Re: BioMed Central and new publishing models

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 18 Jun 2000 12:18:54 +0100

On Sat, 17 Jun 2000, George Lundberg posted a message to this American
Scientist Forum about Biomed Central. His posting appeared in full, but
routine Biomed Central Postings will not continue to appear
automatically here. Those who are interested are encouraged to sign up
to Biomed Central's alerting list from:

To put it into context: The Biomed Central initiative is a welcome one,
from the standpoint of this Forum, whose objective is to free the
refereed research literature online. Biomed will provide peer review and
will archive accepted papers online in PubMed Central, certified as
published by Biomed, for free for all.

If Biomed Central successfully captures the refereed biomedical
literature, it will have accomplished (in the biomedical sciences)
precisely what this Forum is dedicated to accomplishing. However, to do
so, it must indeed capture all, or a significant portion, of the
refereed biomedical literature. To do that, it must persuade the
authors of that literature to submit their work to Biomed instead of to
the established journals they currently submit it to. Their current
journals have known quality-control standards, track records, impact
factors, editorial boards, authorships and contents. Biomed Central
must successfully compete with these, if it is to capture the

What Biomed Central offers to authors, by way of inducement, is to make
their refereed papers available free for all online. (That is precisely
what this Forum is seeking too.) However, Biomed asks authors to gain this
freedom at the cost of submitting their work to a new, untested, generic
entity, instead of to the proven spectrum of established journals that
exist now.

Authors may indeed choose to do this. If they do, the battle will be
won (in the biomedical sciences), and the equivalent of the spectrum of
established peer-reviewed biomedical journal-titles that currently
exist, each with its own characteristic contents and quality, will no
doubt reconstitute itself under the generic BioMed Central umbrella
(referees referee for free, after all, and are as free to switch their
allegiances to the BioMed Central corpus as authors are).

But there is also the possibility that authors will not switch -- that
they will not not be prepared to take the risk of giving up their
established journals with their known track records and impact factors,
and entrust their research instead to a new, generic, untested entity.

I hope that these questions will be explicitly discussed at the
forthcoming BioMed Central Conference in New York:

In the meanwhile, though, this Forum will have to continue hedging its
bets, considering not only the Biomed Central initiative for freeing the
refereed research literature, but also the self-archiving initiative,
which, on the face of it, has the virtue of letting authors keep
their cake (their established refereed journals) and eat it too (by
self-archiving their refereed papers in Open Archives

There is also the question of the long-term economic sustenance of a
freed refereed literature. BioMed Central hopes to pay the bills
through review articles, advertising, and paid, optional value-added
services. This may indeed work, but no one knows, because no one has
tried it.

In contrast, self-archiving can be done now, without switching, without
giving up anything, leaving the economic chips to fall where they may.

(Journal publishers can continue to sell the official journal-version,
on-paper and on-line, for as long as there is a market; but should the
free self-archived versions shrink that market, journal publishers
still have the option of scaling down to becoming peer-review
service-providers, paid for by each author's institution out of a small
part of their annual windfall savings from the serials cancellations.)

So we welcome the BioMed Central initiative, and occasional substantive
updates will continue to appear in this Forum. But while we watch, with
considerable interest and every wish for its success, how BioMed
Central's bid to free the literature by getting authors to switch
journals progresses, we will continue to promote the immediate option of
open self-archiving now, without the need to switch or to wait and see.

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 providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

You may join the list at the site above.

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:46 GMT