Monday, August 27, 2007

On PubMedCentral, by PubMedCentral

With all the misinformation being spread about the U.S. National Institutes of Health and PubMedCentral, it is very refreshing to hear what PMC really is all about, from Dr. David Lipman, the physician-turned-researcher who heads the department responsible for PMC. The purposes of PMC are, respectively, archiving, access, and integration, (or facilitating more rapid advances in research through technology). The U.S. National Library of Medicine, the world's oldest and largest medical research library, has long been a leader in technology developments, having developed the Medline electronic database in the 1960's, and, in the author's opinion, was among the earliest of open access pioneers when PubMed was opened up to everyone in the mid-1990's.

Following are some notes from an interview with Dr. David Lipman:

Dr. David Lipman, Director of NBCI, the group at the U.S. National Library of Medicine that builds PubMedCentral, talks about how and why PMC developed, what it does and is meant to do, in an Open View interview with Sundar Raman of internet radio station, the voice of Fairfield (about an hour).

Some key points from this interview:

There were three reasons for developing PMC:
1. Archiving. One of the traditional roles of the National Library of Medicine has been archiving of the medical literature, something that journals have never really taken responsibility for.
2. Access - not all publications will remain available on the publishers' web site. Note: PubMedCentral is not necessarily open access; many of the journals PMC works with provided free access after an embargo period.
3. Integration with underlying scientific data, i.e. making the articles much more useful. This requires a kind of expertise in areas that have simply not been the domain of publishers. This integration was a part of the original vision of Dr. Harold Varmus, who came up with the idea of PMC. Journals were invited to participate in this free database, and many do; some provide articles right away, others after an embargo period of 6 months to a year.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine is the world's largest and oldest medical library, having started at the time of the Civil War, and has also for many years been a leader in both technology and access. The NLM initiated development of the electronic database Medline in the 1960's. From my perspective, opening up free access to PubMed in the 1990's is one of the earliest and most important milestones of the open access movement.

Sharing of data - gene and protein sequence information, for example - has been happening for the past 20 years, and the value in speeding up discovery is well understood. The discoveries not only come faster, but interestingly, often come serendipitously. This potential for serendipitous discovery appears to be a driving force behind recent and upcoming developments at NLM, such as the Discovery Initiative that will be the focus for he next couple of years, actively seeking ways to connect readers with articles that interest them, that they might not know to look for, as well as how to connect readers with the best works in an area, such as the Systematic Reviews that currently only specialists are likely to know to look for.

Dr. Lipman talked about the work towards PMC International, an international, voluntary collaborative network of biomedical repositories. PMC-UK is already up and running; beta testing is occurring in a number of countries, including Italy, South Africa, Korea, Vietnam, and Canada.

As for the next few years, David's view is that there is a pent-up energy to change the scientific communications so long constrained by the traditional journal. It is hard to say what the changes will look like; perhaps articles will be longer or shorter or contain different types or formats of information, or maybe there will changes in what constitutes peer review.

This might become the first in a new series on U.S. or global leadership in the open access movement.

Hat tip to Graham Steel on the SPARC Open Access Forum.

Full list of Open Views Interviews - looks interesting! Thanks to Charles Bailey for the list.
  • Cory Doctorow, Sci-Fi Author, Copyright Reform Activist
  • David Lipman, National Institutes of Health
  • John Wilbanks, Science Commons
  • Mark Patterson, Virginia Barbour, Public Library of Science
  • Mike Linksvayer, CTO
  • Melissa Hagemann, Open Society Institute
  • Mike Linksvayer, Vice President,
  • Prayas Abhinav, Creative Commons India
  • Richard Poynder
  • Ronaldo Lemos, Lead of CreativeCommons Brazil
  • Siva Vaidhyanathan, Author and Historian
  • Vera Franz, OSI
  • Wendy Seltzer,