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The Public Library of Science

Via KurzweilAI.net, a Washington Post story on free access to medical research:

[T]he vast majority of the 50,000 to 60,000 research articles published each year as a result of federally funded science ends up in the hands of for-profit publishers -- the largest of them based overseas -- that charge as much as $50 to view the results of a single study online...

Why is it, a growing number of people are asking, that anyone can download medical nonsense from the Web for free, but citizens must pay to see the results of carefully conducted biomedical research that was financed by their taxes?

The Public Library of Science aims to change that. The organization, founded by a Nobel Prize-winning biologist and two colleagues, is plotting the overthrow of the system by which scientific results are made known to the world -- a $9 billion publishing juggernaut with subscription charges that range into thousands of dollars per year.

In its place the organization is constructing a system that would put scientific findings on the Web -- for free...

The PLoS plan is simple in concept: Instead of having readers pay for scientific results through subscriptions or other charges, costs would be borne by the scientists who are having their work published -- or, practically speaking, by the government agencies or other groups that funded the scientists -- through upfront charges of about $1,500 an article.

The shift is not as radical as it sounds, the library's founders argue. That is because government agencies and other science funders are already paying for a huge share of the world's journal subscriptions through "indirect cost" grants to university libraries, which are the biggest subscribers. The new system would radically increase the number of people who would have access to published findings, though, because results would be freely available on the Internet. By contrast, people today who do not subscribe to these journals must pay charges, typically $15 to $50, to get a reprint of -- or online access to -- a single article.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder the same thing: why should I have to pay to read the results of scientific research funded with my tax dollars?

The first PLoS journal, PLoS Biology, starts in October, with PLoS Medicine to follow in 2004. PLoS can be found on the Web here.


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