put the point of view that universities are being expected in future to fund the whole cost of their research. If the people who support the research are the European Union through the framework programme, for example, they are not at present funding the total cost of the research carried out and if the cost of publications is going to go up and in particular is going to shift the cost to the funder entirely, there is a real problem there.
Dr Varmus: The cost of publication will not go up overall. Secondly, the payment will usually be made by the funding agency, not by the institution. Right now the institution actually has a larger degree of cost sharing because they are responsible for paying the subscription costs which in my view are often intolerably high.
Q179 Dr Iddon: I just make the point that charities will be hard hit too with that set-up. May I just put another point to you? Academics do the vast majority of research and the vast majority of publishing, but they are not the only readers of the research. There are public institutions, companies throughout the world. How do you bring them into the picture of paying for the cost of publications which they are the users of and prime users of? Why should academics mainly carry the total cost of the publishing?
Dr Varmus: There are several answers. One of course is that the average corporation which uses such journals does have authors who pay. Secondly, they would argue that they pay their taxes, the taxes go to government, the government agencies pay for publication and want the industries to see the results of research because one of the reasons we do medical research is to support industrial efforts in making new products which help to improve the health of the nation. Finally, we also have a corporate sponsor programme at the PLoS in which we give our corporate friends a chance to help support the activity.
Q180 Dr Iddon: May I just concentrate on another difficulty, that is the developing world, where the hardware and the software is not readily available and the cost of publication to them is difficult now and might be more difficult in future if we move over to this line of publishing called open access?
Dr Varmus: We accept the idea that many people who work in the developing world cannot afford the author's fees. We will publish those papers at reduced or zero cost. It would be a very small fraction of the total number of papers just based on an analysis of who publishes papers now. The hardware and software problem is a real one, but I have spent quite a lot of time in the developing world and do increasingly. While not every worker may have a desktop computer, every institution has a desktop computer and you can download the appropriate articles. Compared with what goes on now in a place like Bamako in Mali, where I am very familiar with the processes, where there is almost no access to papers unless you travel to France or the States, this is a revolutionary change which they welcome with open arms. I cannot imagine anything more important at a time when diseases of the developing world need to be conquered.
Q181 Mr McWalter: I just want to pick up a point which Mr Tracz raised earlier before we lose it entirely. You said basically, when you are talking about your book reviews, that you commissioned those, so it was reasonable to charge for those, but when you come to the papers themselves you said the scientists themselves largely do it. The commercial people we have talked to emphasise a very considerable degree of input to that process as well, both, for instance, in the form of seeing who are going to be the people doing the peer review, but also from time to time having the courage to take on editors of journals who have got a bit stale or a bit out of touch or a bit too linked into the old boy network and who then need to be removed so that somebody who is a bit more in touch with what is going on can actually take over that job. Do you not agree that the commercial sector manages that pretty well? Do you not think that in fact you also have to replicate some of those processes in the open access market and therefore actually there is an ongoing expense which you do not seem to have factored in to your earlier remarks?
Mr Tracz: The first thing I want to say is that I am the commercial sector. I am part of a commercial company. The fact that I am open access does not mean that I am not commercial. I am completely commercial, no less commercial than the commercial sector.
Q182 Mr McWalter: I am thinking of the non-commercial sector.
Mr Tracz: I think that the role of publishers in the process of publishing scientific papers is wildly, incredibly exaggerated and overblown, completely out of proportion.
Q183 Mr McWalter: Why?
Mr Tracz: The process is primarily ---
Q184 Mr McWalter: I should just like my Chairman to make sure he is hearing this.
Mr Tracz: ---Some of the interference we publishers do is not necessarily always beneficial; sometimes it is necessary and then we do it. We publishers are facilitators here. It is the scientists who do the research, who publish, who referee, who decide. Most of the referees are chosen by another scientist. This is a process run by scientists and for us publishers to presume that we have some major scientific role or influence is wrong. In my opinion it is not correct. It is occasionally correct in some very particular situation: in general it is not. We do not need to do that much.
Q185 Mr McWalter: You said, when you were commending the quality of your publications, that in the range of people you have doing the reviewing and so on were people who, for instance, had performed a similar function for Nature. You are still drawing down some sort of benefit or kudos from that connection and therefore in a way using their status to bump up your own.
