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This month sees the launch of the journal PLoS Biology, which aims to publish articles of 'exceptional significance' in disciplines from molecular genetics to ecology. Published by a non-profit body called the Public Library of Science (PLoS), it is the spearhead of a campaign to provide open access to the scientific literature – making it free for anyone to read online.

In this article, Declan Butler looks at how this could work in practice. Rather than charging readers for access to the material, PLoS aims to charge a 'dissemination fee' of US$1,500 to the authors of accepted papers. In the first instance, it will also be supported by a grant from the San Francisco-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

But many publishers remain sceptical that the author fees will be sufficient to cover costs such as peer-reviewing and editing of papers. And there are also doubts whether scientists – who need to publish in high-profile journals in order to further their careers – will take the risk on a new and unknown journal. PLoS supporters, however, are confident that their model of scientific publishing will be economically viable.

Link to full article in Nature

Reference: Nature 425, 554 (2003)