piece in today's New York Times by Michael Eisen, one of the founders of the Public Library of Science. A few years ago, the NIH mandated that any studies performed that were federally funded must be made available free of charge to citizens since they had paid for the research through their tax dollars. This obviously had an impact on journals that use the traditional business model of publishing, wherein the reader bears the cost of publication via subscription, either individually or through a library. Several years ago, the open access model of publishing emerged. In this business model, the cost of publication is borne by the author, often via funds from the research sponsor. However, papers published in this model are free to the reader.
The OpEd piece today points out that some notable journals in the traditional publishing model, including the New England Journal of Medicine, are now lobbying Congress to pass a law reversing the NIH rule so that they would no longer be required to make the papers available at no cost to readers. In response, Dr. Eisen calls on researchers to publish their studies only in open access journals and for libraries to cancel their subscriptions to journals that are not open access. The greed demonstrated by journals that are financially healthy is unpalatable. However, open access is a problem for investigators who publish papers that do not have a funding source, since the publication fees are often in excess of $1000 per paper. This is particularly a problem for hospital epidemiology, a field in which much research is unfunded, and is likely one of the reasons that the open access journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control has had a slow start. Open access is clearly a great concept and it should be maintained for studies that are federally funded. And for those of us who believe that medical and scientific research is a public good, further expanding open access by reducing or eliminating authors' fees via novel approaches is a worthy goal.