Wednesday, September 14, 2005

£1.5 billion lost annually in potential return on British science?

In a preprint archived today, Professor Stevan Harnad, Moderator of the American Scientist Open Access Forum and Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science, estimates the potential return on the UK's investment in its scientific research findings that is being lost to the UK each year through the limitations of the current academic publishing environment are £1.5 billion annually.

Arguing that the United Kingdom is not making the most of its public investment in research, Harnad points out that the Research Councils UK (RCUK) currently spend £3.5 billion pounds annually, and the UK produces at least 130,000 research journal articles per year, but that publication alone does not maximise the return on that investment.

"Research, if it has any value, must not only be published, but used, applied, and built upon by other researchers," he explains in a Southampton University press release publicising his paper. "This 'research impact' can be measured by the number of times an article is cited by other articles — the more accurate way to regard it is as a 'citation impact'."

He adds that under the current publishing model "a published article is accessible only to those researchers who happen to be at institutions that can afford to subscribe to the particular journal in which it was published." As such, the number of times it is cited will be limited by the number of people who can gain access to it.

However, in the online age, he adds, it is now possible for authors to self-archive their publications by placing them on their own institutional website "thereby providing free access to the research to everyone who is interested."

In the abstract to his paper — Maximising the Return on UK's Public Investment in Research — Harnad explains how he has attempted to estimate the cost to researchers and the country of failing to self-archive: "The online-age practice of self-archiving has been shown to increase citation impact by a dramatic 50-250%, but so far only 15% of researchers are doing it spontaneously," he says, adding: "Citation impact is rewarded by universities (through promotions and salary increases) and by research-funders like RCUK (through grant funding and renewal) at a conservative estimate of £46 per citation"

Based on this, Harnad estimates that the 85% of the UK's annual journal article output that is not yet self-archived translates into an annual loss of £2,541,500 in revenue to UK researchers "for not having done (or delegated) the few extra keystrokes per article it would have taken to self-archive their final drafts."

He adds that if we then calculate the loss of potential returns on UK research investment the impact loss translates into a far bigger one for the British public. "As a proportion of the RCUK’s yearly £3.5bn research expenditure, our conservative estimate would be 50% x 85% x £ = £1.5bn worth of loss in potential research impact."

The solution, he concludes, is obvious, and one that has been proposed by the RCUK. We should "extend the existing universal 'publish or perish' requirement to 'publish and also self-archive your final draft on your institutional website'."

In short, Harnad believes that the UK needs without delay to mandate all its publicly-funded researchers to deposit copies of their papers in e-print repositories — thereby maximising the return on the UK's research-investment dollars, and in the process maximising the financial gain to researchers themselves!

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