PLoS In Nature : The Big Picture


OA pillars
The following are excerpts from the journal Nature regarding the Public Library of Science. These were located with a simple search for the phrase "Public Library of Science." For each item, I provide the source, and a selected bit of text. I have no selection criteria to report, but I do have a reason for doing this: To give an interesting view of the history of PLoS as a concept and an entity, and to some extent, the reactions to PLoS from various quarters.

I ignored passing reference to PLoS or redundant items.

Personally, I find this textual sequence fascinating. I like to think of this as a kind of primary source for the current ongoing discussion of Open Access publishing.

I have not included links because, as Nature is a subscription journal, you may not be able to get to most (any? all?) of these. However, using the link to provided above, you can try. Some of this material is probably available to you.


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Nature 410, 502 (29 March 2001) | doi:10.1038/35069203

Publishers challenged over access to papers

Meredith Wadman, Washington

A battle over access to biomedical research papers was no closer to a resolution this week, after two leading journals said they would make their papers freely available on the web within a year of initial publication.

Scientific publishers and some biomedical researchers have been arguing for a couple of years now about the circumstances in which papers should be made available on the Internet. Early last year, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) introduced a forum called PubMedCentral on which journals can deposit their contents, but few leading journals have chosen to participate.

Now, a group of researchers say they will stop buying, publishing in or reviewing for any journal that refuses to place its research papers in a proposed Public Library of Science (PLS) within six months of their initial publication.

Publishers say that free access could leave journals without enough revenue to support editing or peer review. They have also warned that the proposed PLS might, in effect, bring biomedical publishing under the control of the US government, raising problems about political control and international acceptance.


Some of the loudest complaints about the PLS proposal are coming from scientific societies that rely heavily on journals for income. They say that they will be disproportionately hit by the threatened boycott. "[Commercial scientific publisher] Reed-Elsevier is probably sitting there chortling 'Let the society publishers go out of business'," says Martin Frank, the executive director of the American Physiological Society, which publishes 14 journals. "They've got deep enough pockets to say: 'To hell with this boycott'."

Annette Thomas, managing director of the Nature Publishing Group, says that the group welcomes discussion of the issue with researchers. "Many complex issues have been raised and we are currently soliciting feedback from scientists, librarians and other interested parties," she says.

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Nature 410, 613 (5 April 2001) | doi:10.1038/35070731

E-access to science: Introducing a forum on the future of primary scientific publishing.

This week, Nature launches an online forum on a topic that has filled volumes of conference proceedings and reams of individual articles since the emergence of the Internet -- namely, the web's impact on the publishing of the results of original research.

The most recent and prominent manifestation of the debates surrounding this topic is an initiative by researchers to force publishers, by a threatened boycott, to release archived reports of original research into centralized, freely available and unrestricted databases, known as 'The Public Library of Science' (PLS). Nature's forum does not represent the response of our publishers, the Nature Publishing Group, to the PLS initiative. Nature's publishers are currently soliciting feedback from researchers, librarians and other interested parties in weighing up the issues. But, in principle, everyone in research has an interest in understanding the many aspects of those issues. So the focus of the forum is only partly on the debate between, for example, advocates of free access and those who worry about the loss of publishers' livelihood and ownership rights....

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Nature 410, 1026 (26 April 2001) | doi:10.1038/35074213

Setting logical priorities

Ira Mellman

A boycott is not the best route to free exchange of scientific information.

I am neither a publisher nor a professional editor. I am a practising scientist who, with 60 colleagues, collaborates with the nonprofit Rockefeller University Press to produce a high-quality publication, The Journal of Cell Biology (JCB; We do not aim to make a profit and have no vested interest in publishing. We do feel that, by helping to maintain a pre-eminent public forum for cell biologists worldwide, we are making an important contribution to our field, and to science in general.

