The open access movement, in which published scientific research is made freely available on the Internet, gained momentum today when Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), the peer-reviewed journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, announced it would adopt an open access policy and provide its research articles and news content free of charge online beginning January 2004.
"The rationale behind the open access philosophy—that science best benefits society when it's freely and immediately available to all—is just too compelling to ignore. As part of the United States government, we felt it important that we take a leadership role in this area," said Dr. Kenneth Olden, director of the NIEHS. "The web affords us a unique opportunity to enhance scientific discourse that we simply could not ignore."
The open access philosophy was formalized at a meeting of scientific editors and publishers held in Budapest in December 2001 and organized by the Open Society Institute, a foundation started by philanthropist George Soros that is seeking to further the open access paradigm. A consensus statement from that meeting, called the Budapest Open Access Initiative, laid out the goals and issues involved in providing peer-reviewed scientific literature without restriction on the Internet. The statement says in part, "Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge."
In October 2003, a venture called the Public Library of Science, the brainchild of Dr. Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health, began publishing its first open access science journal, PLOS-Biology. Says Dr. Varmus, "I am very pleased to learn that Environmental Health Perspectives will be joining the growing ranks of journals that are adopting the policy of open access to better serve science and society. It is especially important for distinguished, peer-reviewed journals that publish works of special interest to the public, such as those in environmental health sciences, to be readily available to the public and to the scientific community around the globe."
In addition to being available for free at ehponline, EHP content will also be deposited in PubMed Central, the U.S. National Library of Medicine's free and unrestricted digital archive.
"We believe that making our science freely available will have very real benefits, not just to society, but also to the publication," said Dr. Thomas Goehl, editor-in-chief of EHP. "We expect our research to be more widely referenced, resulting in a further enhancement of the prestige of the journal. We will balance some of the revenue loss by increasing page charges paid by the authors. The benefit to our authors, our readers and now the public makes this the absolute right thing to do."
Converting to an open access model is the latest step taken by EHP to reach out to an international audience. EHP currently provides complimentary print copies of the journal to institutions in developing countries, and recently EHP began posting on its website (http://ehponline.org) translations of article summaries in Chinese, French, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. "We're committed to doing everything we can to allow this cutting-edge environmental health research to benefit people across the globe," Goehl said.
Coinciding with the conversion to open access, EHP is also expanding and updating its website, which houses over 10,000 archived research articles. This expansion will make material more easily accessible for an expected large increase in the number of visitors.
NIEHS is an institute of the National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More information is available online at http://www.ehponline.org/.