Friday, May 25, 2007

Looming Open Access

People out there who know me know I like to talk. A blog is a perfect outlet for someone who has opinions about just about everything. But my favorite thing about blogging these days is finding other blogs out there that say what I might have wanted to say in a much better and more elegant manner. And this is the case today for Carl Zimmer's blog on "An Open Mouse."

Zimmer, for those who are not familiar, is a science writer who also now has a good blog (called The Loom) but is probably best known for his articles in the New York Times and his books. (I have not read all of his books, but his Evolution book is quite good and I have Parasite Rex but alas have not read it yet).

Anyway, Zimmer in his new blog writes about how Open Access science makes his blog easy because he can use a figure from a PLoS paper (on mouse genetic interactions) and rather than sue him, PLoS simply encourages him. I could blather on and on about this (and in fact have - see here for example). But better to just read his words:

And what do I now hear from PLOS? Do I hear the grinding of lawyerly knives? No. I hear the blissful silence of Open Access, a slowly-spreading trend in the journal world. PLOS makes it very clear on their web site that "everything we publish is freely available online throughout the world, for you to read, download, copy, distribute, and use (with attribution) any way you wish." No muss, no fuss. If I want to blog about this paper right now, I can grab a relevant image right now from it. In fact, I just did.

I certainly appreciate the importance of copyrights (as the owner of many for my articles and books), but in these situations, keeping information behind a thick wall starts to seem a bit crazy, like the loss of precious bodily fluids. Far from committing some sort of violation to the PLOS paper, I have actually just spread the word about it. A few readers may even go back to read the original. And it was so easy and straightforward for me to do so that I will be very reluctant to bother with anything else.

You go Carl. Welcome to the wonderful world of OA.


  1. on a somewhat related note, I came across this in business week earlier today (you may have seen this already):

  2. All these activities are clearly protected under fair use laws in my opinion and therefore this is no argument for open access. This is not because I do not support open access, but because I support fair use.

  3. Well, you say that but according to the lawyers at (1) universities and (2) journals posting figures from their papers is not fair use. And unfortunately these people have power and are frequently listened to.

  4. Dammit (or to use an in-joke that John Logsdon would recognize, DNAdammit) When I was asked for the interview what the most important advance in microbiology in the last ten years was, I said metagenomics and was accused of having a self-serving answer. I should have said open access publishing.

  5. Yes, you certainly should have said OA. But if you remove OA, I think metagenomics is not the answer. If you want the most important advance in the last 10 years, high throughput sequencing (i.e., H. influenzae) was 12 years ago so it is out. And I count metagenomics in that area anyway. So what else .... I am not sure.

  6. DNAdammit, indeed! I still am not entirely sure what I think is the most important advance in microbiology in the last 10 years. The initialization of bacterial genomics is too old for that. However, the flourishing of bacterial (prokaryotic, ahem) genome sequencing has happened in the last 10 years. The Jonathans must have a graph to show this...
    Thus, explicitly comparative bacterial genomics as a field is probably my choice.


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