Mr Tracz: We need to choose the people with whom we work carefully and have some taste in doing that. It is very different. It is not like literary book publishers who have editors who really work a lot on the books to make them better. These are scientists reporting their findings.
Dr Varmus: It is also important to remember that the editors Vitek has, and we have very similar ones, are professional editors who trained as scientists, who frankly are often disgusted by what they encountered in part of the commercial publishing industry.
Q186 Mr McWalter: Presumably if they got sacked, for instance, that might account for it.
Dr Varmus: No, they were hired away through aggressive recruiting by our organisation. They know the scientific community very well, they go to scientific meetings and they bring to the review process the most distinguished scientists we can find and they are very, very good. It is the scientific community which determines who gets published in our journals.
Q187 Dr Iddon: May I just look at the hard costs of open access now? The Institute of Physics have told us that their authors are reluctant to pay the fee of $560 for open access publishing. What is your experience? What are your costs and do they put the authors off?
Dr Varmus: We do not know entirely what our costs are. We are too new and we are doing too many other things and we are publishing only one very complicated flagship journal. We charge $1,500 for an article and we have only had two people who have asked for cost reductions. When you ask that question you can get a variety of answers about what they are willing to pay. We know that many people pay $2,000 or $3,000 or more for publishing in subscription-based journals. You will find very little opposition in the biomedical research community in the advanced economies. There is obviously concern, as we discussed a moment ago, in developing countries where there is much less money for research and in certain disciplines like ecology grants are much smaller. There we have to figure out other ways to ensure that a journal like ours, which deals with all biology, including ecology and evolution and biology, can take care of the best papers in these fields.
Mr Tracz: We have a lot of experience of charging. We have published many thousands of papers and we have hundreds of journals. We have a number of different charges; different journals require different charges. It is partly to do with the rejection rates, but most of our journals, more than 90 per cent of our journals, charge $525, not dissimilar. In addition I think we have about a 25 per cent waiver rate, that is charges for all papers from all the third world countries, poor countries, are waived automatically and then people can request waiver and we almost always grant them. We believe that at this rate we can be a profitable, successful publisher. It is possible for us to do that. That is our judgment and that is how we do it. We have established those prices based on some analysis of what it is possible to do.
Q188 Dr Iddon: Let me just challenge that. We understand that you are running at round about - it varies of course from operator to operator, journal to journal - a 50 per cent subsidy at the moment. When do you expect to become self-sustaining?
Mr Tracz: We are now getting about 500 to 600 papers a month. We need about 2,000 papers a month. We grew by about more than 50 per cent in the last year. I expect that we will become self-sustaining in about a year and a half.
Dr Varmus: We shall be self-sustaining in about two and half years or so, as we create more journals, especially journals where the rejection rate is relatively low and where the editorial process of recruiting the papers ... For example, in our flagship journal we provide with every article a layman's summary to make it highly accessible to the public. That is expensive. The other way to think about this is that the Wellcome Trust and others have emphasised that in biomedical research roughly one per cent of the cost of the research is used for publications. For every $200,000 NIH spends on research one paper is published. That is a very important number, if you believe that publication is essential to the research process and it is because without that extra one per cent the research never gets seen by anybody, so it is meaningless. It seems like a very small cost to pay.
Q189 Dr Iddon: As open access competition grows, do you not fear that your profit margins will be eaten into, thus preventing you becoming sustainable even in the periods you have announced?
Dr Varmus: I think the opposite is probably true: with more authors wanting to publish with us, we will have a bigger volume. Volume is key.
Q190 Dr Iddon: I have one last simple question. What kind of profit levels would open access journals be looking at?
Dr Varmus: In our case we do not think about profit, because we are a non-profit organisation, but we would like to be bringing in slightly more than we spend so that we can make investments and innovative technology and continue our advocacy for transition to open access by society journals and commercial journals.
Mr Tracz: In our case we expect that the profit margins of an open access publisher like us will be much lower than the current margins of a commercial publisher but that they will be sustainable. If they are not sustainable, we will not survive. I comfortably expect to have 10 or 15 per cent profit margin from our publishing and all our calculations suggest that is sustainable at a reasonable margin.
