03 June 2006

Open Access: If Not Now, When?

Against a background of growing fears of an imminent pandemic triggered by avian 'flu, the announcement that a new journal, Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, is being launched by Blackwell Publishing to serve precisely this area, is welcome news. As the press release notes, quoting the editor of the new title:

"There is considerable concern among experts working in the fields of influenza and respiratory medicine that there is an urgent need for international collaboration on research and development" says Alan Hampson.

"The development of avian flu and conditions like SARS have given added impetus to the very real concern about the potential risk of an influenza pandemic

"Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses will provide an international platform for information and discussion among experts who will help to shape international responses to any outbreak."

Given this "urgent need for international collaboration on research and development" you might think that Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses would be open access to allow that collaboration to be as wide and rapid as possible; indeed, it is hard to think of another area in medicine today in which free access to the latest information could be considered such a matter of life and death - not just for a few patients, but for entire populations. And yet nowhere does the press release utter the magic words "open access".

It is true that Blackwell announced its "Online Open" last year, whereby authors can choose to pay a fee so that their article is immediately made freely available for all to access online. But this is not quite the same thing, and it places the onus on the author. Far better for Blackwell to make OA the default for this title: it would receive huge kudos for the move, and earn the world's gratitude.

It would be sad, to say the least, if the title were to go down in history as a tragic missed opportunity to mitigate or even avert an influenza pandemic that later cost so many millions of lives.

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