SPARC Europe’s response to the inaccuracies in the article by the Daily Mail’s City Editor on 18 June

SPARC Europe has responded to the inaccuracies in the article by the Daily Mail’s City Editor on 18 June (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/news/article-2160753/Open-access-puts-UK-jobs-risk.html) as follows:

Mr Alex Brummer
City Editor
Daily Mail

18 June 2012

Dear Mr Brummer,

Your article on Open Access in today’s Daily Mail contains many inaccuracies and makes intemperate claims.

First, contrary to your assertion that ‘thousands’ of jobs would be at risk if the UK Government follows the lead of the European Commission and many other public research funders around the world, the likelihood of jobs being created is immense. The US figures alone (see the Battelle report: http://www.battelle.org/spotlight/5-11-11_genome.aspx) for the upshot of the Human Genome Project, where the findings were made openly accessible to all, are:

  • the 3.8 billion USD federal investment generated economic activity worth 796 billion USD
  • i.e. every federal dollar invested generate 141 dollars in the economy
  • 3.8 million job-years of employment were created (with an average $63,700 personal income per job-year)
  • in 2010 alone, some 7 years after the end of the research programme, 310,000 jobs were created in the US economy

My own work in collaboration with Professor John Houghton for the Danish Government showed that difficulties in accessing the research literature for innovation-based SMEs in Denmark:

  • delay product development by an average of 2.2 years
  • cost an average of €4.8 million per company
  • cost the Danish economy around €73 million per year

If you would like further reading on this aspect of Open Access, try the US’s Committee for Economic Development’s recent report: http://www.ced.org/component/blog/entry/1/765

You should also note that, even in academic publishing, Open Access has already created many jobs. When you have time, take a look at the Open Access publishers BioMed Central (London) and Public Library of Science (Cambridge). There is a proven business model that can be adopted: it’s unfortunate that the big subscription publishers persuade you of their case alone, simply because they are unable to adapt to the demands of modern science.

Second, you seem to misunderstand what academic publishers do. They do not ‘closely scrutinise’ the research before publication: that step is done, for free, by researchers themselves through the process of peer review.  They do not protect the research of the UK’s leading pharmaceutical companies from intellectual piracy: what a very strange notion! If something is to be published in an academic journal by a pharmaceutical company then the decision to make it available has already been taken. Those findings that pharma companies wish to protect in order to develop products most certainly never find their way anywhere near an academic publisher in the first place. The idea that these sophisticated companies send everything to publishers and trust them to make decisions about which they should keep private is completely absurd.

The fact is that academic publishers get their raw material (the articles) for free from researchers who give that intellectual property away because what counts for their careers is reputational capital, which they accrue from publishing and gaining acknowledgement and citation from their peers.

The peer review is done, for free, by the same body of researchers. The material is then published, sold to those wealthy enough to afford the thousands – sometimes tens of thousands – of pounds a year it costs to subscribe to these journals, and the publisher copyrights the articles, thus privatising publicly-funded knowledge.

Third, you say that publishers fear that academic material may be made freely available to researchers in ‘China and elsewhere in the Far East’. Heavens, what a dreadful prospect. Should we hide our taxpayer-funded knowledge from the Scandinavians, too? Maybe the Swiss? The Peruvians? This is not classified material: it’s published. You can be sure that our publishers are not picky about selling it to anyone with the readies, including in ‘China and elsewhere in the Far East’, right now. Just pay up
and you can have it.

But the paying is difficult. To read one article costs about £25. To subscribe to one of the most expensive journals can cost £10,000. Harvard University, the wealthiest on the planet, has just announced that it cannot any longer keep up with the cost of academic journals: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/apr/24/harvard-university-journal-pub
lishers-prices
. Heaven help the developing world, shouldering 90% of the world’s health problems without a hope of keeping up with the medical literature.

Fourth, you say that publishers are concerned that Open Access may cause some of the UK’s biggest scientific companies, such as GSK, to move work abroad. Did you check this unlikely scenario with GSK? Open Access is a winner for the pharmaceutical companies, because the material for which they currently pay millions of pounds in subscriptions would be freely available
on the Web. Why this should make them up sticks and move is not clear: perhaps you can explain?

Fifth, the UK will not be alone as it moves towards making publicly-funded work freely available. In the US, the Federal Research Public Access Act is in Congress with bipartisan support. It will make the results of all the largest federally-funded agencies (such as the EPA, the NSF, etc) freely available, following the example of the National Institutes of Health which has had a policy to do this since 2007 (and no US pharma companies moved out of the US as a result). Public research funders in Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Canada, Spain, Norway, Australia, and Argentina have done the same, with more countries in the process. And note, no publishers have gone out of business as a result.

Finally, you mention piracy in the same metaphorical breath as Open Access. Do you think they equate? Is taxpayer-funded knowledge, given away by its creators, the same, in your view, as the outputs of the creative industries?

Yours sincerely,

Alma Swan
Director of European Advocacy programmes
SPARC Europe

SPARC Global