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Help yourself—to open-access CytoJournal

December 2004
Karen Lusky

Click on full-text cytopathology research articles for free, print at will, and disseminate without permission. That sums up the open-access model followed by the new online-only CytoJournal, which made its appearance this year to publish peer-reviewed research in the field of cytopathology and related applications, such as molecular cytopathology.

London-based BioMed Central publishes CytoJournal (www.cytojournal.com) as part of a growing stable of about 120 cyber journals that break tradition with the subscription-based publishing business model.

BioMed Central allows anyone to freely copy, distribute, and display the work published in its journals, including CytoJournal, as long as they cite the original work, don’t introduce errors, and clearly indicate the license terms of the work for reuse or distribution. Or the author may give permission to waive any of these conditions.

For example, "people can use tables from CytoJournal without written permission as long as they attribute the information/tables to the authors and journal," says the journal’s co-editor in chief, Barbara Atkinson, MD, of the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Kansas City.

If that all sounds designed to disseminate new research quickly and widely, that’s precisely the idea. And though the open-access model may be different from traditional journals, the "quality control and peer review is the same as other journals," says CytoJournal co-editor in chief Vinod B. Shidham, MD, FIAC, FRCPath, of the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. "And as part of the open-access philosophy," he adds, "authors who publish in CytoJournal retain the copyright to their hard-earned work."

CytoJournal’s coverage will be broad and "offer a spot for an international audience on issues needing a broad audience," says Dr. Atkinson. An example might be new Pap test tech niques that have a worldwide application, or an alternative technique that might have application in a Third World country, she adds.

The new journal will also provide a venue for authors who want to publish their works quickly. CytoJournal will allow researchers to publish in about four to six weeks, on average, or even faster in some cases, depending on how quickly the peer-review process is completed, says Dr. Shidham.

Some print journals do allow authors to publish within a couple of months, "but others require four to six months, if you push it," Dr. Atkinson says.

Of course, nothing is really free, even in cyberspace, so how does BioMed Central finance its publishing venture without subscriptions? Individual authors pay a fee to publish articles in CytoJournal (about $525 per accepted, published article). Yet that figure can actually be more economical than publishing in traditional venues, Dr. Shidham says.

He agrees that authors can ostensibly publish for free in traditional print medical and science journals, but they have to pay for reprints or to publish color or extra images—and images, he notes, are "an extremely important component of cytopathology literature." Those "extras" add up so that an "author can end up spending $1,500 to $2,000 or even more to publish an article in a traditional print journal," he says.

Pathologists and other researchers who are members of an organization that joins BioMed Central can publish for free in CytoJournal and the publisher’s other online journals. An organization’s annual membership in BioMed Central ranges from $1,612 (for institutions with 20 to 500 faculty-postgraduate students) to $8,060 (for those with 5,000 to 8,000 faculty-postgraduate students). (See www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/instmembership for details.)

The "good news," Dr. Shidham says, is that the publisher will not charge anything at all for articles submitted in the first six months—that is, for articles submitted before March 1, 2005. BioMed Central is working on a model that would make it possible for scientific organizations, such as the CAP, U.S. and Canadian Academy of Pathology, and American Society of Cytology, to become members. In that case, the individual members of the organizations would be able to publish free in CytoJournal. Cytopathology Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting CytoJournal, is working to cover the remaining researchers who could not be covered under the other systems. "This would achieve the ultimate goal of waiving the charges to all authors publishing in CytoJournal," Dr. Shidham says.

Though CytoJournal’s coverage will be broad, Dr. Atkinson predicts that research specialties that involve a lot of photos—especially color photos which can cost an author $1,000 a page in traditional print journals—would be particularly interested in publishing in the journal’s open-access forum. In that regard, "the journal will be particularly amenable to molecular pathology," she says.

BioMed Central now has some 460 consortia in about 40 countries that belong to it "and are taking the payment burden off the shoulders of individual re search ers," says Jan Velterop, director and publisher of BioMed Central.

CytoJournal will be accepted if it publishes quality articles, says Dina Mody, MD, who is on the journal’s editorial board and chairs the CAP Cytopathology Committee. "There’s always room for more good journals," she says. One obstacle to its success, she adds, is that online-only publishing represents a new approach, albeit one that’s a step in the right direction, in her view.

"People in academic centers are already very much wired to the Internet," says Dr. Mody, who reads hard copies of articles these days only when she travels by airplane.

The Internet and image digitization has, in fact, paved the way for the new open-access model, spawning CytoJournal and potentially many more online-only, free-access journals to come. "In the future, any federally funded research may have to be available on open access, so the model may become more mandated in the future," says Dr. Shidham.

The Public Library of Science recently adopted an open-access model, and the National Institutes of Health is reviewing public comments to its proposal to establish an open-access, searchable electronic resource of NIH-funded research. Under the proposal, manuscripts of NIH-supported published studies would be archived and available to the public on PubMed Central six months after an NIH-supported research study’s publication—or sooner if the publisher agrees. (Read the proposal at http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-04-064.html.

BioMed Central’s Velterop believes open-access publishing, even though it currently represents only a small fraction of scientific literature, will eventually hit a "critical mass" where it accelerates quickly to become the prevailing model.

"The benefits to speed and efficacy of scientific development ... are just too important to be held hostage by the restrictions inherent in the traditional subscription-based model of science publishing," he says.

Karen Lusky is a writer in Brentwood, Tenn.