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PLoS One clones and ripoffs

When Pat Brown, Harold Varmus and Michael Eisen started the Public Library of Science (PLoS) a decade ago they wanted to make the scientific and medical literature a freely available resource for science. Eisen says that many in the scientific publishing industry simply dismissed them as naive idealists who failed to understand that publishing is a for-profit business. Others derided them as dangerous radicals out to destroy a 350 year old industry.

PLoS and BMC established the standard for open access publishing by adopting the Creative Commons Attribution License, which allows for unrestricted reuse and redistribution subject only to the constraint that the original authors and source be cited.

Ten years later, the Open Access movement is stronger than ever and while the old-model publishers are still going strong, several publishers have offered up what Eisen describes as PLoS clones: The American Society for Microbiology’s mBio, The Genetics Society of America’s G3, BMJ Open, Company of Biologists Biology Open, Nature’s Scientific Reports, The Royal Society’s Open Biology, SAGE Open. If Eisen refers to those OA journals as clones, he’s not quite so generous about the genre as a whole referring to the “direct ripoffs that seek to capitalize on the business model we have established.”

The long-term aim is not to inspire clones and ripoffs though, it’s simply the “goal of making every paper immediately freely available”, he says. As with the evolution of the music industry that has developed over the last decade or so from traditional purchased plastic discs to illicit and illegal downloads and file sharing to the advent of iTunes, Spotify and the reinvention of Napster, the scientific literature is still evolving. 350 years of tradition are not likely to be swept away by an attack of the clones, but the likes of PLoS and BMC, the insistence of funding agencies on OA publication of research they support, preprint servers, and tools like Mendeley and ResearchGate are all morphing the scientific literature into something more open.

Find out why Eisen thinks  PLoS Won.

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