The U.S. National Institutes of Health's PubMed Central, the free but not yet realized repository for medical science papers, has recently received two votes of confidence—one from a publisher's project and another from a European program. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com) is a new publisher-based Web initiative that will forge a relationship with PubMed Central to enhance the proposed PubMed Central distribution model. BioMed Central is part of the Current Science Group that also includes Current Controlled Trials, Ltd.; Current Medicine, Inc.; Science Press, Ltd.; and others. E-BioSci, the European initiative that is modeled after PubMed Central, will utilize a consortium-based administration and is attempting to form alliances with European publishers.
BioMed Central is to be established as a separate company within the Current Science Group, but other parts of the Current Science Group will contribute to the venture. According to Vitek Tracz, CEO of Current Science Group, "We have a tradition of working together as smallish, independent units … and we like it that way."
"The publishing model of BioMed Central is different from the current forms of science publishing," said Tracz. "At present, scientific publishers make a large proportion of their revenue from high-priced ‘archival' journals, which are bought almost exclusively by libraries…. We believe that new technologies can make the publishing process so much more efficient and flexible in both format and economic terms."
BioMed Central intends to start shortly after the opening of PubMed Central, which was originally slated for January 2000. The company expects BioMed Central to be operational in May 2000. The first service to be offered will be the publishing and distribution of original research reports, using both a full peer-reviewed system and a non peer-reviewed "pre-print" depository. All primary research, whether in the published (peer-reviewed) section or the deposited (non peer-reviewed) section of BioMed Central, will be placed in full and without delay on PubMed Central. According to the Current Science Web site, this will ensure permanent visibility and immediate listing in PubMed Central, and easy linking to other related information.
Eventually BioMed Central plans to offer a broad range of other services to the community of researchers and practitioners in all fields of biological sciences and clinical medicine. The services will include effective and efficient searching, rapid identification, and reporting on all the most important research; commentary, analysis, and reviews; community and collaboration tools; databases; and practical ways to find and purchase information, software, materials, and equipment.
The company is currently developing and testing tools for authors, referees, and readers. The BioMed Central Web site is currently in beta-test mode. Even in this early phase, the Web site permits personalization features that will certainly become more refined as the company increases its knowledge of what the user base requires. At this point, little else is revealed at the Web site that provides insight into the direction of the services to be offered.
The newly proposed European E-BioSci is modeled after PubMed Central. However, it is not yet clear what relationship, if any, will be forged between the two services. E-BioSci is not expected to exactly replicate the PubMed Central model, although PubMed Central is credited for sparking the European initiative. One significant difference is that no single nation or organization will be responsible for E-BioSci. On January 30, key European organizations, including representatives of the European Molecular Biology Organization, European science publishers and research organizations, and representatives of government, met in Heidelberg, Germany to engage in early planning. Long-term financing must be secured, and no release date has been set, although organizers hope to launch this year.
At this juncture it is also unclear what relationship, if any, BioMed Central might have with E-Biosci, although it is expected that E-BioSci will require more rigorous peer reviewing of the deposited articles than will PubMed Central. In addition, organizers might allow traditional publishers to charge fees for access to materials held by E-BioSci.
A more in-depth discussion of these new initiatives will appear in my Focus on Publishing column in the April 2000 issue of Information Today.