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Two free-access electronic journals are to be launched in an attempt to make the results of biomedical research more accessible to scientists around the world.

The Public Library of Science (PLoS), a global organisation of scientists that campaigns to make scientific and medical literature freely available as a public resource, announced on Tuesday (17 December) that it plans to publish two online journals — PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine.

The journals will retain the main features of scientific and biomedical journals, including peer review and strict editorial standards. But rather than charging readers to access the material online, authors will instead be charged a modest fee for having a paper published.

The initiative reflects increasing difficulties faced by researchers in meeting the subscription fees charged by many scientific and biomedical journals, particularly those that are privately owned.

"By making the published results of biomedical research available for free, and allowing them to be redistributed and used without restriction, these new journals will substantially increase the value - to both the scientific community and the public — of the tremendous investment our society males in scientific research," says Harold Varmus, a Nobel Laureate who heads the PLoS.

The launch of the two journals is being backed by a five-year US$9-million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The initiative has been endorsed by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which has pledged to cover the publication costs for its 350 researchers when they publish in open access electronic journals.

"We have a strong commitment to international science and the current subscription system puts many journals out of the reach of our colleagues in poorer countries," says Thomas Cech, another Nobel Laureate and head of the HHMI.

PLoS is confident that the scientific community will support the new journals. It points out that in the past two years, more than 30,000 scientists from 180 countries have signed an open letter calling on established scientific journals to provide open access to their archives.

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