To follow up my earlier article on persecuting Open Access (OA) Journals, I thought I would discuss the first OA journal that came to my attention: the Public Library of Science, or PLOS for short. PLOS describes itself as a “nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization founded to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication.” The core objectives of this organization mirror that description, with emphasis on eliminating obstacles that prevent open access and sharing of information in research, while still maintaining high standards of quality in their publications. PLOS began in 2000 as an idea put forth by Harold Varmus, Patrick Brown, and Michael Eisen in an open letter that proposed the establishment of an online, public library dedicated to providing complete access to scientific research related to medicine and the life sciences. Reflecting the growing support for this idea, PLOS became a publisher in its own right in 2003, and today it is probably the most widely-recognized OA journal in the sciences. PLOS still remains focused on medial and life sciences, and now features a suite of journals: PLOS ONE, PLOS Biology, PLOS Medicine, PLOS Genetics, PLOS Computational Biology, PLOS Pathogens, and PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
The case that PLOS makes for OA is familiar. PLOS defines Open Access as “unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse.” The argument that is made points out that many scientists do not realize the cost and negotiation that is required of their respective institutions for access to articles. The argument is made that paying for access is understandable in the context of a printed publication model, but this model is out-dated in a digital world where potentially anyone and everyone in the world could have access to that information (in theory). PLOS has chosen to apply the Creative Commons Attribution License to works that they publish. Creative Commons is another nonprofit that is dedicated to the cause of increasing freedom of access and the sharing of information and creative works. It provides a free and simple means of notifying users which rights are reserved and which rights are waived with regards to the work in question. In the case of PLOS, this means that articles are available for copy, reuse, or distribution at no cost to the user, provided that the work is properly cited. Unfortunately, free distribution and OA to articles is not completely free. PLOS must still operate as a business in some sense, in order to pay expenses and provide quality peer review. To this end, PLOS charges a fee to everyone who would publish in a PLOS journal. Publication fees begin at $1,350 to publish in PLOS ONE, and go as high as $2,900 for PLOS Biology or PLOS Medicine, with payment due upon acceptance of the article.
Although it must operate as a business and charge fees for the publication of articles, PLOS views itself as more than just a publisher. PLOS bills itself as an advocate for the OA movement, and a technology developer. PLOS has built its own open source publishing platform called Ambra, designed tools for analyzing the impact of articles published through PLOS, worked to facilitate article searches, and to encourage app development. While these actions all serve to support the organization’s mission as a champion of OA, perhaps the most important contribution of PLOS to the OA movement is simply its continued existence. PLOS has demonstrated that OA journals can be financially sustainable, thereby helping to pave the way for countless other journals to do the same. While PLOS is steadily increasing in prestige and recognition, it is still overshadowed in some respects by the venerable giants of the scientific publishing world, such as Nature and Science. In order for the OA movement to continue growing and gaining broader acceptance worldwide, researchers must continue to support the cause by publishing in OA journals, as well as offering their talents as peer reviewers to support the increasing number of OA publications. Supporting such organizations as PLOS and participating in the OA movement may well be the only way to ensure a future in which everyone has free and unrestricted access to scientific research.
Thanks for reading!
We’ve built a single open source publishing platform (called Ambra) for all our journals so that we and others can experiment with new approaches to the presentation and interactivity of content. Because our content is open access, talented developers are free to take part as well, such as those who build apps for PLOS content on the iPhone and iPad. We’ve also added Article-Level Metrics to every PLOS article so that it’s possible to assess the impact of the content in new ways and we’ve introduced some of the most sophisticated search capabilities in scientific and medical publishing. In the summer of 2011, PLOS launched the Search and Article-Level Metrics APIs to encourage the creation of applications that will improve the way PLOS users discover and interact with our (and their) content.