Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a nonprofit open-access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals and other scientific literature under an open content license. As of January 2008 it publishes PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, PLoS Biology, PLoS Medicine, PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics and PLoS Pathogens. PLoS ONE was launched at the end of 2006.


The Public Library of Science began in early 2001 as an online petition initiative by Patrick O. Brown, a biochemist at Stanford University and Michael Eisen, a computational biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The petition called for all scientists to pledge that from September 2001 they would discontinue submission of papers to journals which did not make the full-text of their papers available to all, free and unfettered, either immediately or after a delay of several months. Some now do this immediately, as open access journals, such as the BioMed Central stable of journals, or after a six-month period from publication, as what are now known as delayed open access journals, and some after 6 months or less, such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Many others continue to rely on self-archiving.

Joined by Nobel-prize winner and former NIH-director Harold Varmus, the PLoS organizers next turned their attention to starting their own journal, along the lines of the UK-based BioMed Central which has been publishing open-access scientific papers in the biological sciences in journals such as Genome Biology and the Journal of Biology since late 1999.

As a publishing company, the Public Library of Science began full operation on October 13, 2003, with the publication of a peer reviewed print and online scientific journal, entitled PLoS Biology, and have since launched six more peer-reviewed journals. The PLoS journals are what they describe as "open access content"; all content is published under the Creative Commons "attribution" license (Lawrence Lessig, of Creative Commons, is also a member of the Advisory Board). The project states (quoting the Budapest Open Access Initiative) that: "The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited."

Business model

To fund the journal, PLoS charges a publication fee to be paid by the author or the author's employer or funder. In the United States, institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have pledged that recipients of their grants will be allocated funds to cover such author charges. PLoS still relies heavily on donations from foundations to cover the majority of its operating costs. PLoS was launched with large grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation which combined made up 13 millions US dollars.

One criticism of charging author-side fees is that it fails to recognize the high cost of filtering and evaluating the high number of submissions the high-impact journals receive. To maintain standards a strict review system will in general lead to a large proportion of papers that do not meet the (high) standards of a journal to be rejected for publication. Setting up and maintaining a review system requires substantial effort of both editors, editorial office and reviewers, and is hence one of the most costly elements of scientific publications.


The initiatives of the Public Library of Science in the United States have initiated similar proposals in Europe, most notably the "Berlin Declaration" developed by the German Max Planck Society, which has also pledged grant support for author charges (see also the “Budapest Open Access Initiative”).

PLoS journals and their websites

(all ISSNs are "EISSNs", for the electronic edition)

See also



PLoS Biology 1, no.2 (2003): 3

  • Brower, Vicki. "Public Library of Science Shifts Gears." EMBO Reports 2, no. 11 (2001): 972-973.
  • Brown, Patrick O., Michael B. Eisen, and Harold E. Varmus. "Why PLoS Became a Publisher." PLoS Biology 1, no. 1 (2003): 1-2.
  • Butler, Declan. "Public Library Set to Turn Publisher as Boycott Looms." Nature, 2 August 2001, 469.
  • ———. "Scientific Publishing: Who Will Pay for Open Access?" Nature, 9 October 2003, 554-555.
  • Case, Mary. "The Public Library of Science." ARL: A Bimonthly Report on Research Library Issues and Actions from ARL, CNI, and SPARC, no. 215 (2001): 4.
  • Case, Mary M. "Public Access to Scientific Information: Are 22,700 Scientists Wrong?" College & Research Libraries News 62, no. 7 (2001): 706-709, 716.
  • Cohen, Barbara. "PLoS Biology in Action." PLoS Biology 2, no. 1 (2004): 1.
  • ———. "PLoS Medicine." PLoS Biology 2, no. 2 (2004): 139.
  • Doyle, Helen. "Public Library of Science (PLoS): Committed to Making the World's Scientific and Medical Literature A Public Resource." ASIDIC Newsletter, no. 87 (2004): 9-10.
  • Doyle, Helen J. "The Public Library of Science—Open Access from the Ground Up." College & Research Libraries News 65, no. 3 (2004): 134-136.
  • Eaton, Lynn. "'Free' Medical Publishing Venture Gets Under Way." BMJ, 4 January 2003, 11.
  • Eisen, Michael. "Publish and Be Praised." The Guardian, 9 October 2003.,12981,1058578,00.html
  • Foster, Andrea L. "Scientists Plan 2 Online Journals to Make Articles Available Free." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 January 2003, A29.
  • Gallagher, Richard. "Will Walls Come Tumbling Down?" The Scientist 17, no. 5 (2003): 15.
  • Kleiner, Kurt. "Free Online Journal Gives Sneak Preview." New Scientist, 19 August 2003, 18.
  • Knight, Jonathan. "Journal Boycott Presses Demand for Free Access." Nature, 6 September 2001, 6.
  • Malakoff, David. "Opening the Books on Open Access." Science Magazine, 24 October 2003, 550-554.
  • Mantell, Katie. "Open-Access Journal Seeks to Cut Costs for Researchers." SciDev.Net, 15 January 2004.
  • Mason, Betsy. "Cell Editor Joins PLoS." The Scientist, 13 January 2003.
  • ———. "New Open-Access Journals." The Scientist, 20 December 2002.
  • McLaughlin, Andrew. "Senior Scientists Promise to Boycott Journals." The Scientist, 2 November 2000.
  • Medeiros, Norm. "Of Budgets and Boycotts: The Battle over Open Access Publishing." OCLC Systems & Services 20, no. 1 (2004): 7-10.
  • Mellman, Ira. "Setting Logical Priorities: A Boycott Is Not the Best Route to Free Exchange of Scientific Information." Nature, 26 April 2001, 1026.
  • Ojala, Marydee. "Intro to Open Access: The Public Library of Science." EContent 26, no. 10 (2003): 11-12.
  • Olsen, Florence. "Scholars Urge Boycott of Journals That Won't Join Free Archives." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 April 2001, A43.
  • Peek, Robin. "Can Science and Nature Be Trumped?" Information Today 20, no. 2 (2003): 19, 50-51.
  • ———. "The Future of the Public Library of Science." Information Today 19, no. 2 (2002): 28.
  • ———. "The Scholarly Publisher as Midwife." Information Today 18, no. 7 (2001): 32.
  • Pickering, Bobby. "Medical Journals to Get Open Access Rival." Information World Review, 21 May 2004.
  • Public Library of Science. "Open Letter to Scientific Publishers." (2001).
  • Reich, Margaret. "Peace, Love, and PLoS." The Physiologist 46, no. 4 (2003): 137, 139-141.
  • Russo, Eugene. "New Adventures in Science Publishing." The Scientist 15, no. 21 (2001): 12.
  • Schubert, Charlotte. "PLoS Snaps Up Cell Editor." Nature Medicine 9, no. 2 (2003): 154-155.
  • Stankus, Tony. "The Public Library of Science Passes Its First Biology Test." Technicalities 23, no. 6 (2003): 4-5.
  • Suber, Peter. "The Launch of PLoS Biology." SPARC Open Access Newsletter, no. 67 (2003).
  • Thibodeau, Patricia L., and Carla J. Funk. "Quality Information for Improved Health." PLoS Biology 2, no. 2 (2004): 171-172.
  • Twyman, Nick. "Launching PLoS Biology?Six Months in the Open." Serials 17, no. 2 (2004): 127-131.
  • Velterop, Jan. "Vendor View." Information World Review, 1 December 2001.
  • Wadman, Meredith. "Publishers Challenged over Access to Papers." Nature, 29 March 2001, 502.
  • Walgate, Robert. "PLoS Biology Launches." The Scientist, 10 October 2003.

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