A revolution in scientific publishing may fundamentally alter the power structure over science and result in openness for all.

The traditional method of publishing scientific results has been the peer-reviewed journal paper. Nature, Science, and countless other journals are for-profit enterprises that justify their existence by adding value to research and providing editorial review.  Printing a journal is costly; no question, but it is also a powerful position: the editors make the call on what gets published.  Traditional journals took early advantage of the internet by providing online subscriptions.  Universities and research institutions have to buy costly site licenses; individuals have to pay hundreds of dollars and are forced to get the print edition with the online access.

A new method is pulling the rug out from journal editors: open access publishing.  These “author pays” systems allow everyone to read the paper without a subscription.  The success of arXiv, Public Library of Science and other open-access sites is putting pressure on the traditional print journals to join the bandwagon or get left behind.  Why pay when readers can get good science for free?  Who owns research, anyway?  Much research is government-funded.  Why should readers pay a for-profit company to read what their tax dollars have paid for?  Even if an individual author has to pay for the privilege of publication, he or she can do it, or can get the institution to do it.  Government funding can still foot the bill.  But now, everyone in the world can read it.

Nature addressed this situation in its editorial today (Nature, 486, 28 June 2012, p. 439, doi:10.1038/486439a).  Surprisingly, the editors are in favor of open access.  Maybe they realize trends are leaving them no other option.  They are starting to look like those evil, self-seeking corporations everyone demonizes because they appear greedy for profit:

Publishers in such an environment will need all the more to demonstrate that they add value to the research process. This sits alongside their need to deliver a reasonable profit — whether to fund learned-society activities or to reduce their publishing charges (the aim of the Public Library of Science) or, like many suppliers of services and equipment to researchers, to deliver a return to their investors….

Continue Reading on crev.info