21 August 2009

PLoS Reinvents Publishing and Saves the World

As someone who has been writing about open access for some years, I find myself returning again and again to the Public Library of Science. That's because, not content with pioneering open access, PLoS has time and again re-invented the broader world of scientific publishing. Now, it's done it again:

Today, after several months of work, I’m delighted to announce that PLoS is launching PLoS Currents (Beta) – a new and experimental website for the rapid communication of research results and ideas. In response to the recent worldwide H1N1 influenza outbreak, the first PLoS Currents research theme is influenza.

Note the emphasis on "rapid": this is absolutely crucial, as I've noted before. The current system of publishing papers is simply too slow to deal with pandemics, where speed is of the essence if we're to have a chance of nipping them in the bud. It's good to see PLoS stepping in to help address this major problem.

It's doing it in a very interesting way:

PLoS Currents: Influenza, which we are launching today, is built on three key components: a small expert research community that PLoS is working with to run the website; Google Knol with new features that allow content to be gathered together in collections after being vetted by expert moderators; and a new, independent database at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) called Rapid Research Notes, where research targeted for rapid communication, such as the content in PLoS Currents: Influenza will be freely and permanently accessible. To ensure that researchers are properly credited for their work, PLoS Currents content will also be given a unique identifier by the NCBI so that it is citable.


The key goal of PLoS Currents is to accelerate scientific discovery by allowing researchers to share their latest findings and ideas immediately with the world’s scientific and medical communities. Google Knol’s features for community interaction, comment and discussion will enable commentary and conversations to develop around these findings. Given that the contributions to PLoS Currents are not peer-reviewed in detail, however, the results and conclusions must be regarded as preliminary. In time, it is therefore likely that PLoS Currents contributors will submit their work for publication in a formal journal, and the PLoS Journals will welcome these submissions.

PLoS Currents: Influenza is an experiment and a prototype for further PLoS Currents sites. It reflects our commitment to using online tools to the fullest extent possible for the open sharing of research results. As with any new project, we will be listening carefully to the reactions within and beyond the scientific and medical communities and welcoming suggestions for improvements.

This is really exciting from many viewpoints. It's pushing the ideas behind open access even further; it's reshaping publishing; and it may even save humanity. (Via James Boyle.)

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