Q191 Mr Key: May I turn to the question of copyright? BioMed Central ensures that your authors allow the free use of their work by others. How do you ensure that they do not lose out on their own intellectual property rights?
Mr Tracz: Authors keep the copyright in our case. They keep the intellectual property rights to their papers. Remember that in science the author is mostly interested in having his information propagated as much as possible and the intellectual value of his findings increased by having it distributed as widely as possible. The whole process is biased towards effective and wide distribution. The copyright protection of the intellectual property remains basically the same.
Q192 Mr Key: What about a paper which had already been included in patent applications, work which had been included in patent applications? What would be the position of BioMed Central then?
Mr Tracz: No different. You would have to ask the editors of specific journals what their policy was, but no different to the current one.
Q193 Mr Key: Generally speaking you would publish?
Mr Tracz: Yes, of course, why not?
Dr Varmus: These are highly separable issues. Claims to intellectual property, at least under US patent law, proceed independently of the mode of publication. It is required that you make the information accessible. Disclosure is part of the patent process. Whether you do that in a lecture or an article in any kind of journal is irrelevant to the patent process. The authors retain copyright, we have a licence under the creative commons licence which ensures distribution and use of any kind, with the only stringent criterion that adequate attribution of authorship be given whenever the paper is used.
Dr Goddard: It is worth looking at an example of open access to data in this regard. In the entire genomics era all the data was made fully available in the public databases and no scientist ever complained that their copyright was being infringed. That in itself enabled a huge industry to develop.
Q194 Mr Key: Is the normal protocol that authors sign away their copyright on publication?
Mr Tracz: Traditionally it was and it is.
Q195 Mr Key: So what happens when open access prevails? Who should manage the copyright of authors then?
Mr Tracz: What do you mean by "manage"? In what sense manage? In cases of infringement?
Q196 Mr Key: We have been given evidence, for example, that some publishers feel they have a vital role in the management of copyright which some authors do not feel competent to handle.
Dr Varmus: I have been publishing articles for over 30 years, published over 300 articles and the only time the copyright has ever been an issue was when I have been asked to scratch my signature on permission to use a figure from one of my papers in another publication. I am only too happy to do that. I could not care less, as long as they attribute the data to me. Management of copyright is nothing.
Mr Tracz: I know of no evidence that publishers can do anything about it in practice.
Dr Varmus: Authors just want to control it themselves and the danger here occurs in relation to an important matter we have not touched on and that is the creation of a digital database, Ms Smith raised this earlier, the creation of an historical database of visual information so that we can pursue the past and search and find information which was paid for 10 or 20 years ago. I believe that publishers are in a sense threatening to restrict our ability to create a large public database of published information on the grounds that they own the copyright and they will sell it at a price we may not be able to afford to pay. Having individual publishers do this is of limited use. There has to be a coherent, cohesive fully searchable database to make it worthwhile.
Q197 Mr Key: We have been told that NASA lost 25 per cent of its digital data because there is no technology which can archive digital information adequately. Is that your understanding? I do not mean of NASA's particular figures, but is there a general problem here?
Dr Varmus: Sure; absolutely.
Q198 How do you address that problem.
Dr Goddard: There is a general problem, but fortunately the entire business world faces exactly this problem and they will solve it. It is not something which publishers specifically have to deal with. The transition in data formats from one format to another is something which will be taken care of.
Mr Tracz: A very important point about archiving which is very crucial and important and an important unsolved problem in the digital age is electronic archiving. However, there is one hope in which open access plays an important role. Usage preserves data. Non usage loses data. As long as the data is available and used and appears in many places, as long as it is used, it tends to be preserved. Formats change and users adapt and change their format. Usage is the key to preservation of data and open access encourages and preserves usage.
Dr Varmus: There are two general strategies. One is to say everybody will create their own database and will have sophisticated search engines which can go through all these databases and search out information. My own preference is for the simpler solution which we pioneered when I was director at the NIH, the creation of PubMed Central. This is a centralised database for everybody, where all the information is provided by individual publishers in a common format, where the search is truly powerful. The weakness of PubMed Central so far is not the design. The weakness is that we do not have contributions from more publishers. Eventually we should and we should have equal databases in Europe and other places in the world so that we can have different ways of preserving the data and also a mirror, an exchange so that we can ensure preservation.
