Access to the scientific literature


  • Francis Albarède


The Public Library of Science Open Letter ( is a very generous initiative, but, as most similar initiatives since the advent of electronic publishing, it misses the critical aspects of electronic publishing.

Ten years ago, a Publisher would be in charge of running a system called a “scientific journal.” In such a system, the presence of an Editor and peer Reviewers secures the strength of the science and the rigor of writing; the Publisher guarantees the professional quality of printing, efficient dissemination, and long-term archiving. Publishing used to be in everyone's best interest, or nearly everyone. The Publisher, because he/she is financially motivated, ensures widespread dissemination of the journal amongst libraries and individual subscribers. The interest of the Author is that the system guarantees a broad potential readership. The interest of the Reader is that a line is drawn between professionally edited literature, presumably of better quality, and gray literature or home publishing, so that he/she does not waste time going through ‘low yield’ ungraded information. The Publisher could either be a private company, an academic institution, or a scholarly society. My experience is that, when page charges and subscription rates are compounded, journals published by scholarly societies are not necessarily cheaper. The difference between these cases is not the cost of running an office with rents, wages, printing, postage, advertisement, and archiving, but that a private Publisher pays shareholders. Shareholders have the bad habit of minding their own business and, therefore, they may interfere negatively with scientific publishing. Nevertheless, while the stranglehold imposed by private Publishers on our libraries over the last 10 years by increasing subscription rates may in part be due to shareholders' greed, this is true only in part. The increases are also a consequence of the booming number of pages being printed.