Thursday, June 01, 2006

Open scholarship

Harold Varmus, Clinton's National Institutes of Health director, has become a champion of open access to scholarly journals, according to Wired. It's ridiculous that so much research isn't available to the public, especially because much of it is funded by taxpayers. I would like to see Varmus's movement also address the question of bias in scholarly publishing, perhaps by starting a journal that accepts all submissions as anonymous works, claimed by their authors only after peer review is finished.

From the article:

Three years ago, through an organization he cofounded called the Public Library of Science, Varmus launched a set of journals, which survive not through subscriptions but by charging $1,500 to most authors (and thus their grant givers) whose articles are accepted for publication. Everything is then put online and kept there, freely accessible to anyone... in a phenomenally short time, [the first PLoS journal] has become the most cited journal in general biology.

It's interesting that Varmus was not successful at first. It was not until the third major project in open scholarship that his efforts attracted the core of high-quality contributions and prestige necessary to propel it to success.
In the fall of 2000, the activists ... circulated an open letter calling for the establishment of an online library that would provide the published record of biomedical research in a “freely accessible, fully searchable, interlinked form.” The signatories pledged not to publish in, edit or review for, or subscribe to any journal after September 2001 that did not make its content freely available in PubMed Central six months after publication.

Over the next year, 34,000 scientists signed the pledge. Journal editors decried what they rightly perceived as the threat of an economic boycott. And when September 2001 came around, most signers, fearing harm to their careers, backed away from their promise. The boycott crumbled.