Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Scientists challenge publishers with free research magazine


A group of leading scientists are to mount an unprecedented challenge to the publishers that lock away the valuable findings of research in expensive, subscription-only electronic databases, by launching their own journal to give away results for free.

The control of information on everything from new cancer treatments to space exploration is at stake, while caught in the crossfire are the world's publicly funded scientists, some of whom will soon face a choice between their career and their conscience.

On one side of the conflict stand major multinational publishing houses like Elsevier Science that package scientific findings into hundreds of specialist journals and sell them for thou-sands of dollars a year. On the other is a new publishing group called the Public Library of Science (PLoS) that will distribute its journals for free and is backed by top scientists, including the British Nobel prize winners Paul Nurse and Sir John Sulston.

"The publishers are making a lot of money out of our research and it's not fair that lots of good, basic science isn't available to everyone," said Julie Ahringer, a biologist at Cambridge University. "Knowledge should be free."

Ahringer is on the editorial board of PLoS Biology, the group's first journal due to be launched on Oct. 13. With articles about the genetic origins of elephants and molecular signalling in the fruit fly, it is unlikely to displace Cosmopolitan and FHM from the newsstands. But those behind the new venture have their sights on an equally ambitious target: convincing existing publishers to change their ways and join them in making more information freely available.

While PLoS Biology is not the first open access scientific journal, it is the most high-profile and best supported so far, and, crucially, it is financed by a grant of several million dollars from an American charity foundation.

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