The Public Library of Science’s first issue of PLoS Medicine journal is finally out, and it is a joy to see its birth.
PLoS is the American’s first open access journal, and is better funded and publicised than Britain’s BioMedCentral. The latter pioneered the field and hundreds of universities around the world are its customers.
The wonderful point about open access publishing is that its customers pay a small fee to cover the costs of peer review and publishing. The cost also covers making the content freely available to anyone through the internet. That means any reasearcher, clinician, or patient in the world can read the latest scientific literature free of charge. It also means that anyone can build on the content free of charge, and without asking permission. For example I have created a RepliGo version of the issue that works on handheld computers and smartphones.
Peter Suber has an excellent introduction to the benefits to society from open access publishing.
What is interesting to me is seeing the political process behind this. It is fine for scientists to choose between open access and closed access (where the reader pays) publishers when submitting their research results. But if the tax payer has funded the research – an enormous expense – it seems only right that the tax payer should be able to read the results of the research – at no expense.
So in the UK and the USA the legislative bodies are passing laws that demand that publicly-funded research must be available through open access. The publishers have been desperately lobbying against this for years. But it seems that they are losing the battle.