Anger as Ministers Block Science Publishing Shake-Up

By Shah, Saeed | The Independent (London, England), November 8, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Anger as Ministers Block Science Publishing Shake-Up


Shah, Saeed, The Independent (London, England)


A POWERFUL committee of MPs will accuse the Government today of suppressing the views of its own advisers and "kowtowing" to the interests of the publishing industry by blocking a new system that would make the results of scientific research freely available.

In a highly unusual move, MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee allege that the Government interfered with the work of its own experts, who sit on an independent body called the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and were initially positive about the new "open access" publishing model.

The Government's decision, also revealed today, not to intervene in the science publishing market will be a major boost to science publishers such as Reed Elsevier which sell subscriptions to their journals. The City had feared "open access" publishing would undermine the publishers' highly lucrative business model, which sees them charge for subscriptions to science journals. Reed's journals include The Lancet, a leading medical research periodical.

The MPs released their original report on the scientific publishing industry in July. That argued that the Government must "urgently" investigate the open access or "author-pays" system, in which the researcher meets the cost of publication. The publication is then made freely available to the scientific community and members of the public.

The Department of Trade and Industry, where Lord Sainsbury is science minister, co-ordinated the Government's reaction to the parliamentary committee's report. The MPs received the DTI paper at the end of last month but it is only being made public today, along with the committee's reaction to it. The MPs were stunned by the "obstructive response" of the Government to their report.

Ian Gibson, chairman of the committee, said he was "pretty angry" and vowed that "all hell will be let loose" when Parliament gets a chance to debate the matter. "This is a really serious political battle. It is between what's best for the [publishing] industry and what's best for the public," he said.

Dr Gibson, the Labour MP for Norwich North, said: "The independent body [the JISC] said it looked very good but they've obviously been sat on by the DTI.

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