NET NEWS: PubMed Central Debuts, Global Archive Plan Released

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Science  25 Feb 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5457, pp. 1359
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5457.1359b

Just a couple of weeks behind schedule, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on 11 February went live with PubMed Central, its controversial project to post free, full-text life science articles on the Web. Meanwhile, a separate group that wants to knit together a free global preprints archive has released its final plan.

Debuting in PubMed Central are the research articles from the 21 December 1999 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and the full contents of the 1 November 1999 Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBC). Older issues will be posted soon. There were still some bugs to be worked out as of last week—such as putting equations into HTML—so some articles could be viewed only as PDFs. But PubMed Central editors hope to smooth those bumps by the time eight more journals come online this spring. And several other journals, including “two important ones,” are “in the process of deciding,” says National Center for Biotechnology Information director David Lipman. Many publishers have been reluctant to join, fearing that giving away content would cut into their revenues (Science, 3 September 1999, p. 1466).

An advisory committee that will chart PubMed Central's future will hold its first meeting in late March, Lipman adds, and will be chaired by Nobelist Joshua Lederberg of The Rockefeller University in New York City. But one related project seems to have stalled for the moment. Lipman says “we haven't gotten a lot of queries” showing that life scientists want a server for non-peer-reviewed manuscripts, which NIH has called PubMed Express.

Others are forging ahead with preprint projects, however. A group of digital librarians and computer scientists who met last October to brainstorm about free global access to preprints has just released what it calls the Sante Fe Convention (Science, 29 October 1999, p. 887). The convention describes a way of coding e-print databases so that search engines can scan scattered archives all at once. The Los Alamos National Lab physics archive is already using the new protocol, and several other archives expect to implement it in the coming months. That will open the door to anyone who is interested in building customized search engines and other tools that can cull the participating databases, notes Herbert Van de Sompel of the University of Ghent in Belgium, an organizer of the Open Archives initiative.

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