The European Commission (EC) has said it plans to throw its weight behind a move to make scientific research results freely available online.
In a bid to speed up the dissemination of scientific discoveries, the EC said it plans to shake up the old-fashioned world of scientific publishing where, until now, results have been published in journals along with peer reviews of the research.
Publishers of scientific, technical and medical journals argue that the peer review system wouldn't work as reliably if results were published arbitrarily online.
"Nobody will benefit if a major European industry is undermined and with it the peer review system upon which science and society depend," said the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) in a statement ahead of the Commission’s announcement.
And publishers, which include giants like Reed Elsevier and McGraw-Hill, also co-signed a petition to Europe's lawmakers dubbed the ‘Brussels Declaration’, calling for leniency.
The EC is hosting a two-day conference this week with the publishers as well as with advocates of a free, internet-based model for scientific publishing.
In a statement, the Commission made it clear that it favours freer access to research results. It is planning to spend about €85 million (£57.2m) over the next two years improving the digital storage and online accessibility of scientific results.
Digital technologies are reshaping how research information is viewed, analysed and eventually published, it said. For example, about 90% of all science journals are now available online, often by subscription. But digital technologies are also leading to more "open access" publishing. This provides free and wide access to publications online. Better access to research data also opens the way to new types of uses and services, often through the reusing of past results as the raw material for new experimentation.
However, the Commission added that online access to current scientific information does not guarantee its future availability. Digital information has a limited lifetime and needs to be maintained over time. Better tools and organisational steps are necessary to ensure digital preservation and thus prevent the loss of importance scientific information, the Commission said.
"The digital revolution has led the European scientific community to suggest that an alternative publishing model, with better access to research publications, could further stimulate research excellence and innovation," Commissioner for Research Janez Potocnik told delegates at the conference.
Publishers association, STM had argued that it would be wrong for the Commission to favour one business model over another and urged it to back off from the scientific publishing sector.
But the association changed its tune Thursday, after learning how serious the Commission is about taking action.
"I am pleased that the Commission has recognised the complex issues that surround the publication and preservation of scientific information and has seen fit to initiate a dialogue rather than prematurely imposing a policy that could undermine STM publishing, which is such an important industry for Europe," said Michael Mabe, chief executive of STM said yesterday.
The STM welcomes the Commission's action plan "in the area of creating a level playing field for publication business models, recognizing that further research on preservation and economics is essential before adopting any policy positions," said the association in its latest statement.