The University of Southampton

£1.5 billion lost annually in potential return on British science

Published: 14 September 2005

The UK is losing around £1.5 billion annually in the potential impact of its scientific research expenditure, according to one of the key figures in the global open access publishing movement. 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, has calculated the potential return on the investment in scientific research findings that are being lost to the UK each year through the limitations of the current academic publishing environment.

'Research Councils UK (RCUK) spends £3.5 billion of Government money annually funding British science,' says Harnad. 'This results in around 130,000 articles published each year in research journals, but the publication alone does not reflect the return on the UK's investment.

'Research, if it has any value, must not only be published, but used, applied, and built upon by other researchers,' he continues. '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".'

In an article published today ('Maximising the Return on UK's Public Investment Research',, Harnad calculates the value of the citation impacts that are being lost to the UK each year by the inaccessibility of many research papers. '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,' he says. 'Today, the online age has made it 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.'

Harnad has been one of the most vocal and persuasive advocates of open access provision over many years, and he has recently seen widespread acceptance of his recommendations. He vigorously supports the proposal from RCUK that would require UK researchers to deposit (on their institutional website) the text of any journal article resulting from RCUK-funded research.

He reveals today that the calculations of the value of research impact to be gained by a universal policy of self-archiving indicates a figure of at least £1.5 billion's worth annually. 'This is actually a conservative estimate,' says Harnad. 'It also takes no account of the much wider loss in revenue from potential usage and applications of UK research findings in the UK and worldwide, nor the still more general loss to the progress of human inquiry.'

He is calling for a full acceptance of the RCUK recommendation. 'We know that 90 per cent of journals already endorse author self-archiving,' he says, 'and that over 90 per cent of authors will comply.

'This is a historic moment for the UK to set an example for the world,' he concludes, 'showing how to maximize the return on public investment in research in the online era.'

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