Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A must-read

The new issue of PLoS Medicine is a theme issue on disease mongering. Go there. Read it.

PLoS Medicine is also a new permanent link on my sidebar. (Firedoglake, which for unknown reasons dropped me from their blogroll, has suffered retaliation. So there.) PLoS, Public Library of Science, is a leader in the open access scientific publishing movement. My readers know that I am continually frustrated by not being able to give you access to the latest literature in medicine and public health which I discuss here. As a medical school faculty member, I have access to nearly all of the leading journals, but the rest of the world does not. That means that information that is vital to your health and well being is information that you can't get, unless you can get access to a medical school library.

According to its mission statement:

About PLoS
Mission and Goals

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource.

Our goals are to:

* Open the doors to the world's library of scientific knowledge by giving any scientist, physician, patient, or student - anywhere in the world - unlimited access to the latest scientific research.
* Facilitate research, informed medical practice, and education by making it possible to freely search the full text of every published article to locate specific ideas, methods, experimental results, and observations.
* Enable scientists, librarians, publishers, and entrepreneurs to develop innovative ways to explore and use the world's treasury of scientific ideas and discoveries.

PLoS is funded in substantial part by grants and donations. How many journals can be supported in this way is not clear. Sustainable open access models depend largely on funding by authors -- that is, authors pay a fee for publication, which it has been calculated would be something on the order of $3,000/article to sustain a typical scientific journal. This does not imply corruption or payola -- articles are still peer reviewed and accepted only on merit, and the idea is that the budget for a research project has to factor in the cost of publication, i.e. research grants would include that cost on the front end. If results don't merit publication, presumably that funding would be recovered for another purpose. PLoS journals charge an author fee, but much less than $3,000, because they have that subsidy.

An editorial in the new NEJM (which you can't read, ha ha ha) by Martin Frank disparages this idea, on the grounds that grant funds would be "diverted" to publication. "At a time of shrinking budgets for biomedical research, does it make sense to spend scarce dollars on publication costs instead of on research to develop treatments and cures for disease?"

I got three snappy answers for you Dr. Frank:

A) $3,000 out of a typical NIH grant of anywhere from $250,000 to $5 million and up is chicken feed;
B) Medical schools are already paying the cost by buying all those expensive subscriptions. They could divert that money to support for faculty research. Tah dah!
C) Open sharing of scientific information will speed scientific progress.

Oh yeah -- the NEJM doesn't need subscription or author fees - it makes millions of dollars in profits every year, by selling advertising. NEJM could go open access now, today. They can sell advertising on-line as easily as in print. Hell, they'd probably make even more money. Why don't they? Because the idea of privilege and exclusivity is even more important to them than money.

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