Harold Varmus, head of the US National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 1999, caused a storm of controversy when he launched a pioneering open-access research repository on the Web, PubMed Central, in 2000.
In this interview, he tells Kurt Kleiner how a long-standing interest in advancing science in the developing world led him to take the leap. PubMedCentral paved the way for the online journal PLoS Biology (the PLoS standing for ‘Public Library of Science’), which was launched in October this year. Varmus, head of the board, has been joined by a raft of other science high-flyers.
Aside from the ethical issues thrown up by limited access, Varmus believes that the profit margins of traditional publishers are not sustainable. And with PLoS journals getting so much high-quality research, he sees open access as becoming the norm — because the rest will no longer attract enough submissions.