Web science offers more

By Вen Li

The new scientific journal Cellscience launched with much less fanfare than it deserved on Tue., July 27. Describing itself as the “comprehensive International Medical A-Z directory covering all aspects of HIV and AIDS, Cancer, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes & Disorders of the Nervous System”, the first issue is sur- prisingly accessible and contemporary in its writing. Currently, it features only review articles but anticipates publishing original work in 2005.

Taking a nod from the electronic publishing world where content is almost free and information is delivered speedily, Cellscience aims to be the first large, peer-reviewed open access scientific journal publishing exclusively on the Internet. Upending the traditional journal model where academics submit, rewrite, resubmit, and in some cases pay to have their papers reviewed and edited hopefully within a year, Cellscience editors hope to speed the delivery of accurate research results to the scientific community by streamlining both the peer-review and publication processes. The editors will also allow papers to be submitted anonymously, to mitigate the competitive and personal interests among submitters and reviewers which have plagued some specialty and theoretic fields. Cellscience editors and reviewers will also use an open democratic review process that provides greater transparency to the publication process, and reward authors with royalties rather than charge them for their work.

Editors hope that with a cost to readers comparable to photocopies, scientific knowledge becomes more accessible than under the cur-rent model. Presently, Cellscience editors claim, a mere handful of publishers are responsible for publishing most scientific journals, and they charge from $1,700 to $26,000 per year for subscriptions to some specialty journals. Many journals are only available as part of expensive bundles. With printing costs eliminated and distribution shifted to the Internet, many more scientists will have the financial and practical means to rapidly access Cellscience than a traditional print journal.

In addition, Cellscience editors should be congratulated for embracing the latest interactive technologies by providing multimedia publication in their journal. This allows researchers to demonstrate increasingly complicated work through interactive animations and other multimedia technologies not possible with a static page. Such rapid dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge proved immensely useful to SARS researchers last year and has been commonplace in electronic publishing for at least a decade, though in arguably less rigorous fields.

A well-written and respected scientific journal such as Cellscience, with content suitable for both laypeople and research specialists alike would also go a long way to demystify science. In an era when it is no longer possible for one person to be a master of their entire field, it is fitting that some leaders in the scientific community have come to value knowledge for its use, rather than its ownership.

Therefore, we join Cellscience editors and Nobel Laureate Professors Harold Varums, Paul Nurse and Sir John Sulston in the hope that such new open-access scientific journals will enhance consumers’ access to knowledge and their freedom to produce it.

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