Mr Tracz: This is where the British Government can play an important role which has not been happening up to now. At this point the only central database of biomedical literature which is available is PubMed Central run by NIH, by the International Library of Medicine. It is possible to create mirror images. I think it is important that different countries have that and it would be very worthwhile for Britain to have a central database of biomedical data, international worldwide data, which will mirror NIH and be able itself to be mirrored and permit itself to accept data in. It is a very important part of the future to have this centralised database.
Q199 Dr Iddon: I want to address this question specifically to Mr Goddard, who has written to us "... opening access to written publications is only the first step in using information technology to improve scientific productivity: the really exciting possibility is to open up access to the actual research data underlying publications...". I assume you remember that piece of evidence.
Dr Goddard: Sure.
Q200 Dr Iddon: Considering that, I should like to ask you how successful your particular service has been. How widely known is it? What other new ideas could you give the inquiry which are related to the open access angle we are discussing now?
Dr Goddard: Our effort is very new. We are producing software which will help scientists to organise their data and thereby make it easy for them to publish it on the web and put it into databases which will integrate across labs and consortia of labs and indeed whole communities. It is just in its first version and we take it out to scientific labs and people are very keen on it. They see the possibilities for using it to share information within collaborations. It is too early to say that we have any substantial evidence that it is going to increase productivity, but the example to look at is the genomic project where scientists did contribute their data to a communitywide database and as a result we have entire industries and we transformed biomedical science completely. That is the context of where our effort is at right now. In terms of ideas for the committee and recommendations which could be made, the key difference here in dealing with data is that we do not have an existing model where everybody puts their data behind some commercial database and you have to pay to access it. The existing model is in fact open access. In some sense, great, there should be no problem. But in fact there is a problem, because scientists do not have a culture and they do not have the incentives, either financial or in terms of career, to make their data accessible. It takes some work to organise data so that other people can use it effectively and there is not much incentive at the moment. Financial provision needs to be made in research grants, just as for publishing the writing. Financial provision needs to be made for the cost of doing this data organising, which should be very low given the current electronic technology. There also needs to be a move towards a recognition that this is an important thing to do. In fact the Medical Research Council and the other research councils are starting to move in this direction. The Medical Research Council has a policy, which is not being completely implemented at the moment, of people publishing their data. Those are the kinds of things which need to get done.
Q201 Dr Iddon: I hope that you are all going to persuade particularly chemists to scan in their spectral data, the actual spectrum rather than the particular peaks, so that we can actually see them and print them off. That would be great.
Mr Tracz: There is an important issue here which is a very good example of the issue of data and something which needs to be happening, something for which there is a real role for the Committee and for government and that is the situation with clinical trials and the data accumulated behind clinical trials and particularly the situation which happens currently with the publicly funded clinical trials which are happening in England with English citizens participating in them and which are either not published at all or published in places which are inaccessible. We have made a submission here giving some studies which are inaccessible. It is a real issue for people working in England, not only patients but doctors as well, where some push from above would be helpful and is really needed to make sure that clinical trials are published, even when they have negative results. We have created a special vehicle for it. We have discussed it with NIH, NHS, with other groups. They need to publish clinical trials in a new way by including the data, as much data as is practical, as part of the publication. It is something which can be recommended and which can be done. It is now practical and possible to do and will bring great real benefits to medical practice.
Q202 Chairman: Reed Elsevier claims that a government mandate for open access would be against the UK's financial interests because the UK publishes more than it reads. I will not go on because you will know the issue. What would be the advantages to the UK of switching to a pay-to-publish from a pay-to-read policy?
Dr Varmus: It may in fact be the case that the proportion of the total worldwide publishing effort which the UK supports might go up slightly, but the overall costs would go down. More importantly, the utility of the information would go up and the access your citizens would have to that information would increase enormously. I assume that you all feel the moral imperative in ensuring that everyone in this country who has curiosity about this information should have access to it, especially when government pays for it and, as exemplified by the power of sharing information on the genome project, you have interest in seeing that scientific information be maximally exploited to take the next step in pursuit of discovery.