I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of removing the barriers to free exchange of scientific information. The Public Library of Science (PLS; boycott initiative has the potential to provoke some important changes in this regard. As I and so many of my colleagues support the idea that journals should release their content six months following publication, the JCB has enthusiastically adopted this policy.

One would think that the biggest priority should now be to persuade other organizations, including the Nature Publishing Group (NPG; publisher of the Nature journals) and Elsevier Science (publisher of Cell and many other journals), to follow suit. Such commercial publishers have so far seemed ill-inclined to make their content free at any time after publication. This should be cause for considerable concern as together NPG and Elsevier produce some of our most widely read journals.

The PLS group has chosen a different and diversionary path. Not content to focus on ensuring public release of journal content, it has also demanded that released content be available for posting on any web server, anywhere. This demand appears to be poorly thought out, unnecessary, a waste of money and a potentially dangerous threat to scientific exchange forums such as the JCB. Moreover, to make such a demand by threatening a boycott of even those journals run by scientists for scientists strikes me as being needlessly anti-collegial and counterproductive. This is not how science typically makes progress.

Why is the PLS demand for multiple-server release a bad idea? The nature of scientific information makes its reproduction delicate. It is not just plain text and sequences. Complications arise, for example in producing the myriad special symbols involved and in displaying complex visual images integral to many papers, particularly in cell biology....

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News in Brief

Nature 411, 230-231 (17 May 2001) | doi:10.1038/35077298

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a coalition of US biomedical research societies, has denounced the Public Library of Science's call for a boycott of journals this autumn as "coercive".

More than 20,000 scientists from around the world have signed the online petition in support of a boycott of journals who refuse to deposit their papers in a free-to-access online library within six months of publication (see Nature 410, 728-729; 2001). The federation, which has 60,000 members, argues that the proposals need serious discussion, but that the petition does not encourage this.

FASEB says that its 21 member societies should be able to determine their policies for online access in a way that will ensure that their publications continue to be viable.

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Nature 411, 633 (7 June 2001) | doi:10.1038/35079766

Who is prepared to pay, and how much?

Johannes Velterop

The costs of publishing are growing..... Those who support the Public Library of Science initiative clearly believe that the costs can be so low that recouping them in only six months would be feasible. They may be right, but profit margins of the kind the industry is used to will be reduced, and publishers will not give up these profits willingly. What is needed is the introduction of true commercial competition with the development of viable new business models. In these, the costs should be kept to a bare minimum, the balance of payments (who pays what proportion of the costs) should be addressed and profit margins should be within a range that most parties would consider fair.

...Peer-reviewed research papers could be accessible via the Internet at very low prices or even free of charge to the reader...

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Nature 412, 469 (2 August 2001) | doi:10.1038/35087732

Public library set to turn publisher as boycott looms

Declan Butler

The Public Library of Science (PLS), a grass-roots initiative that has called for a boycott of scientific publishers, says that it is considering publishing journals itself.

Announced only three weeks before the boycott is due to begin, this is the next step in the library's campaign to promote free access to literature.

More than 25,000 scientists signed the PLS open letter, in which they pledged to stop buying, publishing in, or reviewing for any journal that refuses to place its research papers in free online archives six months after publication.

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Nature 413, 6 (6 September 2001) | doi:10.1038/35092675

Journal boycott presses demand for free access

Jonathan Knight, San Francisco

Researchers began a boycott of scientific journals that do not allow free access to their contents on 1 September -- although organizers admit that too few journals have complied for the boycott to take full effect immediately.

The organizers, members of an initiative known as the Public Library of Science (see Nature 410, 502; 2001), say the list of compliant journals "is not yet sufficient to accommodate all the work that we and our colleagues must publish".

In a letter to the 26,000 researchers who have pledged support on the Internet, they urged supporters not to subscribe to, publish in or review for journals -- including Nature -- that do not make their contents freely available within six months of publication on a centralized website, PubMed Central, operated by the US government. But they suggest that, if necessary, supporters should publish in journals that come closest to meeting its conditions.

