The Public Library of Science debuted in 2003 (my sophomore year) to an overwhelmingly supportive scientific community. It’s important not only to scientists but lay-people as well because it’s one of only a few open access scientific journals that is held in generally high regard (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences being another such journal, but most of its material has a 6 month delay before becoming open access).
The reason why this journal has become so important to the biological scientific community is that it embodies what science is about: access to knowledge. Up until open access journals began popping up the flow of knowledge was controlled by large publishing houses. These publishers would review and publish manuscripts in their journals and then university libraries, or anyone else who could afford them, would buy subscriptions to the journals so that the researchers of their institution would have access to them. Unfortunately, there are some problems with this setup.
One common problem that has been occurring all over the US is libraries dropping certain journal subscriptions due to budgetary constraints and the exorbitant subscription fees. Since good science can only occur when scientists openly share their findings these actions are directly infringing on humanities ability to scientifically advance. Not good. Not good at all.
The second problem deals only with money, and this is where US taxpayers should get very pissed off. The vast majority of biological research done in this and other countries is funded directly from taxpayer money mainly through the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Researchers use those grants to fund their research and publish their findings in journals (because what good is it to find something out if you don’t tell other people about it). Then, as I described above, to see those journals you must pay more money. So, even though you, the taxpayer, gave your hard earned money to some researcher to carry out your research you must then pay again to see the fruits of those labors. You’re essentially paying twice for the same information, and many people can’t afford that.
Not so with open access. It’s a streamlined and cheaper process that has the researcher paying a fee for editing before publishing. More important than all else is the fact that the research is available to everyone. It was important enough that last year the government enacted a law forcing all research funded by the NIH must be made freely available to the public within one year of publication, but even that keeps being challenged! Fucking bastards just want money.
I encourage all of you to check out these sites and further your knowledge.
PLoS Biology – Synopses are a great way to quickly learn some cool new biology you can pull out at parties and impress people!
PLoS Medicine – The Editorials, Debates, and Perspectives are all worth checking out and easy(ish) reads for lay people