Russell's Blog

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PLoS TWO : A new open access journal

Posted by Russell on June 14, 2011 at 9 p.m.
People surely suffer worse injustices than the denial of instantaneous access to the latest scientific research. Nevertheless, this particular habit lacks a feature common to most unjust practices; that one party benefits at another's expense. The restriction of access to basic research hurts absolutely everyone. It's throwing sand in the gears of the engine of progress. We can debate about whether it is more apt to call it a spoonful or a truckload, but the damage is clear.

One might suppose that publishers benefit from the system of closed-access journals, but this cynical view exaggerates the importance of the relatively paltry sums of cash involved and disparages the value of scientific and technological progress. Publisher's cannot cure their cancers by wallowing in hoarded journal papers, but posting the hoard on the internet stands a fighting chance.

So, I'm exceedingly glad that Nature Publishing Group has elected to step into the ring in the corner of this fighting chance by launching Scientific Reports. Many have noted that in many important respects, Scientific Reports is a clone of PLoS ONE.

It has not escaped our notice that as recently as 2008, Nature's Declan Butler was sneering at PLoS for the practice of "bulk, cheap publishing of lower quality papers." I'm sure the powers that be at Nature were expecting quite a few wry smiles at news of the launch.

Nevertheless, it's one thing to do the right thing when you're filled with righteous light. It's another thing altogether when it makes you look a bit silly. I'm as guilty as anyone for poking fun at Nature; as soon as I heard the news back in January, I gleefully registered PLoSTWO.org, and have spent the last couple of months plotting elaborate satire.

Now that they've launched, I must admit that the inaugural papers look pretty interesting. You'd better get your jokes in while they're still funny. This is not a case of Nature verses PLoS. In this fight, it's Nature and PLoS in one corner of the ring, and ignorance on the other. It is good news for everyone that Nature has learned from its comrade-in-arms how to throw a better uppercut.

Update July 1, 2001 : While they evidently appreciated the humor, PLoS regretfully asked me to take down PLoSTWO.org. Instead of just letting it go dark, I'm going to (voluntarily!) transfer it over to them once they think of something to do with it. For now, it'll point at the PLoS ONE About page.

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