More Steps for Open Access

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at U.C. Davis Genome Center, has been named the first Academic Editor-in-Chief at the Public Library of Science (PLoS) journal PLoS Biology. He wrote an editorial published Tuesday on the PLoS Biology website that discusses his conversion and commitment to open-access publishing. His personal experience exemplifies what to me is the principle reason for open access [1]:

So there I was — a scientist and a taxpayer — desperate to read the results of work that I helped pay for and work that might give me more knowledge than possessed by our doctors. And yet either I could not get the papers or I had to pay to read them without knowing if they would be helpful.

Decisions in health and medicine frequently aren’t black and white. In the Internet age, more and more people are using the web to guide healthcare decision making. Allowing healthcare consumers and e-patients access to evidence from biomedical research studies will enable them to make more informed decisions about their healthcare. Open access is pivotal to that empowerment.

Why is Open Access Important?

open-access.jpgThe foundation for future progress in health and medicine is biomedical research. Open access is advantageous for the way scholarly research is executed and how results and conclusions are used.

Open access publishing provides exposure to the widest audience. Anyone interested in the research can read it, which translates into increased usage and greater impact. Open Access also means greater visibility, accessibility and impact of scientific research. A recent study of open access to research literature provided evidence that open-access articles are more immediately recognized and cited than non-open-access articles [2], suggesting that open access is likely to benefit science by accelerating dissemination of research findings. And clearly, faster diffusion of research impacts future investigation. Indeed, everyone has an interest in “the efficient and effective progress of scholarly endeavor” [3].

The NIH Public Access Policy

On April 7, 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) public access policy goes into effect. The policy makes mandatory a previously voluntary NIH initiative to submit electronic versions of final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central. Submitted articles will be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication. The policy applies to any journal article supported in whole or part by funding from the NIH.

However, some object to the policy, including The Association of American Publishers, who is questioning the policy’s legality, claiming that it undermines publisher copyright and is inconsistent with U.S. intellectual property laws. The AAP wants the NIH to get public input in a formal rulemaking [4].

What can you as a healthcare consumer do? Tell your Senators and Representatives that you expect your government to support science and the public interest over the private interests of publishers. Insist that taxpayer-funded research be made available free of charge to the public.

More information for faculty, administrators, librarians, students, foundations, societies and governments on how to support open access can be found in Peter Suber’s article What you can do to promote open access.


  1. Eisen JA. PLoS Biology 2.0. PLoS Biol. 2008 6(2): e48 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060048.
  2. Eysenbach G. Citation advantage of open access articles. PLoS Biol. 2006 May;4(5):e157. Epub 2006 May 16.
    View abstract
  3. Swan A. Open Acess: Why should we have it? Cahiers de la Documentation: Bladen voor Documentatie. 2006.
  4. Sciencescope. Science. 2008 Jan 11;319(5860):145.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.


  1. Walter, I cannot believe that not a single person commented on this post! I am puzzled, shocked and speechless. I am sorry that I missed it when I returned to blogging and came your way. You are one of my favourite bloggers on medical matters and this business of open access to medical and/or scientific journals is a real bugbear for me.
    I used to do quite a lot of relatively minor research for private companies when I was still practising medicine and some of the references that came up on the searches would effectively lead to a dead end because I was presented with a teasing one sentence outline of the question asked, and then told that to find out if the results of the study bore out the researchers proposal, I would have to pay around 5 to 15 pounds per item depending on which journal the article was published in.

    In other words, I came up against the same problem as your researcher.

    Now that I have retired, I am merely curious and having had a rest from medicine, having gotten over the “I never want to see or hear anything to do with medicine ever again” grumps, I find that I enjoy looking at certain areas of medicine but want to make sure that the facts being presented are correct and the research is not cherry pickings! So much of todays research is under scrutiny because people are realising that flaws have been made in the past.

    So, I am very much in favour of the PloS organisation and the open access system. I know and am well aware of the naysayers and their reasons, but open access would allow more minds to look at the information currently available and by simple statistics, that means a greater chance of future furtherence of scientific knowledge, doesn’t it? Or am I writing scrambled eggs? 🙂

  2. Hi Rademisto: yes, you are entirely correct. Open access means faster distribution, which increases scientific advancement. You might be interested in a list of open access biomedical literature resources I compiled in a previous article. Moreover, many journals are now making research published after one year publicly available. Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. It shouldn’t even be a debate – taxpayer-funded research should obviously be made available free of charge to the public. This is a no-brainer. I wish more too people cared about this and would actually contact their Senators and Representatives. Articles like this are very helpful. Thanks.