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Public Library of Science Prepares to Boycott Journals with Launch of Publishing Effort

COPENHAGEN, July 22 – The Public Library of Science Initiative said Sunday it is gearing up for a large-scale boycott of leading scientific journals and plans to begin publishing its own journals in September.

Addressing the International Conference on Intelligent Systems in Molecular Biology, Michael Eisen of the University of California, Berkeley, said the initiative was making good on its pledge to publish in, edit or review for, and subscribe to only those journals that agree to deposit all published articles in PubMedCentral or other free online resources within six months of their initial publication date.

The initiative, which posted an open letter stating its position on its website ( www.publiclibraryofscience.org ) last fall, set September 2001 as the start date for its boycott of any journal not adhering to its demands. Over 25,000 scientists have signed the letter, including several Nobel Laureates.

With the September deadline drawing nearer, Eisen told the ISMB audience that the group has “been met with hostility” by most journal publishers and is “faced with the likelihood that there will be nowhere to be published” after September 1.

“The only alternative is to create a way to publish our own journals,” Eisen said.   

The group expects to fund its efforts through granting agencies, charitable foundations, and a small up-front charge to authors. Eisen stressed that the initiative intends to maintain the quality of the peer-review process currently in place at leading journals and that a few dozen “very prominent scientists” have expressed interest in acting as editors. 

Eisen declined to specify who the preliminary editors may be, but noted that Michael Ashburner of the University of Cambridge, Pat Brown of Stanford University, and Harold Varmus of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center are strong supporters of the initiative. 

Currently, Eisen said, “We volunteer the material, the reviewing, the editing, and then we pay to get access to it”—a process he likened to a midwife who delivers a baby and then charges its parents to visit it. In response, the initiative has proposed that publishers should be paid to produce the manuscript, but should not own the material after publication. 

The demands of the initiative don’t stem from purely idealistic or financial concerns, however. Eisen said the idea had its roots in the emerging effort to apply text-mining technology to the body of biomedical literature. A single, free repository of scientific articles would be as valuable a resource as GenBank is for genomic data, Eisen said.

But, understandably, journal publishers have been reluctant to accept the group’s demands. So far, only Genome Biology  and PubMedCentral have agreed to the terms of the initiative. Eisen said the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nucleic Acids Research  have agreed to deposit articles in PubMedCentral but won’t allow it to be redistributed. Other publishers, Eisen said, “get it,” but are unwilling to change their current business models. 

The effort may also have a hard time convincing some scientists that publication through the Public Library of Science will carry the same prestige as publication in Science  or Nature . One ISMB attendee, who said he strongly supported the effort, noted, “I’m up for tenure, so I’m still going to try and get published in Science if I can.” 

Other attendees suggested the group compromise with publishers to allow a one-year waiting period. However, noting that PNAS recently changed its free-access policy from a one-month waiting period to a six-month period, Eisen said the group feared similar behavior by other publishers who would try to push the boundaries beyond one year.

“We’re drawing a line in the sand here,” Eisen said. “A huge portion of the scientific community wants this, and the publishers ignore us at their peril.”   

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