Brussels, 08 Aug 2003
A coalition of researchers unhappy with the cost of subscriptions to scientific journals has decided to set up a 'public library of science', a new range of online publications freely available to all.
When scientists submit the results of their research for peer review, the key factors most consider when choosing a publication are its reputation and distribution. Recently, however, a group of researchers led by Dr Harold Varmus, the former Director of the US national institutes of health, has become concerned about the effect of high subscriptions on the dissemination of knowledge.
Several years ago, Dr Varmus sent a letter signed by some 30,000 researchers to the publishers of major scientific journals, calling on them to make their archived research articles freely available online. The group wished to challenge their costly subscriptions, sometimes thousands of euro per year, pointing in particular to the potential for cheap dissemination offered by the Internet.
Dr Varmus claims that most of the publishers turned down the request in order to protect the profits they generate through the sale of subscriptions to libraries. Therefore, he and his colleagues decided to take matters into their own hands.
In October, the public library of science will publish the first editions of PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine, which will be made freely available on the Internet with the aim of creating a free flow of data and results. The cost of producing the journals will be met by charging a small fee to the organisations and institutions that financed the research.
Dr Varmus believes that the free dissemination of knowledge, especially that resulting from research financed with public money, is an important principle and should ensure the success of the public library of science. It remains to be seen, however, how many scientists will value this principle above publication in those journals seen as the most prestigious in their field.
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