July 17, 2007, 12:30 pm

The Public Library of Science

plosYou are writing a paper. You need to do some research, so you google your topic.

Ah ha! There it is! The perfect article for your paper. The abstract is right in front of you, but you must go to the actual journal for the full text.

Hmmm…you can access the full text of the article, but you must pay to do it! Anywhere from nine dollars to almost thirty dollars for twenty-four hour access.

“No way”, you say! “I have access to my university’s online library, I’ll just go there and look it up for free!”

Except the journal isn’t in the online database or it has to physically come from another library, and you happen to live two thousand miles away from your “campus”.

Reluctantly, you pay for access to the article. Or not.


What if scientific and medical literature were considered a public resource, available to use any way you chose at no cost; all you would have to do is give credit to the author and source as described in the Creative Commons Attribution License?

This is already happening. It’s called open access publishing and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) is at the forefront of this new movement. Everything published in PLoS journals is immediately available for printing, copying, distributing and hosting. In addition, the complete works are archived in a “public repository” (like PubMed) making them easy to find.

Every article is peer reviewed. Let me quote the actual FAQ page:

The articles in PLoS journals will be published only after they have undergone a rigorous and constructive peer-review process that will be managed by academic editors in collaboration with experienced professional editors.

In addition, readers can rate articles and respond to them, offering additional feedback.


PLoS Medicine - www.plosmedicine.org

The journal I watch is PLoS Medicine.

There is also a PLoS community forum entitled PLoS One . My friend and fellow blogger Bora/Coturnix of A Blog Around the Clock has been hired as an Online Community Coordinator! Yeah!!!!

You can “Stay Connected” by signing up for newsletters and journal updates.

You can help Support PLoS and Open Access by checking out these ideas.

Open access and the Public Library of Science.

What a great concept!


  • punchberry

    July 17, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Kim:

    I definitely support PLoS and open access, but I think it is important to point out that the idea behind PLoS is to shift the money that academic institutions currently pay for online subscriptions to journals for their libraries to instead fund publication fees in journals for their researchers:


    Theoretically, this means that the same amount of money is going from the universities to the publishers, but the system where those who are not affiliated with universities are excluded from accessing academic papers is eliminated. One example of a group that benefits is patients who want access to the latest research on their diagnosis.

    This is a great idea, but will be difficult to implement in terms of overhauling all of academic publishers, because there are lots of very bureaucratic organizations involved, and because this makes it difficult for those publishing more minor papers.

    (I only know this because I worked at a scientific publisher when PLoS was launched, and I am only providing the clarification because I thought it would be helpful. I have lost track of this debate in the last couple of years, and it would be interesting to find out the latest. Thanks for reminding me about this issue!)

  • beajerry

    July 17, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    I wonder how accepted on-line articles will be as citations? I know it’s already being done, but has the electronic age really caught up with tangible paper’s prestige?

  • marachne

    July 17, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Great post Kim, and thanks for the clarification punchberry. I’d like to add a note to that though, a lot of schools agonize over what publications to subscribe to, (at my Uni they do an annual poll to try and gauge what has the most interest, but it’s still a matter of having to chose…

    Also, at my school ILL (interlibrary loan) only costs $2 per article for students, and what they do is scan and put it in a .pdf, so distance isn’t as much of an issue. If it’s a book, that’s a different matter.

    I’m just thrilled to see a lot of journals seem to be making older articles available online–used to be before ’95 there was no chance, now I see things back as far as ’87.

  • […] The Public Library of Science: You are writing a paper. You need to do some research, so you google your topic. […]

  • Not Nurse Ratched

    July 18, 2007 at 7:44 am

    I too have lost track of this topic, but when I was editing medical journals full time I do recall that there were some major problems with it from the publication industry side. Authors were also unhappy about the idea because many costs were being shifted to them; science editors and other non–print-related (I’m talking about physical printing) personnel still have to be paid. If you have fabulous research but you have to pay a journal $1600 out of pocket to publish it so it’s open access, I suppose it WOULD be off-putting. The medical publishing industry is out of control in general, IMHO. I’m certain that many of the accepted articles I’ve edited have not been peer reviewed (because they’re such obvious crap that they would not otherwise have been accepted), and there are so many small journals to accommodate the publish-or-perish mentality and so much “salami science” being done that the integrity of published medical research is, again IMHO, in the toilet. Then there’s the fact that much scientific material is being sent to India, where nonnative speakers edit it and often inject errors into it; proofreaders no longer really exist, so the errors are printed. Gah.

  • EMS Junky

    July 18, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    That was the WORST part about writing in college… finding the best abstract and not being able to access it… especially being that I needed ungodly amount of references for my bachelors of sociology thesis.

    This mean that I had to actually be at the SJSU library to access the articles…

  • TC

    July 18, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Thanks Kim, I will so use this. BTW, you’ve given me the courage to talk to some colleges…I’ll keep you posted.

  • NPs Save Lives

    July 18, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    I also had a hard time finding full page articles during my thesis work. Nothing is worse than finding the perfect one and then finding that you cannot access it. ARGH! The good news is that I’m finished with papers for a long while..

  • may

    July 18, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    you are one busy blogger…or should i say just all around internet person?:)

  • enrico

    July 19, 2007 at 2:44 am

    Punchberry and Ratched stole my thunder on this one…I follow PLOS Medicine, Computational Biology and Pathogens. YMMV with the “quality” of the research, since the burden of reputation is not really an issue here (as opposed to say, Nature). However, that also means that articles that are, shall we say, “buried,” due to political rather scientific reasons are also not as much of an issue.

    Still, the biggest reason this hasn’t exploded is because the cost to actually publish an article as an author is insane. At some point, with increasin acceptance of this group of journals, other means of revenue will have to begin to lower the “cost of entry” as it were.

    The only other point I wanted to make that hasn’t been made yet is that many journals do offer free, full-text articles after a certain period of time has elapsed from publication (6 months to 2 years, usually). This won’t help for cutting-edge research or current trends in X, but for solid citations in reputable journals, there’s a lot available for free if dig a little.

  • Fnord.

    July 19, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    […] from this page, which phrases it better than I can. PLoS, the Public Library of Science, solves many of the […]

  • […] The Public Library of Science: You are writing a paper. You need to do some research, so you google your topic. […]

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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