BioMed Central's open letter to the UK Science Minister, responding to inaccurate comments about open access.

From: Grace Baynes <Grace_at_BIOMEDCENTRAL.COM>
Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2005 11:47:21 +0100

On October 27th 2005, BioMed Central sent the following open letter to the UK's Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury of Turville:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville
Science Minister
House of Lords

                                                                                                 27th October 2005

Dear Lord Sainsbury,

Last week, when giving testimony1 to the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee, you were asked for your opinion of the proposed position statement on open access from Research Councils UK2, a document that expresses strong support for a move towards open access.

In your response, you repeated your call for "a level playing field" between open access and subscriber-only publishing models, a sentiment with which BioMed Central very much agrees. But you then went on suggest that open access was in decline, saying: "I think we have seen a peak in the enthusiasm for open access publishing and a fall-off in people putting forward proposals for it because some of the difficulties and costs are now becoming clear."

This suggestion of a decline in interest in open access publishing is not at all supported by the available evidence, and simply does not reflect what is happening in scientific publishing. BioMed Central Limited is the world's leading open access publisher. In the third quarter of 2005, BioMed Central's manuscript submissions were up 56% compared to the previous year, a growth rate far exceeding that of the science publishing industry as a whole. Public Library of Science, a leading US-based open access publisher, has experienced similarly rapid growth. Every month, new groups of scientists and societies approach BioMed Central to start open access journals, or to convert their existing journals to an open access model.

Several of the more enlightened traditional publishers have introduced their own open access experiments. Blackwell Publishing introduced Online Open, an open access experiment for 30 journals, in February 2005. Oxford University Press, which has already converted some journals to open access, launched Oxford Open in May this year. Springer, the world's second largest STM publisher, has offered an open access option (Springer Open Choice) for its 1,450 journals since May 2004, and just two months ago hired Jan Velterop as its Director of Open Access.3

The latest survey on the attitude of senior researchers to open access, carried out by an independent research group at City University and published in September 2005, reported that compared to a previous survey by the same group in March 2004:

The research community is now much more aware of the open access issue. There has been a large rise in authors knowing quite a lot about open access (up 10 percentage points from the 2004 figure) and a big fall in authors knowing nothing at all about open access (down 25 points). Secondly, the proportion of authors publishing in an open access journal has grown considerably from 11 per cent (2004) to 29 per cent. 4

The Publishers Association and the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers commissioned this study, a clear indication of continuing interest from STM publishers in the open access model.

Your suggestion that the costs of open access have led to a loss of enthusiasm for the model is also lacking in support. The most thorough survey so far of the costs involved in open access publishing, carried out in 2004 by the Wellcome Trust, the UK's largest biomedical research charity, concluded that open access research publishing would be likely to cost significantly less than the traditional model, and so would certainly be affordable to the scientific community5.

In relation to your call for a "level playing field", BioMed Central strongly agrees that this is desirable. But the continued strong growth in open access has not occurred on a remotely level playing field. It is a testament to the strength of the open access model that its growth has occurred despite the playing field being anything but level.
For example, many scientists have the perception that, when their funding is evaluated, they will be at a disadvantage if they have published in a new open access journal, rather than in a more established traditional journal, even though the quality of the research is identical. An over-reliance on Impact Factors, which are not available for many new journals due to the vagaries of the Institute for Scientific Information's decisions on journal tracking, can lead to a stifling of innovation in publishing. To create a level playing field, active steps are needed to ensure that scientists are confident that their research will be evaluated on its merits, whichever type of journal they choose to publish it in.

Similarly, it not a level playing field when the government appears to ignore the impartial advice of the Science & Technology Committee6 and of major research funders such as Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust with respect to open access archiving, and instead appears to give more weight to representations from the traditional publishing industry, arguing against change. Open access archives of published research are strongly desirable from the point of view of funders and research institutions. Objections from traditional publishers should not be allowed to weaken the initiative from Research Councils UK to require deposit in such archives. Publishers ought to be the servants of the scientific community, not its masters.

Open access to the results of research has the potential to deliver dramatic benefits across all sectors of UK society. Researchers in both academia and industry will benefit from more effective dissemination of their own work, and from increased access to the work of others. Health professionals in the NHS, and their patients, will benefit from easy access to the results of the latest medical research. The broad economic and social benefits that will result from the more open flow of scientific and medical knowledge will surely dwarf any possible impact on the traditional publishers. It is therefore shortsightedshort-sighted for the government to see this issue purely in terms of defending the publishing industry status quo.

BioMed Central calls on the government to support the RCUK proposed position statement, and not to bow to lobbying from traditional publishers to water down the statement. We also urge you to work to create a genuine level playing field for open access publishers, by removing some of the obstacles that currently stand in the way of authors who wish to publish in open access journals.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Cockerill

BioMed Central Limited

Notes and references

1. Minutes of evidence taken before Science and Technology Committee
Wednesday 19 October, 2005
Available from:
2. Proposed RCUK Position Statement on Access to Research Outputs
Available from:
3. Jan Velterop to help expand Open Choice
Available from:,,5-40575-2-157192-0,00.html
4. New journal publishing models: an international survey of senior researchers
Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER), 2005
Available from:
5. Costs and Business Models in Scientific Research Publishing
A report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, 2004
Available from:
6. Scientific publications: Free for all?
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee - Tenth Report, 2004
Available from:

Make your views known:
If you are based in the UK and believe that open access should be encouraged by the government, rather than opposed, contact the Science Minister and make your views known:
Write to: Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Science Minister, House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW
Don't forget to send BioMed Central a copy!


Grace Baynes
Marketing Communications Manager
BioMed Central
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Received on Fri Oct 28 2005 - 13:14:21 BST

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