NET NEWS: Free Articles Site Debuts

Science  12 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5468, pp. 923c-923
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5468.923c

In the latest experiment in free access to biomedical research articles, a British publisher later this month will launch a Web site providing peer-reviewed research papers at no cost to authors or readers. BioMed Central has some top scientists as supporters, but even they admit it may be hard to convince researchers to submit their work to unknown, digital-only journals.

BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is the brainchild of Current Science Group chair Vitek Tracz, who's been talking it up for the past year. The site will publish peer-reviewed primary research in around 40 subjects ranging from biochemistry to urology; it also plans to post preprints eventually. The loosely termed journals, which are still forming editorial boards, will begin soliciting manuscripts later this month. The attraction for authors: No page charges (at least initially) or cost to readers, and authors will retain copyright. Tracz also promises speedy publication, with articles instantly archived in the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) PubMed and the full-text PubMed Central. He plans to make money from ads and by charging for material such as news and reviews.

Attracting papers, however, may be tough: They have to establish enough prestige that a young assistant professor is not risking their career by publishing there, says Steve Hyman, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Hyman is among several prominent advisers to the project, including Harold Varmus, former NIH director and head of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who calls it an incredibly interesting experiment.

Hyman adds that BioMed Central is not the only game in town, pointing to ventures such as Highwire Press (publisher of Science Online), which recently announced free access to back issues of many journals. The important thing is to get as much of the literature freely available on the Web as possible, Hyman says. To further the debate, BioMed Central is sponsoring a conference on free access at the New York Academy of Medicine from 6 to 7 July.

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