Mr Tracz: To go back to the important and key issue. The key issue here is that often access is essential to science and of benefit to society in a whole number of ways; simply knowing more and everything being easy to know. There is also a financial argument here. One is that we are open access publishers and currently the biggest in the world, which might be something useful to have, but, more importantly, open access encourages other industries. The genome project really showed the variety of commercial organisations which grew up from it by exploiting, analysing, reporting and providing services. Information in the open encourages activity and encourages things which will be beneficial to the UK, just like it is beneficial everywhere else.
Q203 Chairman: Last week we had oral evidence which suggested - it was not put as crudely as this - that the public were too ignorant to understand all the information in scientific journals. I remember it being indicated and said. Are you fighting the right battle to get everyone access? Harold, I can hear your answer now.
Dr Varmus: We have a tremendous amount of support from the non-scientific communities, especially in the States where the advocacy groups are particularly strong. They want information. I notice it was mentioned last week that doctors do not want to hear from patients who are informed. First of all, patients are going to get informed; right now they can get informed by looking at the junk on the internet. We want to put the best that biomedical research offers on the internet so that patients read information which is solid. We want physicians who are not associated with major medical funders, who are working in a farm town in Idaho, to be able to look up information which has been made available through publicly funded research and see the answers. We want, as emblazoned on the front of the British Museum and stated by the librarian of the British Museum in 1836, every young poor student to be able to satisfy his learned curiosity just as a rich person does. These are themes which ring very strong in the States.
Mr Tracz: The belief is strong here too. We believe it.
Q204 Chairman: Two quick ones just to finish up. There may be disparities in different countries between publishing policies. How does open access handle that situation? Pay-to-publish or pay-to-read; it might be different. How would you handle that?
Dr Varmus: I am not sure what you mean by differences.
Q205 Chairman: Different countries may have different policies about publishing articles and so on. I could imagine the French might have one way of doing it in their journals; we might have another and India and China and so on. How would open access feed into that?
Dr Varmus: It seems to me that the one place we could run into difficulty would be if a country said you cannot use research funds of any kind to publish. We have not encountered that as yet. I think countries are going to recognise that with the success of open access publishing this is the way to pursue it. There are going to be costs and the costs are going to be lower overall and the impact of findings much grander on the future of science. So far we have been very gratified. The movement is in its early phases and we are already getting very strong testimonials from national funding agencies in Germany, France, England, US and many other places. Aside from the concern about ensuring that even the poorer scientists in the poorest countries are able to publish in open access journals, once that is dealt with, that is the only thing which is of concern.
Q206 Chairman: Do you think the American Government would allow the Cubans to publish in proceedings the National Academy of Science has held?
Dr Varmus: The Academy would certainly welcome the articles.
Q207 Chairman: That was not the question and you know it was not the question.
Dr Varmus: I know. We are fighting the battle. I have been to Cuba myself and we are trying to fight the battle.
Q208 Dr Iddon: Anybody from a learned society should hang on to their seat now. Do you think that the way publications are developing will be the death knell of learned societies?
Dr Varmus: I certainly hope not. You heard from some societies earlier. My own concern about the transition is most heavily focused on the fate of societies. Some of the members here made crucial points about the need for adaptation to change the environment of these societies. There are societies which function very well without revenues from their journals. The societies are guilds. They are there to serve the constituents of the societies. Those constituents want open access publication. Societies need to survive, but they will need to do so by adjusting their business plan. It is obviously convenient not to change a society business plan which is working, but the fact is that if they want to serve their constituencies in the best possible way they either have to charge the membership more for their meetings, or maybe there are too many societies. I do not know. It is important that these very valuable journals, which societies do publish, adjust within the context of the entire society business plan so that they can continue to do their good work, but not deny their members the advantage of open access publishing.
Q209 Chairman: May I bring it to an end now by saying thank you very much to all three of you, we are much better informed now than we were about the thinking behind open access, and to you, Howard Varmus, for coming from the States to help us. It has been a great pleasure to hear you and we look forward to seeing you many times again over here. Good luck in the projects you are developing over there.
Dr Varmus: It has been a pleasure for me to see this high-minded conversation. I appreciate it greatly.
Chairman: Thank you very much.