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Saturday, 1 September, 2001, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Scientists call for online library
Online archives of research could be a boon to science BBC
Scientists want to create an online library of all scientific research
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Thousands of scientists around the world will soon be boycotting academic journals that refuse to make their contents freely available on the web soon after publication.

The boycott could mean scientists refusing to submit papers to journals and refusing to review the work of their peers for any journal that does not deposit research papers into an online public library of science.

The group behind the online library is planning its own online journals to give scientists who join the boycott a forum for their work.

Already the support gathered by the group has led many journals to make their contents freely available far sooner than they used to.

So far, over 26,000 scientists from 170 countries, including many Nobel Laureates, have signed a letter supporting the creation of an online public library, which will one day be a repository for all scientific research.

Lost copyright

The call for better access to published papers has grown out of scientists' increasing frustration with the process through which research is printed in journals.

Typically, when scientists submit papers, they get no payment, sometimes have to pay for the research to be published, and lose the copyright over the article. Research labs and universities often have to pay high subscription fees to read the printed results of their researchers' labour.

Over the past few years, many publishers have substantially raised subscription prices for journals.

Now, all those that signed the letter backing the public library are being urged to boycott journals and publishers that do not make papers freely available.

"Individual scientists around the world have to decide how to respond to this," said Michael Ashburner, one of the founders of the public library lobby group. "There's no way in which we could, or would, attempt to dictate what people do.

"All we can do is lead by example. I have no doubt that it will happen in the long term.

"We will look back in 10 years and wonder what all the fuss was about."

Faster science

The online journals established by the library group should be publishing work by early 2002. Editors, review boards and publishing assistants are currently being recruited to run the new publications. Seed money is being raised from private sources, and scientists will be charged $300 (200) to cover the costs of publishing their work.

Already many established and prestigious journals have pledged their support for the library and are planning to pass over copies of published papers.

The British Medical Journal, Genome Biology, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and many others have all signed up.

The founders of the online library initiative said science would be immeasurably aided by the establishment of the archive. They said it would make it much easier for scientists to keep up with developments in their field and to search literature for earlier breakthroughs.

The push for the public library has come from life scientists, but physicists have had an equivalent for over a decade. Since 1991, the e-print archive at Los Alamos has been a repository for both pre- and post- publication research papers. The archive was established without the permission of publishers.

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