Publishing and the Scientific Community
Publishing is changing rapidly, as is the management of much of the scientific community world wide. Unfortunately there are features of both that should give considerable cause for alarm if one cares to look forward a few years. Let's begin with the remarkable consolidation of wonership in scientific publishing culminating in the latest move - the acquisition of Harcourt by Reed Elsevier- which has been investigated by the Competition Commission in the UK as being potentially against the public interest. Those who buy Reed Elsevier journals at present will know that their subscription rates are some of the highest in the world. It is not obvious that scientists will see any benefit from this takeover. Indeed, what will happen to the provision of information to working scientists as library budgets decline everywhere? Is increasingly expensive equipment for experimental use really more important than the literature? Governments will say that the Web will meet scientists needs to which my reply is that much of its content is uncontrolled rubbish and it certainly does not replace the quality controlled material available in the journals. So our first conclusion for the future could be that consolidation of ownership of journals is bad for science and unless, there is a significant change in library funding, many commercial journals are likely to price themselves out of the general market, leaving only those published by learned societies or charities at an affordable level. Bad news.