Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

The battlefield for the control of knowledge will be won or lost in -

The battlefield for the control of knowledge will be won or lost in -
the library:

An important aspect of this weblog is to disseminate stories and ideas which are abroad in the world but which very often do not appear in our Anglo-centric media. If George Bush sneezes in Texas, we get the first exclusive strain of the virus here in Ireland courtesy of a news industry obsessed with trivia and, like the motor car, designed to fill up all available space.

The article below appeared in the Danish daily newspaper Politiken in October of this year and concerns a power struggle where the good guys need all the help they can get. Research scientists in all disciplines use a system of peer review to ensure that their initial findings are cross checked and, via a process of scientific discourse, any flaws in their work eliminated before a final account of their particular study is published. After this sometimes lengthy process a patent, or license, is applied for so that the product of the research can be placed on the market.

The article in Politiken concerns the ownership of these scientific journals and which parts of them are made available to a wider audience, particularly university libraries, where a student should, in theory, be able to go to his/her library and find the latest research in the chosen field. What has happened instead, however, is that a small and select group of publishers have created monopoly ownership of these important documents. Very often, they will ask that the research author gives up the rights to the document before publication. Once the rights are obtained by the publishers the researcher's initial monograph will be the only thing that will be made available to a wider audience – which is a bit like telling the story of 1916 but leaving out the GPO.
Only those libraries which can afford the subscription fees will be supplied with the full research documentation. These journals are also published on the internet but can only be accessed via subscription. In this way and ironically, the Internet can be seen to have become a restriction on the diffusion of knowledge and therein lies a tale.
Read on:

Knowledge is power - far too much power

The journal which covers medicines for 'exotic pets' costs 284 dollars for a yearly subscription. For around 1,800 kroner, one receives four issues of the journal which in every number offers a « fresh overview of a particular subject dealing with medicines for birds or exotic pets«. This is a must for the, in all, 775 subscribers world wide and is a price, furthermore, which ensures that the journal’s publishers, the Elsevier-group, can do some business on it. Nuclear Physics B is another one of the group’s products. It is one of the absolute best journals for nuclear physicists, and the price reflects this. A year’s subscription costs 14,452 euro, or around 100.000 kroner for those research institutes that wish to have this journal stocked in their library.
In return for this investment, on the other hand, you obtain from two to four hundred pages each week, packed with new top drawer research findings. Meat and drink for any self respecting physics institute. But unfortunately so astronomically dear, that universities and research institutes, amongst others, are beginning to struggle when it comes to paying the bill.
These two publications represent opposing polarities within the world of scientific journals. However, they have two things in common. The are published by the same business concern. And they are dear. Far too dear, according to a growing number of universities and research institutes.

»Scientific journals have in recent years, via buy outs and amalgamations, become concentrated in the hands of a small number of substantial publishers, which are nearing monopoly control in the dissemination of research finding at the same time, prices have gone through the roof. We can see a situation arising where we are no longer, able to buy access to those journals which are necessary in order that researchers can carry out their work« , says Erland Kolding Jørgensen. He is director at The Royal Library, which also functions as a university library for Copenhagen University. He is also the chairman of “Liber”, the association of European research libraries.
Kolding Jørgensen has, furthermore, just recently signed up - on behalf of both Liber and The Royal Library – to the so called Berlin Declaration.The declaration was drawn up in 2003 and forms a part of the resistance to hefty price rises in scientific literature.

The signatories also pledge themselves to target those publishers which put pressure on researchers to hand over the rights to their research articles to those same publishers.

»Of course researchers want to get their findings into the most recognised journals. This gives you prestige. But the publishers are pressurising researchers into giving up the rights to those articles before publication. This means that if a researcher from Copenhagen University needs to scrutinise the work of a colleague carried out at the university, the public must pay again via subscription for that journal in which he or she has published the findings« , says Erland Kolding Jørgensen.
It is primarily for this reason that libraries, universities and a number of large scientific companies have launched a counter offensive.The Berlin Declaration calls upon all its signatories - and these have increased considerably in number – to work in furthering the academic world’s most important weapon in the fight against publisher dominance: free magazines and journals and electronic archives which make research findings accessible for free to anyone having a connection to the internet.

«A section of the publishing world has reacted to this with total panic«, explains Mary Waltham. was previously USA director and publisher of the most esteemed scientific journal of them all - “Nature”. Prior to that, she was the director and publisher of an equally prestigious medicinal journal – “Lancet”. Nowadays, she is an independent consultant for that part of the publishing sector which deals with scientific journals.
She predicts that the next few years will bring in large-scale changes with regards to the dissemination of scientific findings.