At the time of the boycott deadline, 16 print journals and 60 online journals published by London-based BioMed Central met its criteria

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Nature 418, 805 (22 August 2002) | doi:10.1038/418805b

Public-access group plans journals

Kendall Powell, Washingtom

The Public Library of Science (PLS) -- a group of researchers who last year threatened to boycott scientific publishers unless they put their journals online for free -- will unveil its own publishing venture by the end of the year, one of its leading members says.

Michael Eisen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a founding member of the PLS, says that the venture will produce free-access print and online journals, covering costs by making page charges to authors.

A year ago, the PLS withdrew its plan to initiate a boycott of established journals from 1 September 2001 -- despite obtaining few concessions from publishers.

Eisen says that PubMed Central, a free archive established by the National Institutes of Health in 2000 for access to published biomedical research, is "woefully inadequate" in meeting researchers' needs.


And in a setback for the concept of publicly funded research archives, the US Department of Energy says that it is considering closing its PubScience search service for physical-sciences research.

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Nature 419, 111 (12 September 2002) | doi:10.1038/419111c

Public-access group supports PubMed Central

Michael B. Eisen1, Patrick O. Brown2 and Harold E. Varmus

Your News story "Public-access group plans journals" (Nature 418, 805; 200210.1038/418805b) reported one of us (M.B.E.) as saying on behalf of the Public Library of Science (PLS) that PubMed Central is "woefully inadequate" in meeting researchers' needs. In fact, the PLS strongly supports PubMed Central ( and its laudable efforts to create a digital archive of the scientific literature that is freely accessible and fully searchable. What was criticized as "woefully inadequate" is not PubMed Central itself, but publishers' participation in it: since its founding in 1999, relatively few publishers have taken advantage of this opportunity to serve the scientific community better.

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Nature 425, 334 (25 September 2003) | doi:10.1038/425334a

Open-access row leads paper to shed authors

Declan Butler

A spat between the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and one of the leaders of a movement for open access to the scientific literature has resulted in the journal rejecting a paper on kidney transplants at the last minute -- and immediately reaccepting it without the names of four of the original authors.

...Minnie Sarwal, a young researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, [is] the lead author of the paper,...

One of her Stanford co-authors, Patrick Brown, says he wanted the paper to be sent to an open-access journal, but reluctantly agreed to the NEJM as this was important for Sarwal's career. Brown is a co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), which launches its first open-access journal next month. ...

Brown says that he insisted that the NEJM publish the paper under the terms of the PLoS open-access licence,...

The terms on which the paper was originally accepted are now hotly disputed, however.

...[both sides in this complex dispute claim to have come to differing agreements about what to do, and both sides admit to some degree that this was a misunderstanding. The upshot was the removal of the authors who wanted the PLoS like agreement, and placement of their names in acknowledgements. But for reasons of copyright law, this required first rejecting the paper and then accepting a version with this change....]

The spat has resulted in name-calling on both sides. Brown alleges that the events constitute a "clear and documented case of editorial misconduct in the handling of an article", and that the change in authorship is "manuscript laundering".

In a statement, the NEJM asserts: "It is unfortunate that Dr Brown chose to use important medical research affecting renal transplant patients to generate publicity for his planned publishing ventures. A researcher of his experience knows well that the Journal cannot selectively ignore copyright laws so that individual authors can draw attention to a personal cause. He placed his desire to promote his personal interest above his responsibility to his research colleagues."

For her part, Sarwal says: "I am just a young scientist trying to do good science and feel terrible that any of this occurred."

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Nature 425, 440 (2 October 2003) | doi:10.1038/425440b

Wellcome to fund publication in open-access journals

Declan Butler, Paris

One of the world's largest research charities, the UK-based Wellcome Trust, has lent its support to calls for 'open access' to the scientific literature....

the trust ... pledged its support for online journals, such as those of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), which will test alternatives to the 'reader pays' model of most research journals, which charge readers or libraries for subscriptions. Such open-access journals aim to transfer all publishing costs up front as a 'dissemination' fee paid by authors or their institutions, with papers then being made available free online.

