Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Medical History" going from free, Open Access, Creative Commons licensed to copyright-controlled closed access

In a controversial move, the journal Medical History is moving from being an "Open Access, no Article Processing Fee" journal to being a closed, copyrighted, fee-charging journal.

1957: the launch
The first issue of Medical History, edited by W. J. Bishop, appeared in 1957 (front matter).  Medical History rapidly established itself as a journal of primary importance in the field of medical history, especially in the anglophone world.  In many ways the evolution of the journal's content from 1957 to the present day is a mirror of the evolution of the field of medical history itself, from the reminiscences of senior physicians to the work of professionalised medical and social historians.  From its earliest issues it included the writings of such figures as Charles Singer, Lynn Thorndike, and Walter Pagel, and over more than half a century Medical History has become a journal of record for its academic field.

At its launch, the journal was printed and published by Dawsons of Pall Mall.  An annual subscription to four issues cost $7.50, or $2.50 for society members.

1960: Wellcome Trust funding
In 1960, just a year before his death, Bishop published a letter to the readers announcing that the Wellcome Trust had made a five-year grant to enable the journal to continue publication.  This grant was an appropriate decision by the Trust, at that time still bound by the terms of Sir Henry Wellcome's Will that included a stipulation that the Trust should support the study of the history of medicine (see, e.g., the first and first and second reports of the Wellcome Trust).

1965: Wellcome Trust ownership
Five years later, when the Wellcome Trust's initial grant came to an end, Dawsons decided no longer to publish the journal, and "surrendered all their rights in the journal."  Its publication was transferred to the Wellcome Historical Medical Library (see here).  Since the WHML was owned and solely funded by the Wellcome Trust, this change effectively institutionalised the Trust's support for Medical History.  That support has enabled the journal to continue publication until last year.

2005-2011: The Open Access years
But the single biggest change in the journal's history came in 2005.  That year, the Wellcome Trust issued a public statement as follows:
Medical History – entire archive freely available online
The first complete archive of a medical history journal has been deposited into PubMed Central, as part of a £1.25 million programme led by the Wellcome Trust, Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the US National Library of Medicine (NLM). 
In addition to the digitization of the back catalogue, all future issues of Medical History will be made freely available online at the time of publication.
This project supports the Wellcome Trust’s position of supporting open access to scientific literature, and complements the ongoing work to establish a UK PubMed Central. 
(Bold print mine.  See full announcement.)
The editors of Medical History also announced the move to Open Access in a statement in July 2005, and an agreement was signed between the Wellcome Trust and UCL in September 2005 that stipulated that all intellectual property for the journal was vested in UCL, that all management decisions would be taken by the editors at the UCL Wellcome Centre, and that the journal would be completely Open Access.

Following these changes, the entire archive of Medical History, from 1957 to the present, was digitized and put online at PubMedCentral (here), and publication in print and online was handled by the British Medical Journal Group.

Between 2005 and 2011, in accordance with the Wellcome Trust's Open Access policy, each issue of Medical History has appeared in print and online more or less simultaneously.  As the Trust says on its website,
It is a fundamental part of our charitable mission to ensure that the work we fund can be read and utilised by the widest possible audience. We therefore support unrestricted access to the published outputs of research through our open access policy.
Not only were the articles in Medical History published Open Access, but the journal charged no Article Processing Fee (APF).  For both authors and readers, Medical History was free. And authors retained their copyright under a Creative Commons license.  These are the most enlightened policies in the three key issues of modern academic publishing: free authorship, free readership, and authors' retention of copyright.  (A large contemporary literature discusses the new business models underlying these new structures of academic publishing.)

As everyone knows, these policies are critically important for authors on low incomes, including scholars from eastern Europe and many parts of Asia and Africa.  Only these policies guarantee that readers everywhere can benefit from research findings, and that researchers can contribute their own work for open publication and dissemination without encountering a financial barrier.  The Wellcome Trust and the journal's editors broke important new ground in this policy change, adopting the highest ethical and research standards.

2006: EAHMJ partnership
In 2006, Medical History partnered with the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health, becoming the official journal of that association, and accepting EAHMH members onto its board of editors (announcement).  In doing so, the journal returned to its roots in one sense, since it had started in 1957 as the organ of a consortium of medical history societies.  At the time of writing (spring 2012), the EAHMH website still presents Medical History as its society journal, stating that,
The EAHMH encourages publication in the journal Medical History. Medical History is a refereed journal devoted to all aspects of the history of medicine and health, with the goal of broadening and deepening the understanding of the field, in the widest sense, by historical studies of the highest quality. It is also the journal of the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health. The membership of the Editorial Board, which includes senior members of the EAHMH, reflects the commitment to the finest international standards in refereeing of submitted papers and the reviewing of books.
Plans were made in 2009 to bring Medical History and the EAHMH closer together, creating a single subscription to both the journal and to the society.  However, before these plans could be finalized, the Wellcome Centre closed and the management of the journal moved briefly into limbo.

2010: The Wellcome Trust Centre shuts
The chief editors of Medical History were always senior research staff at the Wellcome Historical Medical Library.  That institution changed its name several times, finally becoming the "Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London" in 2000 (announcement by its then Director Roy Porter).

Ten years later, in 2010, in a controversial change of policy, the Wellcome Trust announced the closure of the Wellcome Centre (Wellcome Trust announcement, Times Higher Education reports here, and here, The Telegraph).  The majority of senior staff retired or dispersed to other centres worldwide, and Centre's programs in teaching and research were closed.  A small cross-departmental group remained at UCL, focussing on the history of neuroscience (here).  What would happen to Medical History?

