Unrestricted access to research

Donald Forsdyke forsdyke at post.queensu.ca
Sat Jan 6 10:03:38 EST 2001

Subject:  Other: Open Letter - access to scientific literature

Dear Colleagues,

We would like to call your attention to the circulation of an open letter in
support of unrestricted access to the published record of scientific
More than four hundred scientists from 29 countries have now signed this
letter, pledging that their voluntary support of scholarly journals will be
limited to journals that make the primary research reports that they have
published freely available for distribution and use by independent online
public libraries, within six months after publication.  The letter, a
continuously updated list of the scientists who have signed it, and some
answers to frequently asked questions are posted at:
http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org. This site also provides a way for
colleagues to sign the open letter online.

We have appended a copy of an editorial written by Richard J. Roberts which
will be appearing soon in PNAS that explains why he supports this effort
letter is available online at
http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org/plosRoberts.htm). We hope it will help
convince you to sign the letter as well.

This is a grassroots initiative, and the breadth and depth of support it
receives from the scientific community will determine its success in
our journals to change their practices. If you support this effort, we also
you spend an hour or two of your time in the next week talking to colleagues
your own and other institutions, explaining to them the reasons that you
to support it, and encouraging them to join you in signing the letter. Your
effort can really make a difference.

Please also take the time to contact the editors and publishers of journals
that are important to you, informing them of your support of this
and encouraging them to adopt the policy that the letter advocates. We would
greatly appreciate hearing about about any such efforts you are able to

Finally, we welcome your advice and ideas. Thank you for your support and


Public Library of Science coordinators (feedback at publiclibraryofscience.org)

Michael Ashburner, University of Cambridge
Patrick O. Brown, Stanford University
Mary Case, Association of Research Libraries
Michael B. Eisen, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and UC Berkeley
Lee Hartwell, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Marc Kirschner, Harvard University
Chaitan Khosla, Stanford University
Roel Nusse, Stanford University
Richard J. Roberts, New England Biolabs
Matthew Scott, Stanford University
Harold Varmus, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Barbara Wold, Caltech



In 1999, Harold Varmus, then Director of the NIH, proposed a bold new
initiative called PubMed Central (PMC) designed to provide a central
for literature in the life sciences (see Science 284: 718, 1999). Following
initial period of confusion, PMC now exists. It has a clear mission, a
home and a nucleus of papers. Its mission is to provide a comprehensive
electronic archive of the peer-reviewed literature relevant to the
sciences. Its home is the National Center for Biotechnology Information
whose Director is David Lipman. NCBI is also home to GenBank, the public
archive of DNA sequences. The publications already present in PMC and freely
accessible to the world's scientific community, include all articles
in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that are more
than one month old and which were in a suitable electronic format, as well
articles from a number of other journals such as Molecular Biology of the
Arthritis Research and Breast Cancer Research. Several other journals
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) and Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) are
committed to join. A full list is available at www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov.

PMC will only contain articles from the peer-reviewed literature and is not
intended to be the sole repository or distributor of the publications that
hosts. In fact, journals are encouraged to distribute their material as
as possible, through their own web sites or online distributors.
publishers do not need to relinquish their normal copyright provisions for
further commercial use of the material. The great value that PMC brings to
scientific community is the opportunity to search, not just titles and
abstracts, but entire papers, for interesting content. Just as GenBank has
proved invaluable to molecular biologists, PMC could serve an equally
role within the broader biological community. Once a central repository and
archive for the world's biological literature becomes populated it will have
far-reaching impact on the conduct of scientific research. It will improve
productivity and will allow new approaches to searching the literature. No
longer will we need to spend hours searching among the stacks of the local,
not so local, library to find articles essential for our research.
physicians, teachers and lay people, who are currently disenfranchised from
world's literature because of minimal research budgets, will have access,
perhaps not to the very latest research, but at least to reasonably current
research. Our colleagues in the developing world and many of the smaller
research institutions will have unprecedented access to the scientific

To populate PMC, all life science journals are being asked to provide their
contents free of charge following a suitable delay beyond the date of print
publication. In the case of PNAS the delay is one month, for other journals
may be longer. This is to mitigate any deleterious effect on sub-scriptions
the financial health of the journals that might result from free access. For
instance, if a journal were to make its content immediately available to
there would be a real danger that sub-scriptions to the print or online copy
the journal would drop precipitously as libraries become increasingly
to find funds for journals. What is a reasonable delay? I would argue that
months seems a reasonable time for a journal to monopolize the content. Most
us would not dream of scanning the contents of a journal published six
ago unless we were searching for a specific article. Thus it seems unlikely
that a large number of sub-scriptions would be lost if six month old issues
made freely available. I think rather few worthwhile journals would be
adversely affected if they were to institute such a policy. I thus welcome,
have signed on to, the initiative proposed by Dr. Pat Brown of Stanford
University. He was one of the chief proponents of PMC and is now circulating
open letter from scientists urging journals to participate. The letter is
currently posted at www.publiclibraryofscience.org. Signatories show their
support for open access and pledge to publish in, edit or review for, and
personally sub-scribe to, only those journals that grant unrestricted
distribution rights within 6 months of publication to PMC and similar
As word of this initiative spreads, many of us hope that thousands of
scientists, both senior and junior, will sign on. Even more important, we
that many journals, especially the more prestigious ones, will join PNAS,
BMJ and others in agreeing to make their content freely available no later
six months after publication.

This initiative is very much a grass roots affair. All scientists from
to professors are being asked to join. It is an initiative that, if
now, will provide a vital resource to students and their professors alike
during the coming years. Why might a journal not join something that is so
obviously good for science? Some publishers argue that they will lose
from sub-scriptions. This is hard to take seriously, when many journals make
their dated content freely available on their own web site and some even
prepublication copy. I suspect that many publishers and their senior
staff are fearful of losing control and jeopardizing favorite programs that
they view as benefiting science and which are presently supported from
profits. However, when I ask students they seem overwhelmingly in favor of
Indeed as a practicing scientist how can one reasonably be against it? It
save much time and make invaluable resources uniformly available. It is good
for everybody. Both GenBank and PubMed, also run from NCBI, have been
successful and have driven science forward. PMC is the next step.

One might have thought that the scientific societies would have been at the
forefront to promote the interests of their members and to promulgate
by all means possible. So why have the major life science societies, such as
ASM, ASBMB, AAAS etc, not followed the lead of the National Academy of
and rushed to join PMC? At the very least the societies should poll their
members to gauge their enthusiasm for PMC. Could it be that the societies
become seduced by the cash that their journals produce and the professional
interests of the scientists they represent are taking second place? I would
urge all scientific societies and academic publishers such as the university
and institutional presses to take a hard look at their priorities and ask
whether they support science or Mammon. I also urge the large commercial
publishers to join PMC. They cannot claim to be serving the best interests
their customers by trying to balkanize the published literature. Imagine how
stymied we would all be without GenBank. Most of all though I urge our young
scientists to think hard and carefully about this issue. Your future is at
stake. Here is your chance to make your voice heard and indicate your
priorities in the scientific enterprise. Join me and sign on!

( POSTED BY: nobody at rana.lbl.gov )

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