When e-science means free science

Bangalore Oct. 26. In what is seen as a bold challenge to established international journals of science, which charge increasingly unaffordable subscription rates, a U.S.-based non-profit organisation has created a "Public Library of Science" on the web whose content can be freely read and downloaded, in a variety of formats.

Professional readers who examined the contents of the first issue of PLOS Biology, have vouched for the scientific richness of the contents: Inaugural content includes results of a study where monkeys with brain implants are able to control a video game by their thoughts alone. A PLOS Journal of Medicine will also go online from early next year.

The editorial board of the Biology journal which includes Hemai Parthasarathy, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has promised that the papers published will be peer-reviewed to the highest international standards.

A dozen well-known scientific journals attract major international scientific papers — but most of them have become so costly that their core readership — the scientific community — is often denied access. Annual subscription rates for 2004 of some of the leading journals are: Nature (�545); Science ($510); Physical Review Letters ($3225). One of the costliest is Brain Research published by Elsevier (19,000 euro). Almost all these journals have websites — but these usually contain only contents tables or synopses — full papers can be accessed only by subscription.

Scientists concerned worldwide, have long complained that while much of the research carried out is at public expense — by way of taxpayers' money in each country or thanks to trans-global foundations — the fruits of such work is locked up by a small club of publishers, purely for profit. In many cases, non-disclosure clauses prevent the authors from disseminating their results once publication in a journal is contracted.

The PLOS organisation received a $9 million donation from Gordon Moore — co-founder of the chip giant, Intel, and author of what is known as "Moore's Law" — and his wife. To sustain the free access model, PLOS is asking the sponsors of the research it publishes to contribute $1500. The organisation has been a rallying point for burgeoning opposition to the commercialisation of scientific knowledge; however earlier attempts to organise a boycott of leading subscription journals failed.

The new service will be particularly welcomed by Indian scientific institutions, particularly those working in life sciences. Many university libraries have suspended subscriptions to print copies of leading foreign journals in recent years for lack of funds. Leading Indian science journals — like the Indian Academy of Sciences, Current Science and other scientific periodicals and the subject journals published by CSIR — are much more affordable and indeed, heavily subsidised for individual or student readers.

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