2011: Interregnum
After the closing of the Wellcome Trust Centre, editorial control of the journal passed to UCL staff, including Roger Cooter and Vivian Nutton, who wrote an editorial statement in 2011 that was bullish about the future health of the journal, in spite of the closure of the Centre and the presumed loss of Wellcome Trust funding (Nutton and Cooter 2011 and  Cooter 2011).  Just one more issue of Medical History has appeared in the Open Access PubMedCentral archive since the last statement, the fourth and last for 2011.  At the time of writing (Feb 2012), references to Medical History on the UCL website lead to dead links.

2012: Cambridge University Press takes over
An announcement on 30 Jan 2012 by Cambridge University Press explains that the editorial control of Medical History has moved to the University of York, and that the journal has a new editor, Sanjoy Bhattacharya, a reviews editor, and an editorial board comprising no fewer than forty-six members, about thirty more editors than the journal has ever had before.  The journal is still supported by the Wellcome Trust, though details are not given.  According to an announcement by Bhattacharya, "the ownership of this journal has passed to Cambridge University Press." 

Cambridge University Press (CUP) is now operating the journal as a Closed Access journal.  If you wish to publish your article Open Access with a Creative Commons license, and retain your own copyright, you must pay $1350 or £850 (here).  CUP requires all non-paying authors to sign a contract transferring their copyright to CUP (contracts here).  The contract permits authors to post a pre-publication, pre-final-editing copy on their own or their university's website.  The terms also state that, "All articles will automatically be deposited in PubMedCentral upon publication" (statement).  But since PubMedCentral is an Open Access, full text website, it is hard to see why an author would pay $1350 if the full text of their article is to appear free in PubMedCentral in any case.  The answer seems to be in the terms of CUP's contract, that suggests that it only the pre-publication version of articles that will appear in PubMedCentral from now on, and not the final published version, as in the past.

At the time of writing (Feb 2012) the January issue of Medical History has not appeared in PubMedCentral.  It will be interesting to see the terms on which it does appear there.

CUP website
Cambridge University Press is keen to promote the journal by pointing to its illustrious past, and has a "Highlights of a Decade" page, showcasing selected articles.  But several of these articles, although originally published Open Access and copyrighted by their authors, are presented on CUP's website as being published by CUP, and have been assigned a DOI pointing to CUP's website, and a statement that the article was published online on 07 December 2011.  There is no reference to PubMedCentral, where the articles were actually published online, and much earlier, and where they are still freely downloadable.  CUP did not publish these articles.  The full text of the articles is not available on the CUP website, nor is there any suggestion that these "Highlights of a Decade" can be read freely at PubMedCentral.

Maybe CUP will solve these problems in the future, and come to a more graceful accommodation with the Medical History's Open Access past.


References and notes
Editors of Medical History:
  • W. J. Bishop, (1957-1961), 5 years.
  • F. N. L. Poynter (1962-1972),  11 years.
  • Edwin Clarke (1973-1979),  7 years.
  • William F. Bynum and Vivian Nutton (1980-1999),  21 years.
  • William F. Bynum and Anne Hardy (2000-2002), 3 years.
  • Harold J. Cook and Anne Hardy (2003- 2010), 8 years.
  • Vivian Nutton and Roger Cooter (2011),
  • Sanjoy Bhattacharya (2012- )
Declaration of interest
I have published in Medical History.


  1. I'm afraid Dominik is mistaken here, so let me take the opportunity to set the record straight.

    Medical History will continue to be fully archived (green archiving) on Pub Med Central (PMC) upon publication. The content deposited there will be the final, published version of record, as soon as possible after publication, with no embargo whatsoever. The content currently available on PMC remains copyright of the author and may not be re-used without the permission of the author and publisher.

    Throughout the last decades the journal has continued to be sold to libraries and individual subscribers in print format, and this was the only route to access the content until 2005, when the journal was deposited on PMC, thanks to the generous digitisation funding provided by the Wellcome Trust.

    From 2012 authors will also have an ADDITIONAL option - to publish their work under a Creative Commons licence. The articles published under this licence will be available for download immediately upon publication on the Cambridge site (Gold OA), and all content will continue to be archived immediately on PMC.

    Authors or their funding bodies will pay an article processing fee in order to publish their work Gold OA in this way. All other authors will be able to publish their work under the traditional model of a regular transfer of copyright form and green archiving on PMC.

    Thanks to the work of the Wellcome Trust and Cambridge University Press, the long-term future of the journal is secure. Medical History will continue to be prodcued and distributed on a subscription model until a sufficient proportion of authors publish Gold OA and the journal is self-sustaining. At that point the subscription model will end.

    Sanjoy Bhattacharya

    Medical History

    Centre for Global Health Histories,
    University of York, UK

    1. A technical fault with blogspot prevented me posting my reply here in the "comment" area, so I have posted it as a separate blog entry, here:

    2. A technical fault with blogspot prevented me posting my reply here in the "comment" area, so I have posted it as a separate blog entry here.

    3. Dear Sanjoy, could I invite you to respond to the point in my rejoinder above, about the difference between your policy statements about the journal Medical History, and those of its new publisher, Cambridge University Press. It would be useful to everyone to have these matters cleared up.

  2. Thanks for sharing this blog with us I am very thakful to you.please click:
    bentham science publishers