Next week's Nature will include a News Feature analysing business models for open-access publishing.

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News Feature

Nature 425, 554-555 (9 October 2003) | doi:10.1038/425554a

Scientific publishing: Who will pay for open access?

Declan Butler

A new biology journal, positioned to compete with the likes of Nature, Science and Cell, aims to reinvent the economics of high-quality scientific publishing. Declan Butler examines the bottom line.

...t's a compelling idea. Imagine, for instance, that you have just been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and want to find out about the latest advances in treatment. A search of the Medline literature database throws up hundreds of pertinent research papers. But unless you have subscriptions to the journals in question, or rack up your credit-card bill to download individual articles, many of the full texts will remain out of bounds -- even though your taxes helped to pay for much of the research.

PLoS's aim is to show that open access can work by competing head-on for the best research papers with today's top scientific and medical journals, such as Nature, Science, Cell and The New England Journal of Medicine....

Few people would disagree, in principle, with the ideal of open access. The question is whether the economics can be made to work....

Behind the rhetoric of PLoS's campaign, therefore, lie some more down-to-earth questions. Will scientists, their host institutions, and those who fund their research embrace the 'author-pays' model? And if they do, is $1,500 per article enough to cover the costs of producing a journal of the highest quality?

For most researchers in the physical sciences, PLoS's campaign is a side issue: they routinely make their papers freely available, before formal publication, using online preprint archives such as But for biologists, who are not generally comfortable with prepublication, the answers to the questions thrown up by the launch of PLoS Biology may define the future of scientific communication....

..Most publishers remain sceptical about the viability of PLoS's eventual goal of converting the entire scientific literature to the open-access model. But many now accept that the author-pays approach may have its place....

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Nature 425, 559 (9 October 2003) | doi:10.1038/425559a

'Open access' will not be open to everyone

John Ewin

With the best intentions, a group of American biomedical scientists and physicians proposes to make all scientific research "available free of charge to anyone". They have formed the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and plan to build their library by starting new journals, all of which will be open access. They will support their journals by charging authors ... something like US$1,500 per paper ...Their model, they say, "treats the costs of publication as the final integral step of the funding of a research project".

In reality, not all researchers are funded by research grants. Less than half of active research mathematicians are supported by federal grants in the United States; some estimates are considerably lower than this. Mathematics is not alone: in virtually every field, there are many scientists doing outstanding research who are not part of any large, federally funded project. Who pays the $1,500 for these people?

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Nature 426, 15 (6 November 2003) | doi:10.1038/426015b

Open access: other ways

Peter Sube

John Ewing, ... argues that open-access journals are not open to everyone because not all authors can pay... Although publishers of open-access journals such as the Public Library of Science (PloS) say that authors who can't pay won't have to, Ewing feels they have underestimated the numbers who will not be able to pay.

... Butler notes in his News Feature "Scientific publishing: who will pay for open access?" (Nature 425, 554-555; 2003) that many funding organizations are willing to pay these fees for their grant recipients. ...

If some future open-access publishers have no policy to waive fees, and authors find themselves excluded on financial grounds alone, there are other ways to bring about open access ...

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Nature 428, 356 (25 March 2004) | doi:10.1038/428356a

Societies take united stand on journal access

Jim Giles, London

More than 40 biomedical societies have banded together to counter calls for them to provide immediate and unrestricted access to the scientific literature they publish....

The societies say they are responding to the launch of the Public Library of Science's first journal, PLoS Biology, last October....

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Nature 430, 390(22 July 2004) | doi:10.1038/430390b; Published online 21 July 2004

Britain decides 'open access' is still an open issue

Declan Butler

Can journals function if authors, instead of readers, carry the cost of publication? An inquiry by the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded this week that we will just have to wait and see....

