Free Science, One Paper at a Time


These many pressures and alternatives seem to be loosening the publisher’s grip. Last June,  librarians at the University of California system balked when the Nature Publishing Group sent a contract renewal containing a 400 percent price hike on the scores of NPG  journals the huge library system subscribes to. The increase would have jumped the cost to over $17,000 per journal. The librarians objected that it was ludicrous for universities to fund research and then pay to read it. They threatened to boycott NPG not just as subscribers but as contributors to the journals. NPG softened and worked out a deal.

Meanwhile, universities and researchers are rebelling in other ways. Some are starting open-access journals or opening up some they already publish. And PLoS  continues to create new models, including fast-track journals for time-sensitive disciplines, such as those that cover the flu and other infectious diseases, to cut the traditional one-year publication cycle down to a day. Another outfit, LiquidPub, is launching what it calls “liquid journals,” in which “social computing and liquid knowledge will shape and navigate information waters.” Phillip Lord and Robert Stevens, of Newcastle University and the University of Manchester, have created KnowledgeBlog, a publishing framework based on blog technology. Even Shakespeare scholars are entering the open-science world:  Last summer, the Shakespeare Quarterly ran an experiment in which it not only put its journal online but opened the job of peer review to the public, so that anyone who cared to register could comment, say, on the racial implications of playing Titus Andronicus as an “American Gangsta.”

And then there are those such as Newcastle University computer scientist Phillip Lord, mentioned earlier, who just publishes on WordPress. A blog may seem a sketchy way to publish science. Yet in a way it makes sense. Science, however rigorous, implicitly recognizes that every explanation is provisional; there’s no finished version. So what could be more fitting than to revamp science through a platform explicitly built to be revised, commented on, and updated?

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