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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK
Call for freely available science
Scientist in the lab, Eyewire/BBC
Open access may encourage a more scientifically literate public
Current models for publishing science are "unsatisfactory", according to a report issued by the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee.

The report says the government has failed to act on the issue "in a coherent manner", and calls for radical changes in the publishing process.

It wants publicly funded research to be made freely available online by means of archived digital information banks.

At present, access is limited to those who can afford costly journal fees.

These subscriptions have risen dramatically in recent years, and amount to several hundred pounds a year for some titles.

But static or decreasing budgets for libraries mean many public reading institutions cannot afford to renew their subscriptions.

Raising standards

The MPs' report criticises some of the giants in scientific publishing, such as Reed Elsevier, for charging too much for their journals.

It advises the government to consider allocating funds to universities and other organisations to create online repositories where their research can be stored, and viewed by the public free of charge.

MPs also praised the new "open access" method of publishing, in which the costs of publication are met by the authors of the research, rather than the readers.

This could mean greater levels of scientific literacy amongst the general public, and a career boost for those academics involved, according to Professor Ian Gibson, chairman of the committee.

"The developing world would love this too, because they have to access this kind of scientific information as they build up their science and technology front," he told the BBC.

Issues of concern

However, "author pays" schemes have led to concerns that not-for-profit organisations, which rely on the revenue generated from their journal subscriptions, would struggle to keep themselves afloat.

There are also fears that research integrity could be compromised.

"We feel that there could be a conflict between the model that charges authors whose papers have been accepted, and the quality of material being accepted," said Arie Jongen, the chief executive officer of Science & Technology at Elsevier.

"Potentially, you could reduce your standards, accept more papers, and get more revenue."

But Vitek Tracz, chairman of the open-access pioneers Current Science Group, said of the report: "This is the point of no return; it is now time for the publishing model to change."

The BBC's Tom Feilden
"The free-for-all open access implies worries many in the scientific establishment"

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