Every so often I read another article or blog post about how scientific journals are about to embrace open access publishing, making research more easily available to researchers and others who can't afford the thousand dollar plus subscription fees to top science journals, or aren't employed by a university that can. (Newspapers are also apparently discovering the advantages of providing more and easier access to their content.) I confess that I am always somewhat skeptical of these reports, but like Tiny Tim in front of the toy store window I keep wishing that maybe it will happen.
Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal and a vocal supporter of open access publishing in scientific journals, recently wrote this article for the British newspaper The Guardian in which he proclaims the significance of the fact that Springer Science+Business Media, a large and somewhat traditional publisher of textbooks and academic journals, is in the process of acquiring BioMed Central Group, "the largest open access provider in the world with over 180 peer-reviewed journals." Smith considers this an indication that "open access publishing is becoming mainstream," though I confess I'm not quite that optimistic. Smith himself notes that right now "fewer than 10% of scientific articles are published open access," but speculates that Springer's acquisition of BMC may "bring us to the tipping point where open access publishing will be the norm."
Smith also points us to an article recently published by the Public Library of Science, a non-profit open access publishing project for whom Smith serves on the Board of Directors, with the intriguing title "Why Current Publication Practices May Distort Science." The authors of this article argue that not only does the traditional approach to journal publishing make (often publicly-funded) research largely unavailable to the public, it actually "provides a distorted view of the reality of scientific data that are generated in the laboratory and clinic." Open access publishing is one of several potential solutions the authors offer for this problem.
Springer clearly sees open access publishing as a viable business model and not merely an "ideological crusade," so lets hope this is indeed a sign that the scientific publishing community as a whole is moving more toward this model.