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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Harold Varmus at the Frankfurt Book Fair

David Worlock, Dr Varmus, I presume?  Outsell, Thinking Out Loud, October 15, 2008.  (Thanks to Jim Till.)  Excerpt:

...Five years ago, when Harold Varmus gave evidence to a UK Parliamentary enquiry on science publishing, I acted as advisor to the enquiry and tried to frame questions that would draw out the views of the Nobel Laureate and former NIH director on the future of Open Access publishing in the sciences. His total conviction then of the demise of the subscription model in academic journal publishing was striking, so what would he say now, five years on, and after five years of experience of the first journals of the Public Library of Science, which he co-founded and directs, as a primary vehicle in the pursuit of OA?

October 14 was the foundation date for PLoS Biology, as well as the designated Open Access Day, so the 300 STM publishers gathered at the STM Associationís annual meeting on that day at the Frankfurt Book Fair to hear this interview needed no reminder of the significance of Dr Varmusí work. They may have been surprised, however, when he spoke as a publisher himself and shared some of his five years of experience. Clearly the costs of peer review were greater than PLoS may have anticipated. Despite the donated efforts of some reviewers, organizing editorial boards and review processes was not administratively or financially trivial....

The [PLoS] peer reviewed journals now had high reputations, and rejected some 90% of submissions, but had needed to raise fees beyond his forecast of five years ago to cover costs. While the regular journals were still making losses, and these losses were still being covered by philanthropic foundation support, he was confident that the ongoing growth of PLoS One would see the whole of PLoS cover its costs from its own trading operations next year. And in the five years beyond that, he saw the gradual disappearance of the subscription model, the extension of explicit funding for publication in research grants, and the completion of his original dream of the reversal of scientific publishing business models. Asked about the sale of BioMedCentral to Springer, he welcomed the success of BMC in creating real margins from Open Access publishing at a level that publishers wanted to acquire, and saw this turn of events as supporting his underlying convictions....

[H]e is adamant that the exposure of historical literature in the same context as current research is potentially neglected but has real importance....

[He] was particularly strong on the need...for...other scientists to examine the data from which conclusions had been drawn, and subject it to their own analytical techniques. Above all, as he talked, his audience came to recognize that he was not a scientist with a wrecking ball come to demolish the publishing structure, but someone who was completely in tune with their aspirations, and commercial need, to support and improve the cycle of scholarly communication....