Re: BioMed Central and new publishing models

From: Michael Jacobson <>
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2000 19:53:09 +0000


I posted a message on this topic to the list, which is available on the
website but didn't show up in my email (I don't know if the sender doesn't
get an email copy). I would like to re-emphasize my point to you,

BioMed Central is just the beginning of what will be a subversive attempt by
the biotech and pharmaceutical industries to get biased research "published"
online, in new, online-only journals. Precisely because online publications
have not yet been adequately "rated", there is a free-for-all, with
everybody trying to establish a brand-name. Nobody knows what is good, what
is bad, what is sponsored and what is independent. This free-for-all is a
paradise for "medical communication companies" in which to hawk their wares.

I am amazed by the fact that the NIH, which really should be a model of
independence, is partnering with commercial enterprises to distribute
medical literature. The mere association with NIH / NLM / PubMed is enough
to give any enterprise significant credibility.

I remain very skeptical about the ultimate fate of self-archiving, but it
seems to me that to allow biomedical publishing to shift towards sponsored,
Internet-based commercial enterprises is even worse than the status quo.
But this seems to be the way of the world right now...

Michael Jacobson

-----Original Message-----
From: September 1998 American Scientist Forum
Sent: Wednesday, February 09, 2000 12:33 PM
Subject: Re: BioMed Central and new publishing models

Some very fundamental and explicit clarification is required before it
can be decided whether BioMed Central should be embraced or avoided by

What is meant by asking authors to sign "non-exclusive rights to
republish and redistribute the research"?

If I have written a preprint, deposited it in BioMed Central, and
submitted it to for refereeing to Nature (a journal which DOES allow
author self-archiving of preprints), what am I expected to sign over to
BioMed Central? Nature is to be commended for not trying to prevent
author self-archiving, but ON NO ACCOUNT should the publisher of Nature
countenance the author's having given ANOTHER PUBLISHER "non-exclusive
rights to republish and redistribute" the paper just submitted to

The innocent reply to this would be: "All that Biomed Central means by
this is the right to archive it online for free for all." The
non-innocent answer would be: "BioMed Central has further plans for the
papers deposited in it, apart from archiving them online free for all."
For those plans could compete with Nature's, in which case Nature would
be quite right not to want to have anything to do with papers for which
authors have signed such agreements, and authors in turn would be quite
right to sign no such agreements.

So if all that's meant is the right to archive online publicly for free
for all, a very different wording is needed (if any wording is needed
at all: I note that the Los Alamos Physics ArXiv found no need to ask
authors to sign anything at all; nor did CogPrints, nor RepEc, nor any
Open Archive, as far as I know).

And now we come to an even more fundamental question: What about when I
want to deposit a paper in BioMed Central that has been refereed and
accepted by Nature? Here again, Nature would be in the wrong if it
tried to prevent me from publicly self-archiving my refereed research
online for free for all, but it would be entirely in the right if I
tried to give to any other publisher the "non-exclusive rights to
republish and redistribute" it.

Only Nature should have the right to republish and redistribute my
paper. I need retain only the right to self-archive it publicly online,
free for all. That's all that's at issue in freeing the research

Hence for refereed papers such an agreement is completely out of the

So if BioMed Central is not intended for authors to deposit either their
unrefereed preprints or their refereed reprints, what IS it intended

Could it be a rival new "megajournal," trying to compete for papers with
the established journals? In that case, authors, in the interest of
their careers and the certification of their research, are better
advised to stuck with the refereed journals for now. Only if the
established journals continue to oppose online public self-archiving
does it make sense to consider transferring our research to new journals
that do not. In and of itself, submitting one's work to a new journal
rather than an established one is a risky strategy. Established journals
have reputations, known quality-control standards, and established
impact factors. New journals do not.

Here is a conjecture: PubMed Central (the NIH Archive) has a prominent
weakness, as currently implemented. It only accepts published papers
from publishers, not from authors. Perhaps this is what BioMed Central is
trying to help authors get around. But what authors want is to keep
publishing in their known, established journals, and that THOSE papers
should be openly archived publicly, free for all. Only if that should
prove impossible (and it will not) should they consider resorting to

Until further notice, open archiving's objective is to free the
current, established refereed journal literature from its publishers'
S/L/P access tolls, not from its publishers.

Caveat Emptor.

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of "Freeing the
Refereed Journal Literature Through Online Self-Archiving" is available
at the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99):
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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