Nature takes its course

By | Science & Technology
Nature offering free articles to reader online. Credit@ Annthea Lewis/Nature

The leading publishing company Macmillan Science and Education launched a new initiative last week that allows subscribers of the scientific journal Nature, to freely share and read articles online. This positions the Nature Publishing Group closer to open access (OA) – a model that provides unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed research literature, including the underlying data sets. This aims to apply to all articles published by Nature since it was established in 1869.

Under this new initiative, subscribers may read and annotate articles from any of Nature’s 49 journals. The annotation function aims to help researchers collaborate more effectively with colleagues. Unique URLs to read-only versions of full texts may be shared by anyone with access to the publication, such as scientists and students at more than 6,000 Universities and organisations across the globe. Anybody with the hyperlink is then able to view the article. This sharing is intended for personal or non-commercial use. CEO of Macmillan Science and Education, Annette Thomas, stated in a press release that, “Today we are able to present a new way to conveniently share and disseminate this knowledge using technology from one of our innovative and disruptive divisions – Digital Science – to provide a real solution to the global challenges of how to efficiently and legitimately share scientific research for the benefit of all”.

ReadCube has developed the technology supporting this initiative. Their idea began in a Harvard College dorm room and is now supported by Digital Science – a technology company who provide software and technology to aid scientific researchers. ReadCube develops software to make research literature more accessible with the aim of helping scientists across the world connect with and advance their fields.

The worldwide call for OA began with the advent of the Internet. Generally, researchers often want their paper to be read by as many people as possible. However, journals that publish research are often profit-making institutions and therefore charge for access. Adopting the alternative paradigm of OA has already seen a significant amount of support across the wider industry. For example, Tesla relinquished all patents for its research in June, allowing anybody to use their technology. This is because they believe that other companies designing electric cars would benefit from a common and rapidly evolving technology platform and is conducive to their goal of creating sustainable transport.

The second phase of Macmillan’s initiative aims to allow 100 international media outlets and blogs, such as BBC News, who report on scientific research to publish links for their readers to access the specific article. Some of the most historic discoveries in life science have been published by Nature, for example Dolly the sheep and the structure of DNA. This second phase aims to allow readers to get hands on with the primary research driving the news headlines and engage the public with science. In addition, through this initiative, Nature aims to end the ‘dark sharing’ of its publications, where subscribers download papers to a shared drive allowing colleagues access without a paid subscription. In doing so, Nature may improve its analysis of how papers are being read to provide more accurate information to authors and its other customers. ReadCube aims to provide a legitimate alternative to current practices.

Dolly the sheep at the National Museum of Scotland Credit@PatrickBuechner

With publishing giant Macmillan prioritising the power of information above the power of money, scientists hope that more journals might follow suit. Good data enables scientists to make breakthroughs for example, in life-saving drugs. With this aim, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have committed to this philosophy by announcing that all published research resulting from their funding should be efficiently and broadly disseminated. Their OA policy aims to be effective for all new agreements from 1st January 2015.

How might other funding agencies and Universities help promote open access?

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