Many people have questioned whether the author-pays open-access model, as pursued by the Public Library of Science and BioMed Central, for example, is economically sustainable. At the same time, the current system of 'reader-pays' has resulted in spiralling journal costs that many libraries can no longer afford. "This cannot continue," says committee chairman Ian Gibson, a Labour member of parliament....

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Nature 441, 914 (22 June 2006) | doi:10.1038/441914a; Published online 21 June 2006

Open-access journal hits rocky times

Declan Butler

Financial analysis reveals reliance on philanthropy.

... [PLoS] faces a looming financial crisis. An analysis of the company's accounts, obtained by Nature, shows that the company falls far short of its stated goal of quickly breaking even. In an attempt to redress its finances, PLoS will next month hike the charge for publishing in its journals from US$1,500 per article to as much as $2,500.

To stay afloat, the firm continues to rely on the philanthropic grants that launched the project: $9 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and $4 million from the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, both based in San Francisco...

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Nature 445, 9 (4 January 2007) | doi:10.1038/445009a; Published online 3 January 2007

Open-access journal will publish first, judge later

Jim Giles

PLoS One aims to challenge academia's obsession with journal status.

A radical project from the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the most prominent publisher in the open-access movement, is setting out to challenge academia's obsession with journal status and impact factors.

The online-only PLoS One, which launched on 20 December, will publish any paper that is methodologically sound. Supporters say the approach will remove some of the inefficiencies associated with current peer-review systems -- but critics question whether a journal that eschews impact factors will manage to attract papers.

Among the 90 or so papers in PLoS One at its launch are reports on the meaning of wild gibbon songs and a mathematical model of rabies control. The authors of both papers say they chose PLoS One because they support open access, and because they wanted to be part of something new. ...

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Nature 445, 347 (25 January 2007) | doi:10.1038/445347a; Published online 24 January 2007

Jim Giles

Journal publishers lock horns with free-information movement.

The author of Nail 'Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses is not the kind of figure normally associated with the relatively sedate world of scientific publishing. Besides writing the odd novel, Eric Dezenhall has made a name for himself helping companies and celebrities protect their reputations, working for example with Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron chief now serving a 24-year jail term for fraud.

Although Dezenhall declines to comment on Skilling and his other clients, his firm, Dezenhall Resources, was also reported by Business Week to have used money from oil giant ExxonMobil to criticize the environmental group Greenpeace. "He's the pit bull of public relations," says Kevin McCauley, an editor at the magazine O'Dwyer's PR Report.

Now, Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available. Some traditional journals, which depend on subscription charges, say that open-access journals and public databases of scientific papers such as the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) PubMed Central, threaten their livelihoods.

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See also, this for more links on the topic, and this for information from the British House of Commons.


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Fascinating. It looks like Nature is reasonable in assessment.

I didn't know half of the background. I'll have to promote PLOS more. Thanks for the research.

It is really interesting to see how the "public library" evolved over time.

By Elizabeth (not verified) on 07 Jul 2008 #permalink

So, did the boycott work or did the boycott not work? It is not entirely clear.

Yes, I think that is true, but did it work? Was the threat meaningful?

I suggest that a magazine on PLOS-type science publication be created - and called Nurture, because it's mission statement will be to "nurture science and science access", and that PLoS somehow have a publishing relationship so that there is Nurture Publishing - perhaps along the various Open Source models where things are copyrighted or copylefted so as to prevent enclosure of whatever is in the scientific commons.

Don't underestimate the Nature v. Nurture press you'd get. As someone who got stories on the AP wire on that very basis (eye-catching gimmick angle) I can assure you it can make the difference of in the paper/radio/etc. or out.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 08 Jul 2008 #permalink

suggest that a magazine on PLOS-type science publication be created - and called Nurture


1500 dollars should be spent on research not on publications... for an electronic system how is it ArXiv can be free? Peer review is not paid, neither are editors - so who the hell is getting the money?

By Roger Stein (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink