Nature offering a peace pipe or blowing smoke in Open-Access’ face

9 07 2008

People appear a bit divided on Nature Publishing Group’s announcement they will deposit manuscripts into open access databases (PubMed Central) if authors ask them to.

This comes hot on the heels of an alleged attack-editorial in Nature on one of the leaders in Open-Access publishing models, PLoS (Public Library of Science).

One might think this looks like Nature is offering a truce. Here is probably the leading for-profit publisher helping authors to put their articles in the public domain while still getting the attention of being in one of the most read and highly respected science resources worldwide.

But not everyone is happy. Reading the fine print we find a six-month delay between the initial publishing of the article, and Nature’s automated system depositing into the public domain at PubMed Central (PMC). For that six-month window readers would still have to hold a Nature subscription to access the content.

The purpose of this new service is to “lock in [Nature‘s] embargo,” Stevan Harnad, cognitive scientist at the University of Southampton, UK, and vocal open access supporter, told The Scientist. Nature is hoping, he added, that if given the choice, authors will choose the convenience of letting Nature deposit for them after six months, rather than take the time to do it themselves immediately.

It only takes six minutes according to Harnad to deposit the papers into PMC yourself. But I do agree, amny technophobic and time-short scientists (yes many scientists hate computers) are likely to opt for a someone-else-can-do-it model.

I think the Nature model is a reasonable truce. Nature does have a right to protect its own interests here. The internet already heavily impacts on Nature and other journals to sell print copies. If all their content is available free online through PubMed, no one would even consider purchasing online subscriptions – especially financially tight educational institutions and libraries – which I suspect are a significant market
for NPG and other publishers.

Six months is sooner than the twelve required for NIH-funded research. While I can seriously empathise with the frustration of finding the perfect paper’s abstract in PubMed only to discover your university doesn’t subscribe to that journal – I feel this is an acceptable compromise. Open Access advocates should be happy that Nature is providing some cooperation here.




2 responses

11 07 2008
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