Thursday, May 1, 2008

PLoS and Open Access

Previously, I have referenced the Public Library of Science (PLoS). See for example, my recent blog on biodiversity. Also see the link on the right.

PLoS is an organization which publishes a number of online journals with the standards of peer review and cutting edge science you find in Nature or Science. However, it is a radical departure from most academic journals. The PLoS journals are what are called open access (OA) journals.

Open access journals are based on two criteria: no price barriers and no permission barriers. For a detailed explanation see Peter Suber's Open Access Overview

No price barriers means that it free to view the journal. Most journals have subscriptions, most are huge. For an amusing look at this serious topic see Sticker Shock 2 from Cornell University.

The major problem with this is that access to journals is extremely difficult, especially in developing countries. I am a scientist/engineer living in Thailand and it is extremely difficult to get academic articles. Libraries here do not have the budget to pay for journals and, of course, the journals are available online for subscribers only. How can we have technology transfer when there is restricted access to the information?

The second criteria for open access is no permission barriers. Most journals require that you sign away the copyright to your article. That is, the publishing company, not the author, owns the copyright. As an author, I find it disturbing that some else gets the rights to what I write.

For articles in PLoS the author keeps the copyright using the Creative Commons license. This license allows people to copy the article provided they credit the original author. (This blog is also under the Creative Commons license, click on the link at the bottom for more information.)

The open access "movement" is growing, as is the number of open access journals. This is despite opposition from publishers who do not want their revenue stream damaged.

Write academic articles for PLoS or other OA journals (for a list see the Directory of Open Access Journals, become a member of PLoS, or simply publicize open access. (For a more complete list of things to do see here).

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