It bugs me that the GLUD2 article about the glutamate metabolism gene is behind a subscription wall. It's a technical paper, of course, so there's no guarantee that it would be read even if it were out in front. Still, there is a lot of cool science going on outside of spaceships and stem cells, and it would be nice if the world at large could see it. (That said, I have no idea about the workings of a sports car. To each his own?)
This past Thursday I looked over the "Journal of Record" journals, like PNAS or the Journal of Biological Chemistry I was pleasantly suprised to see these sites offering part of their current content for free. It looks like the authors have decided if it should be available, meaning that the readability for a non-expert might remain an problem. Also, did the authors have to pay?
But I'm not sure how fast biologists could go in the direction of open access. Strictly speaking, scientists do not need the subscription-only feature to their journals, and would like their work to be available to all. The role of journals, from the scientists' point of view, is to simultaneously provide a brand name (and so an immediate audience. For example I look at the Cell Press website every Thursday, and will see titles that have little to do with my narrow field) and an external standard to validate their work in the short term. That is, a Cell paper is a home run, because Cell has an ISI Impact Factor of 27, meaning more or less that the articles published in Cell tended to be cited 27 times each by subsequent work. This means that a hiring committee, looking at a young unknown with a Cell paper, can be sure that this person's work will be well received. Individuals with a longer track record can be evaluated by their own work, but the external standard function is really important for fledglings.
Switching to open access would require either the existing journals to redo their business models, or for new journals to quickly get an Impact Factor so that young people wouldn't mind sending their stuff there. At least JBC and PNAS have their toes in the water.
I will try to update this post with links to discussion of public access. I hope the links are not subscription only!!
This can't be the first occurrence of this dilemma. Any ideas out there?
UPDATE: Nature magazine has a very large set of viewpoints on their web page. I haven't read it yet but it looks extensive.
Also, Peter Suber has followed this field pretty extensively, and has comments about open access as a publishing principle, and some specifics for businesses like PLoS Biology (see my sidebar).
Without having read these yet, I am very interested in this idea of public access and curious how the costs will be borne! (See Suber.)