»It is obvious that costs cannot continue to rise in the way we have seen in recent years. The training and education sector, which is the publishers core market, is unable to pay that kind of money. In the USA, several of the large regional universities – which actually have very high standards – have begun to deselect certain titles which they would like to have in the library but simply cannot afford«, she says.
There is no doubt that it has become more expensive to keep researchers ajour with their areas of research. Last year, the large British research fund Wellcome Trust carried out an analysis of the scientific publications market. The analysis studied, amongst other things, the Blackwell group which, with around 750 different scientific journals, is one of the larger publishers in the market. During the 1990's, the average price of its journals and magazines had almost tripled. Since then, the price rises have fallen slightly in terms of tempo, but price rises of 7 to 8 percent per year are still the norm for this sector.
To some extent, this can be explained by the fact that journals and magazines have got bigger. Partly because more research findings are being produced that can be written about, and partly because the researchers themselves are writing more articles based on the same research projects because more articles looks good on your CV , Mary Waltham explains. And that development, she predicts, is set to continue:

»The most significant factor affecting the price rises is that we are seeing a boom in the number of new research articles. And this is only the start. When the Chinese seriously begin to move with regards to publishing their own research; well, just watch« , she says.
The yearly accounts for the Elsevier group indicate, however, that despite rising costs, the publishing of research findings still makes particularly good business sense. The group publishes some 2.000 different scientific journals which combined amounts to a print run of ca. 25 percent of all scientific articles written across the world.
Elsevier saw a turn over last year of just under 15 billion kroner from its scientific journals department. This gave an operating return of over 5 billion kroner. The previous years results were just as good. The profit margins, and executive salary levels amongst the publishers of more than one million dollars, has put wind in the sails of the movement against these publishers. A movement, which has formed itself around the concept of 'open access'.

The Internet is shutting knowledge in.
The Open Access movement was officially started in the beginning of 2001 at a meeting in Budapest organised by the financier and philanthropist George Soros's 'Open Society Institute’. The background to the meeting was a rising concern that research findings might no longer be freely circulated amongst researchers but would, instead, become ensnared in a web of copyright and accounting issues which would restrict research, especially in poor countries, where the cost of certain journals hits research budgets especially hard.
Strangely enough the rise of the internet is one of the reasons for concern. Publishers cannot control the consumption of journals and magazines which are issued on paper. Once they are sold, anybody can read them. But when publishers, in the run of the 1990's, gradually moved over to publishing electronic editions of their magazines, they achieved far stricter control over who received access to them, because it then become necessary to log on to the publisher’s website in order to read the article.
»The internet is the cheapest and most democratic medium, we know of but there is also a trend in the direction of its being used to shut knowledge in. Especially within the area of research« , says Erland Kolding Jørgensen.

The Open Access movement works to promote two things in particular: so called open access journals where it is not the readers but the authors who pay for publication, and electronic archives for all research institutes, where researchers and other interest groups can get « immediate, permanent and free online access to the full text of all articles which have been shown in a journal under conditions of quality assessment«, as it is expressed in the Berlin Declaration. This was drawn up at a meeting in Berlin in 2003 which was sponsored the Max Planck company, a German non-profit organisation which runs a number of elite research institutions in Germany.
The Declaration has since been signed by 132 institutions, including all the larger German research companies, the French CNRS (the organisation which operates a number of the best research institutes in France), and the CERN centre for nuclear physics research in Switzerland.
Open Access journals have made headway in the last few years with a small number of very prominent advocates. The British Medical Journal, one of the world’s leading medicinal journals, has become an open access publication and the American online publisher Biomed Central publishes over 100 journals on the basis of open access. Many of them have great influence within their respective research areas.
Typically, open access journals earn their money via the fact that the author’s pay for quality assessments and publishing, instead of the readers paying for reading them. This means that more people get access to the findings, and more private and public research funds have declared themselves willing to retain a part of the money they provide for research for this type of publishing.
Despite this, Mary Waltham believes that open access journals will never represent anything other than a niche corner in the market.
»That kind of thing will only be able to survive within those research areas where the market is big enough. Open Access journals are an attempt to relieve the price pressure on universities. But it will never be a complete solution. And if one looks at it from the top down for a moment, it is, of course, actually irrelevant whether it is the tax payers that are paying so that the library can buy the journals, or whether the tax payers, via the research funds, pay a bit more to the researchers so that they can pay the journals to print their research« , says Mary Waltham, but then adds:

«All this may, however, end up pushing down the prices of journals because they will sharpen competition within the market.«Reliable archives?
Strategic director at the Elsevir group, Nick Fowler feels in no way threatened by the concept of free access to journals.
»A study carried out by independent analysts has shown that 40 percent of open access journals are running at a loss. Only around one percent of all articles are published in this way at the moment. And that figure has remained constant for many years« says Fowler.
He is not of the opinion that publishers are paying themselves too much in earning 33 kroner out of every journal sold for 100.
»Much of that money is ploughed straight back. We incur costs as we increase our digital content which is of great benefit to researchers. And we are digitising previous issues of our journals. Above and beyond that, the key factor in our work, that is that we protect our content, has been maintained at all times« .
It is precisely this task: the ability to preserve research findings for posterity which is, in a way, one of the main challenges for publishers as Nick Fowler sees things.
And it is a challenge which he believes the Open Access movement will find difficult to guarantee. According to Fowler, the open electronic archives at research institutes such as the ones the Berlin Declaration refers would prove themselves to be unreliable.
»They do not protect the data in the way that we do.A study amongst 5.000 researchers showed that only 35 pct. would place their trust on things they found in those archives. And where science is concerned, you cannot afford an uncertainty percentage of 65« , he says.
Critics of publishers reply in turn that restrictions are placed on electronic archives by those same publishers. Elsevier allows the authors of those articles they place in their journals to publish one copy of their own manuscript in the electronic archive of their research institute. But the publisher does not allow free publication of the final version, which has been through that quality control and development process of the article which is called peer-review.
And Nick Fowler admits that this does not have great value for researchers.

»Researchers do not gain any great benefit by working on other versions of research findings than the final peer-reviewed version. We will not give open access to that. There are very few publishing houses that would. The reason being that, if we were to give free access, we would lose control of how it was used.And then we could not stand as guarantors for the reliability of each individual article« , says Fowler.
A new role for publishers
The big question now is whether the large scientific companies and libraries behind the Berlin Declaration can get the universities to join the bandwagon. For if the universities accept a situation where their researchers may only publish in journals which - in opposition to Elsevier and the big players – guarantee that the final peer reviewed article my be published for free, this will hit the large publishers where it hurts most.
Their journals are only as valuable as the research on which they are reporting. And if the best researchers in these universities are forced to go somewhere else with their articles, no one will be prepared to pay up to 100.000 kroner per year, for an article which can be got for free somewhere else.It is, for this reason, precisely here that Erland Kolding Jørgensen sees the bigger picture coming into play.
»With the signing up of Libers to the Berlin Declaration, we have a large group of research libraries on board. They are now going to start putting pressure on the universities to which they belong, so that they also adopt the principles of open access «, he says.
Mary Waltham also believes that the universities own archives could bring about a substantial change in the publishing sector.
»It will not mean the death of scientific publishing. But it will cause major change«,says Waltham.

»I believe that it will lead to a situation where journals change roles from being a place where one can read the research findings themselves to a place where one has a guide to source the enormous amount of new findings now available. These journals will become the place where researchers can obtain commentaries, analysis and contributions into particular areas of research. Because researchers will still need help in deciding what the best thing is to read« .

Background information: An industry worth billions

The publishing market for scientific findings is enormous and incalculable. A report by the OECD in 2004 estimates that there is a turnover of between 7 and 11 billion dollars in the scientific section of the publishing sector, or about one and half percent of the research grants given by OECD-countries. This money comes predominantly from universities and other training institutes. This represents around one and a half percent of combined grants given for research.
In Denmark, the (DEFF) Det Elektroniske Fag og Forskningsbibliotek, negotiates agreements with publishers on behalf of a large number of research institutes and libraries. DEFF's agreement amounts to:

2003: 45 mio. kr.
2004: 75 mio. kr.
2005: 85 mio. kr.
DEFF stresses however, that these figures do not just reflect price rises but also the fact that several institutions are included in the same agreement and that access has been negotiated to several journals, as well as amendments in methods of payment. The Berlin Declaration

Background information: The Berlin Declaration

The Berlin Declaration forms part of a campaign to expand free access to research findings.In all, 132 institutions has signed up to the declaration. Read more at: (English).


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