UK Parliamentary Debate on Scientific Publications (fwd)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 20:37:05 +0000

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 14:36:46 -0500
From: Peter Suber <>
To: SPARC Open Access Forum <>
Subject: UK Parliamentary Debate on Scientific Publications

[Forwarding from Fred Friend, with his permission. --Peter.]

The Debate held on 15 December in the UK Parliament on the Report on
Scientific Publications by the Science and Technology Committee (HC399) was
disappointing and depressing. Disappointing because so many of the old
myths about open access re-surfaced and depressing because the Junior
Minister present took 20 minutes to say that the UK Government intends to
do nothing. Nine Members of Parliament attended the Debate, not a large
number but par for the course for a supposedly non-controversial topic. The
full three hours allocated were used, and one disappointing feature was
that (subjectively) around 85% of the time was spent on open access
publishing, only about 10% on open repositories, and about 5% on trivia
such as the fact that one MP has published in "Nature" while another has
only published in Royal Society of Chemistry journals. If this subjective
description is felt to be unfair to Members of Parliament, the text of the
speeches in the Debate can be checked when they appear in Hansard. The
HC399 Report is a great tribute to the quality of the UK parliamentary
system; the Debate on the Report did not live up to the quality of the Report.

The Debate opened well with the best speech of the afternoon from Phil
Willis MP, the new Chair of the Science and Technology Committee. He
outlined the Committee's work on scientific publications, accurately
identifying the key points in the HC399 Report, noting that the Government
had ignored the advice from JISC in their Response to the Report, and
laying down some questions for the Minister to answer at the end of the
Debate. Three Members who signed off last year's Report spoke: Ian Gibson
MP, Brian Iddon MP, and Evan Harris MP. They did support the Report's
recommendations but with more qualifications than they expressed last year,
and certainly they did not speak with the kind of passion necessary to make
the Government take any notice of their words. For example, Evan Harris MP
mentioned the information obtained by David Prosser about Lord Sainsbury's
meetings regarding scientific publications, the kind of information which
MPs would use to go for the Government jugular on other topics, but the
information was only mentioned in passing and not commented on by anybody
else. Brian Iddon MP said that he thought the RCUK policy would
"incentivise" deposit in repositories, and pointed to the need to develop
tools for the world-wide searching of repositories, but said that RCUK were
already reaching agreement with publishers on embargo periods of 6 or 12
months. Evan Harris MP said that he had doubts about the "headlong rush"
into repositories when no quality kitemarks were present.

Two Members of Parliament spoke almost entirely about open access journals.
Edward Vaizey MP for Wantage gave a speech that sounded as though it was
written for him by an Oxford publisher. He spoke of the threats to the jobs
of many of his Oxfordshire constituents from open access publishing, made a
number of dubious statements (e.g. that only 3% of research publications
arise from government funding), cast doubts upon the quality of open access
journals, and said that Government should not "nationalise" research by
intervening in the publications market. Charles Hendry MP (background in
public relations) also said that the Government should not interfere
because the publications market is working well. He listed the "benefits"
in the present system, amongst which was the fact that copyright is
protected, and his speech was full of quotes from the recent Royal Society

Finally there was 20 minutes left for the Government to reply in the person
of Barry Gardiner MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for
Competitiveness at the DTI. He followed the existing Government line on the
need for a "level playing-field". He did say that funders should be able to
provide open access publications charges to authors if they requested it,
but later appeared to go back on that statement. He spoke of the benefits
of repositories for long-term archiving but said that each institution has
to make its own decisions. He ducked a question from Phil Willis MP about
the need for Government to encourage the linking of repository content. On
VAT (which had arisen at several points in the Debate) he said that the
Government could do nothing because VAT is a European issue, although he
did mention the VAT refund scheme for public libraries (was that a hint to
university libraries?). And he also ducked a question on the importance of
Government action to support the communication of UK research to developing
countries through open access, another theme which came up at various
points in the afternoon and one of many serious issues on which the Debate
resulted in a sense of disappointment.

Fred Friend

Frederick J. Friend
JISC Consultant
OSI Open Access Advocate
Honorary Director Scholarly Communication UCL
E-mail <>
Mail address: The Chimes, Cryers Hill Road,
High Wycombe, England HP15 6JS
Telephone +44 1494 563168 or +44 7747 627738 (mobile)

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Received on Fri Dec 16 2005 - 21:08:40 GMT

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