28 October 2008

Haapy Birthday PLoS

The Public Library of Science did not invent open access, but there's no doubt it took it to the next level:

On the 13th of October in 2003, with the first issue of PLoS Biology, the Public Library of Science realized its transformation from a grassroots organization of scientists to a publisher. Our fledgling website received over a million hits within its first hour, and major international newspapers and news outlets ran stories about the journal, about science communication in general, and about our founders—working scientists who had the temerity to take on the traditional publishing world and who pledged to lead a revolution in scholarly communication (see, for example, [1,2]). It was not only scientists and publishers who wanted to see what this upstart start-up was doing; we had somehow captured the imagination of all sections of society. Not all of the reactions were positive, of course, especially from those in the scientific publishing sector with a vested interest in maintaining the subscription-based system of journal publishing. But thanks in no small part to the efforts of the founders—Pat Brown, Mike Eisen, and Harold Varmus—and an editorial team that included a former editor of Cell and several from Nature, our call for scientists to join the open-access revolution [3,4] did not go unheeded. Five years on, the publishing landscape has changed radically.

But what about the future?

The next challenge—for PLoS Biology, for PLoS and for all open-access publishers—is to demonstrate the utility of open access in advancing science beyond what can be gained from just making the information publicly available to read. The biggest misconception about open access is that it's only about putting online what was in print and removing any toll for access. It's not: it's about having the freedom to reuse that material without restriction [11]. Open-access publishing is therefore a crucial catalyst for a genuine shift in the way we use and mine the literature and integrate it with databases and other means of scientific communication. We are only just beginning to see the start of these: in video-based initiatives such as SciVee (Table 1); in knowledge discovery platforms such as Knewco, OSCAR, and the NeuroCommons (Table 1); with the increasing use of blogging in discourse about scientific research (see, for example, http://researchblogging.org/); and in the emergence of wiki projects in community-based knowledge curation [13,14].

I can't wait. Here's to the next five years.

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