Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

CMAJ editors congratulate OM editors

The editors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) have published Congratulations to our colleagues at Open Medicine, July 3, 2007.  Excerpt:

On Apr. 18, 2007, the world of medical publishing became larger with the debut of Open Medicine, a new online-only general medical journal. We welcome the arrival of a new venue that shares CMAJ's objective of providing timely dissemination of research findings and clinical knowledge to as broad a community as possible. If successful, this new journal will be a positive development for the world in general and Canada in particular. With a second general medical journal based in Canada, yet open to the world, there is no good reason why Canadian researchers, who are world leaders in scientific productivity, should have to leave home in order to find a suitable medium for dissemination of their best work.

Like CMAJ, Open Medicine is an open-access journal, available free to all who wish to read it and free for all who wish to contribute to it. As open access remains disappointingly rare among general medical journals (Table 1), this is both commendable and of great significance. The birth of Open Medicine thus provides us with a valuable opportunity to remind our readers why open access to the medical literature is important and necessary....

It should be obvious that barriers to access, financial or otherwise, directly contradict [the] mission [of a medical journal]....It therefore seems paradoxical that most of the world's journals, particularly those that historically have had the greatest impact on the biomedical community, continue to feel that their mission is best served by hiding their content behind password-protected firewalls....

Open access allows journals to reach an audience that is not just larger, but one that is also substantially more diverse. Access to medical information is also greatly enhanced for non-traditional audiences, including academics outside the biomedical community, patients and other members of the general public. However, open access is equally important for traditional users of medical journals within the health care community, for whom formidable financial barriers remain in the form of subscription and article charges. These financial barriers are not limited to health care workers in developing countries, but pose problems for health care providers everywhere. This problem is fuelled by the enormous and continuing growth of the medical literature and of the number of journals that publish it. According to the latest data from the US National Library of Medicine, the number of articles published in medical journals in 2006 totalled over 14.1 million, compared with 10.8 million in 2000. Over the same time period, the number of journals indexed in MEDLINE increased from 4332 to 5020....For an individual user to purchase subscriptions or articles from so many sources in order to stay current is not practical or sustainable....Even large libraries are finding it increasingly challenging to maintain comprehensive collections in the face of this rapid expansion. It is not surprising, therefore, that institutions are increasingly endorsing open access as a remedy.

As we at CMAJ have observed, open access has transformed the habits and expectations of scientific publishing. The Internet...has had a parallel rapid and profound impact on the culture of biomedical research and clinical practice....

Arguments against open access are often based on the need for journals to support themselves through subscription fees....Nevertheless, such arguments underestimate the capacity for motivated journals to find successful strategies for open-access publishing, as illustrated by CMAJ. Moreover, such economic protests fail to consider that the true value of scientific information is ultimately determined by its dissemination and impact, not by its price. Few people would deny that information has a commercial value, yet many people also acknowledge that health care and science information is of such great importance to society that it cannot be treated merely as a commodity....

Science is a public good, as is the health of individuals and populations. It is increasingly recognized that the results of publicly funded research must be publicly available....

Starting up a new medical journal from scratch poses tremendous challenges that are not for the faint of heart. Open Medicine is fortunate to have an experienced editorial team of talented and creative people. We at CMAJ know this first-hand because many of these same individuals, we are proud to acknowledge, are former members of our team. Indeed, it was the prudent decisions and hard work of some of these individuals that made CMAJ the world's leading open-access general medical journal.

We congratulate our friends at Open Medicine on their achievement and wish them the very best of luck with this new venture.

The editors at Open Medicine have published a response:

Although the endorsement by CMAJís editors of open access medical publishing is welcome, we would like to take this opportunity to clarify several points raised in their commentary. First, there is an important distinction between open versus free-access publication. Open Medicine has not only adopted the principle of free access, that is, making content fully available online, but endorses the definition of open access publication drafted by the Bethesda Meeting on Open Access Publishing. This definition stipulates that the copyright holder grants to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute works derived from the original work, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship. Given that CMAJ holds copyright and charges reprint and permission fees, it is not in fact an open access journal.

In comparison, Open Medicine does not assume the copyright of our authorsí work....Open Medicine does not charge reprint or permission fees, and our work is available for reproduction for educational and teaching purposes without copyright limitations or charges.  We use a Creative Commons Copyright License that also ensures derivative works are available through an open access forum....

Comment.  The CMAJ editorial is a strong argument for OA to medical research.  It's also a gracious olive branch to the editors of OM, especially in light of the past friction between the principals.  I wish the OM response had acknowledged the olive branch, and not just the argument for OA, before making the correct and important point that OA removes permission barriers, not just price barriers.

Update. Also see Chris Surridge's post on the PLoS Blog.