Magazine article Information Today

Can Science and Nature Be Trumped?

Magazine article Information Today

Can Science and Nature Be Trumped?

Article excerpt

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) has just brought the debate over scholarly publishing's future to new heights. Thanks to a $9 million, 5-year grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a group of prominent scientists announced in December 2002 that it will create two peer-reviewed electronic journals. These titles will go after the same quality of scientific papers that are contained in the journals Science and Nature.

The new journals, PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine, will start publication this year. PLoS leadership states that both will retain all of the important features of scientific works, including rigorous peer-- review and high editorial and production standards. Since these titles are open access, all published work will be immediately available online and at no cost. The new journals, however, will not be the first to embrace a free-access policy. Others, including the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association, and BioMed Central (BMC), have already established such a model. Commercially published BMC currently offers 27 open-access journals. Twenty-one others are slated to launch soon.

PLoS is a nonprofit organization of scientists that was created to endorse free access to journal literature. Last year, the group asked scientific researchers to sign a controversial open letter as part of a campaign to require that publishers make journal contents freely available online. Because the campaign failed to persuade a significant number of publishers to change their policies, PLoS concluded that it would have to become a publisher itself in order to bring about the desired changes.

Input-Paid Model

To support itself, PLoS wants the institutions that generate the research to finance the publishing process. It intends to ask most authors to pay $1,500 per article, three times the amount that's requested for a submission to BMC. However, in either case, this is a fee that could be easily incorporated into the grant-funding process, in much the same way that grants pay for researchers to travel to deliver papers at conferences.

"The PLoS journals are also welcome in that they validate the business model that BMC has been operating for openaccess journals for some time now-i.e., the `input-paid' model," said BMC publisher Jan Velterop. "It is to be hoped that more initiatives of this kind will follow and also that existing (society) publishers will convert to this model."

The PLoS initiative has been led by Harold E. Varmus, president of the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, former director of the National Institutes of Health, and 1989 Nobel Laureate; Patrick 0. Brown of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and Stanford University; and Michael B. Eisen of Lawrence Orlando Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California-Berkeley.

"We think that Web publications that are instantly available for free and are readily searchable and downloadable very much support HHMI's mission," said Thomas Cech, president of HHMI and a member of PLoSs editorial board. "They are clearly the wave of the future in terms of our investigators disseminating their research discoveries and learning from the findings of others. In addition, we have a strong commitment to international science, and the current subscription system puts many journals out of the reach of our colleagues in poorer countries. …

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