My childhood friends Michael and Jonathan Eisen had a brilliant and warm-hearted scientist father, Howard Eisen who died very prematurely in 1987 while his sons and I were in college. To no one’s surprise, Michael and Jonathan have gone on to become prominent scientists themselves. They’re also leaders in the Open Access publishing movement; Michael is a co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and Jonathan is Academic Editor in Chief of PLoS Biology.
If you don’t know about Open Access, the idea is to make the world’s scientific and medical publications freely available. Traditional journals are available by subscription only; many of them cost thousands of dollars per year. Gaining access to individual articles usually costs $15 or more. It’s good business for the publishers but reduces the flow of information and retards scientific progress. Considering that so much of the research published in the journals is supported by public funding from NIH and others, and that authors and peer reviewers are not paid by the journals, there’s something a little odd about the situation.
The Open Access model relies on other sources of funding –such as publication fees paid by the author– to cover the journals’ costs. The Open Access movement has had a big impact: the PLoS journals themselves are successful and many traditional journals now offer some articles for free when they’re published and make other articles available for free once they’re older.
For Father’s Day two years ago, Jonathan decided to embark on a project to develop a website in honor of his father that would include information on Howard Eisen’s life and work. It would also contain his various scientific publications. It strikes me as a really great idea. Progress has been slow so far, however, even though all the articles are old by now and even though his father was a government employee at the time the publications were developed.
I encourage you to read about Jonathan’s efforts on his blog and encourage him to keep at it:
- Freeing My Father’s Scientific Publications (June 2008)
- Freeing My Father’s Scientific Publications Update (June 2008)
- Freeing my father’s publications part 2 (June 2010)
- Freeing my father’s publications part 3 (June 2010)